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ENG:Tortel - Glaciar Steffen

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Summary (editar)
Activity Trekking
Location Chile (english), Cochrane
Scenery Atractiva
Atractions Glaciar, Bosque, Río, Fiordos
Duration 1 día

Algo Exigente

Trail Siempre Claro
Signage Adecuado
Infraestructure Inexistente
Topology Ida y Retorno por la misma ruta
Distance (k) 0 (round trip)
Original creator Rutas Patrimoniales
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Northern Icefield Patrimonial Road: Tortel Cove, is located in Tortel commune, XI region, Aysen. This route starts at Tortel Cove, communal capital, 459 km. southeast from Coyhaique, regional capital, 128 km. from Capitan Prat province, Cochrane. The circuit includes the mouth of Baker river, Steffen fiord and the valley of Huemules river until finally arriving to Steffen glacier, the most southern glacier of the North Icefield.

By car

In order to get to Tortel Cove, from Coyhaique, take southern longitudinal main road 7 south direction, passing Cerro Castillo National Reserve over paved road in good conditions for 98 km. You will then pass the valleys of Ibañez and Murta rivers over gravel road. Continue along the western shore of General Carrera lake and the first spurs of North Icefields until Cochrane city. From Cochrane and along main road 7, parallel to Baker river, continue up to km. 103. From there, take the exit that continues along the south bank of Baker river, 25 km. until you come to the end of the car road in the parking area of Tortel Cove. This is where the main entrance to the village is located, next to the tourist information office and the information signpost of this road.

Public transport

Bus and hitchiking PENDANT

By Air Tortel Cove counts with an airdrome next to Baker river for anyone wishing to arrive by air. There are regular weekly flights all year round as well as charter flights from Cochrane with connection to Coyhaique city.

Route description

Tortel - Steffen fjord

The sailing begins at the pier nex t to the Chilean Nav y Por t Captaincy where you will have to go through all the previous sailing procedures. Not long from there, one crosses Baker river’s delta being able to observe, on the east side, the different channels that land on the Pacific ocean and the west, first Morgan Island and then the coasts of Teresa Island. This one being bigger than the first one. Here it is possible to admire the dense formation of the evergreen forest in all its splendour. Among others, some of these species stand out, such as, Coigües, Mañios and Canelos, that together with the Tepu, stick their roots to the rocky slopes, getting to touch the sea. After a bit more than three miles of sailing, one leaves behind the delta of Baker river. The crossing of the continental shore is favoured by the stream, in front of Steffen point, passing by the area called Irenio Hotel named like this in the memory of an old sailor, who, according to the legend, stayed on his own for a long time due to sea storms until he had no food nor shelter. Following the coast for not more than half a mile, you will find TARGET Nº 2, corresponding to a place called by the locals as La Turbina. This is the entry door to Steffen fiord. TARGET Nº 2 is a site of great historical interest, surrounded by coasts ruled by an exuberant e ve rg r e e n ve g e t a t i o n o f g r e a t development. N e x t t o TA R G E T N º 2 , i t i s possible to see an old abandoned sawmill. It was built under wits and huge sacrifice, more than twenty-five years ago, by Juan Manuel Vargas, a pioneer of the area of Steffen fiord. It was used for the extraction of wood, specially Mañio. The waters of a small stream were used as the propelling energy for the saws. Today there is only one mill resting among the vegetation as a kind of monument that resists to disappear and that tells us of those times when buzz saws did not disturb the singing of the southern forest. Sailing along, less than a mile along the east coast of Steffen fiord, you will pass Punta Lucia, a rocky edge which constitutes a difficult point in local sailing due to the difficulties it brings when crossing it under sea storm. Passing that edge, the landscape becomes ruled by a surrounding typical of the fiords of these latitudes. Rocky mountains covered by a dense forest, tell us about a millennial backing of the ice into the depths of the valley, giving way to the pacific sea that invites us to visit its glacial fusion. A couple of miles north from Punta Lucia, you will be able to observe, towards the east, the mouth of Alvarado river. This is a beautiful site with an old settlement that has served for many years as a stop for the people who travel along these coasts. From this last place, less than a mile, and following the same coast, you will arrive to the next rocky edge that indicates you have arrived to the area of Morro Quemado (Burnt Headland). As its name tells us, it corresponds to an area affected by old fires, showing huge contrast with the non altered vegetation, seen all along the way. From this last headland, Steffen fiord drifts gradually towards the east. The last sailing bit begins going past the edge La Bombilla, discovering a wide panoramic view of the delta of Huemules river and with wonderful view of Steffen glacier. Its outstanding beauty invites us to land and to begin an interesting journey coming closer to these millennial icefields. The landing takes place on the eastern river bank of Huemules river on the area of the mouth of Steffen fiord, corresponding to TARGET Nº3. This is the point where the walking part of the journey begins, or if appointed by previous notice in Tortel Cove, one could go horse riding along the main valley towards Steffen glacier.

Steffen fjord - Huemules River

The journey begins from TARGET Nº 3 with an interesting glacial view towards the end of the valley. Carry on walking between the upper end of the tide in the coast area, and the lower end of thickets, taking the left, straight to the north along firm ground and having the possibility, not long from there to see some settlement related to the first colonists who populated this valley. Make sure to follow the stony path after crossing a group of Ñires - that goes along the area of low thickets. Part of the road is covered by varied and colourful moss and lichen. Carry on until you meet the landmark that indicates the crossing area of the drainage of Los Patos lagoon. From there you will be able to see TARGET Nº 4, a few metres on the other side of the stream. If the high level of the waters, either because of tides, rain or ice melting, does not allow you to cross on foot, we advice you to go along the lagoon, and through some settlers land among high Ñires. In TARGET Nº 4, you will be able to observe Los Patos lagoon, name given long ago to this body of water corresponding to an old channel of Huemules river, in which, if you are lucky, it is possible to observe different bird species, including the Quetru duck. From TARGET Nº 4 take the lagoon on its western side bank, and walk along a stony field, until you reach the end of the lagoon on the north. There you will be able to see a small ascent towards settlers houses, who will be able to give you some services such as crossing Huemules river, renting horses and selling traditional products from the area. We recommend you the visit. In order to continue with the journey from the northern side of the lagoon, follow the clearest path along the stony field, going along a small Ñires forest, straight to the north, finding, not more than 200 m. away, TARGET Nº 5, corresponding to the area called El Galpon (The Shed). Here you will be able to visit, some metres away on the east, this shed which is the only trace left of what used to be the old instalments for the Wood exploitation.This building corresponds to the last try of massive extraction of the native forest, which finally, could never take place in this wild area. It would be important to mention that the Huemules river torrent full of stones, trunks and floating ice, forced the pioneers to settle on the higher parts of the valley. From TARGET Nº 5 one should go back to the well traced path, observing, about 50 meters away towards the northwest a landmark that will indicate the right path to follow. Go along the edge of the stream of quiet waters, located at the feet of the rocky slope. It is an area combining thickets with the predominance of low Coigüe trees and open fields with stones covered with basic flora which calls for a stop in order to admire its details. Not more than 300 m. away, you will find a new landmark indicating a junction on the way, just when entering a dense renewing Coigües forest. Take the left path, always on the main track at the valley level, without going up the slope. After a short walk you will be faced with Quetru lagoon that corresponds to TARGET Nº 6, having a wide view of the valley and Steffen glacier. We would recommend this last site as an ideal short stop of this second section of the Road. Here you could combine, if the weather allows it, both a well deserved rest with observation of the Quetru duck, having for a drop curtain the ice of Steffen glacier. In order to follow the road from Quetru lagoon, continue going along the western edge of the lagoon, across a sandy field with no path on it. Due to the floodings of Huemules river, it is an area where the path disappears in some parts. The important thing is to go along the lagoon until its end on the northern end of it. A few meters away you will be able to observe a landmark upon one level of the upper terrace, with wide views over Steffen glacier. If you pay a bit of attention you will be able to spot the next TARGET. We recommend you to avoid turning away from the path which is very clear on this part of the road, not only for a good orientation but also to avoid interfering an important community of moss and lichen that you will be able to observe along this part of the road. Follow the main path across stony fields for about 350 m. On your right, you will be able to see the rocky slopes covered by a dense forest, and on your left a wide valley of incipient formation, until arriving to another crossing of the stream. Take your left in direction towards TARGET Nº 7 easy to reach by sight, where it becomes possible to easily cross the stream. It is important to mention that only during times without heavy rain or ice melting, becomes possible to cross it on foot. We would advice to previously enquire about the state of the crossing area in order to get a crossing service either by boat or on foot, if necessary. When reaching TARGET Nº 7 you will be able to observe different species of basic flora, outstanding, because of its shape and beauty, the Flor de Piedra (Stone Flower). At this point, the periglacial thicket shows small areas of moss of the Sphagnum type, species that d e ve l o p u n d e r ve r y h u m i d conditions and where the nutrients are scarce, especially nitrogen. Once they die they are used as the soil for the new generation. With the passing of time several metres of successive generations of moss, giving origin to what is known as “turbera”. In the areas where the ice has backed up, soils are rocky and some very curious structures appear, with a wide diversity of colour, shape and size. We find them mastering the landscape and they are known as lichens. They are the symbiotic union of a fungus and an algae, turning them into the best colonists for inhospitable places. They have this capacity because the fungus keeps water and absorves nutrients while the algae does the photosynthesis. They play a fundamental ecological role because they help to incorporate nitrogen into the forest and form the soil, two very important activities in vegetational succession. You will have to pay extra attention from TARGET Nº 7 on because, in the next two km. there is either no clear path or no path at all to follow. However, it is a flat and open field, stony in some parts, that does not represent great difficulty during the walk. You should just follow the landmarks and TARGETS as a reference on the way to follow. In order to get to TARGET Nº 8, take as reference a small Coigüe tree next to this TARGET, immediately on the right of Steffen glacier that can be easily seen for being located on an open field, only with some low thicket around. It belongs to the periglacial thicket, a transitional formation that evolved due to the glacial backing, from the fluvio- glacial deposits, going through the lichen and moss colonization, until finally turning into grown up forests. These characteristics are clearly differentiated at the different terrace levels of Huemules river and the channels it has used throughout the years. Pay special attention from TARGET Nº 8 to avoid following the path leading to the north. This path is used by the settlers mostly for the extraction of dead Cypress tree wood. It is important to take the northwest direction where you will clearly see, TARGET Nº 9, towards this direction. If you were not able to see TARGET Nº 9, keep in mind that this one is located 300 m. up river from the junction, where its main bottom derives towards the west, corresponding to a small backwater with very quiet water next to a small stony slope, only adequate place for the crossing of Huemules river by boat and the crossing of the animals. You will have to arrange the crossing of the river with the villagers beforehand so that you can be crossed by one of them. Observe the difference in vegetation with the previous target. It shows a clear manifestation of a particular evolution of the periglacial soils under the fluvial influence. It would be a good advice, at this point, to compare the time you have spent until now with the estimated times in this topoguide, in order to estimate the returning time to this same crossing. Do not return a t n i g h t t i m e, u n d e r a n y circumstances. Always leave some spare time for the unexpected.

Huemules River - Steffen Glacier

After crossing Huemules river, walk along a flat field with no path, corresponding to the part of the river bed occupied during sporadic flood. You will have Steffen glacier as a reference for t h e wa y t o f o l l o w. G o o n f o r about 700 m. until you reach the highest part of the stony fields of Huemules river. It corresponds to TA R G E T N º 1 0 . I t w o u l d b e important to consider that, depending on the rivers water level, this part of the journey, before coming to the well marked path, may suffer temporary changes that would modify the general way among the TARGETS. After considering the above mentioned, carry on from TARGET Nº 10 towards the north along a stony field with no visible track, until you find the east shore of El Quince stream, named in this way by the colonists in honour of a dog under this name, that when attempting to cross the river it did not return ever again. Consider this part of the road as easy to orientate, and where you will easily spot TARGET Nº 11 from a distance. I t would be impor tant to mention that from this TARGET Nº 11 and until the end of the road, the footpath is well marked over flat fields, giving no problems at all to follow. We recommend you to provide yourself with some water before continuing the journey because you will not be able to get it, only until the end of the road. From TARGET Nº 11 follow the main path crossing a low thicket area passing, after a short walk, by a Ñires area, always having Steffen glacier as a reference point for the way to follow. You will slowly approach a great isolated Coigüe tree, surrounded by a community of s m a l l e r C o i g ü e t r e e s, t h a t i s possible to see from a great distance. You will find yourself at t h i s p o i n t a t TA R G E T N º 1 2 . The Coigüe from Magallanes tree ( Nothofagus betuloides), grows in some valleys or over glacial moraines (material deposited by the processes of glaciation that occurred in the past) being the most common species of the evergreen forests. You could identify them because its branches grow in horizontal direction and their evergreen leaves concentrate at the end of the branches, being jagged and elliptical. From TARGET Nº 12 always take the main path which is an area surrounded mostly by periclacial thicket, standing out, 200m. next to a landmark, species such as Chaura, accompanied by scattered Notros. Go along the same direction until arriving to a Ñires community corresponding to TARGET Nº 13. From TARGET Nº 13 the path comes very clear along open fields where Chaura is still predominant in the lower soil level with scattered Notros and Coigües accompanying, which makes it possible to have interesting views of the snowy mount from the eastern area among which we could mention Bonete hill. We would advice you to have a short stop in TARGET Nº 14 to take, if the weather allows it, photographs of this beautiful mountain chain enjoying a well deserved rest before starting the last section of the road. TARGET Nº 15, apart from signaling the only way across an area with a more dense vegetation, it is an ideal place for observing typical periglacial species such as Chaura (Pernettya mucronata). This is a short and branchy plant with small and abundant leaves, with flowers of a light colour and edible fruit. Chaura belongs to the colonist species that conform the next stage from the moss and lichen following an interesting vegetational succession. Restarting the road , always towards the same direction and surrounding, not more than 250m you will pass a landmark that indicates you are on the right path. Always follow the main road without diverting from the general direction taken until finding a low Coigües community becoming more dense every time. The path is clear so there should be no doubts of how to enter this road properly. Take TARGET Nº 15 as reference. TA R G E T N º 1 5 s e t s t h e beginning of an area of abundant short a Coigües, not taller than six meters high, allowing you to observe, not far away from there, an area of adult forest associated to an elevation of the valley level, between the road and Huemules river. This particular phenomenon clearly shows the non-existence of adult forests on the lower part of the valley of Huemules river. It is not the result of man exploitation but a natural phenomenon in which the river terraces show soils of not sufficient development and very much exposed to strong winds coming from North Icefield. This situation becomes lessened at this point because of the protection of the central island of Huemules river. At the end of the journey along the forest, you will arrive to TARGET Nº 16 in which a very interesting panoramic view towards the north is open, making possible to see Steffen glacier much closer. It would be good to emphasize that for the first time, you will be able to see the frontal moraine of Steffen glacier and the central island of Huemules river at its best. It stands out, for the nature watcher, the beautiful forests next to the western bed of Huemules r i ve r, c l e a r l y co n t ra s t i n g t h e dominant periglacial thicket, aspect that can be easily seen in the next point of interest, TARGET Nº 17, located at a few meters from the scarp. Next TARGET becomes easy to identify from here, being very close, always at short distance from the river bed. It would be important to mention that the road splits when arriving to TARGET Nº 18. The alternative to the right leads to the drainage of the post-glacial lake, path used by the settlers in order to visit the temporary settlements related mostly to the exploitation of dead cypress tree wood. Take your left initiating the journey along the path that crosses old channels already ruled by dense thicket, in some parts, flooded, until coming to an area where it is possible to observe the Calafate corresponding to TARGET Nº 19. Calafate possesses yellow flowers that give dark edible fruit appreciated both by men and wild animals. From TARGET Nº 19 one can clearly observe, directing the sight to the northwest, Steffen glacier and its vantage point just on a low of the frontal moraine. You will gradually take the frontal moraine, following a kind slope until suddenly you will be facing the stunning vantage point of Steffen glacier. It corresponds to TARGET Nº 20, with its lake covered with ice floes that turn this view into a picture very difficult to forget. It is the Northern Icefield in its most southern expression that, with its thousand different forms of white flowing, greets us and invites us to remember it. We would advice you not to stay long due to the fact that the same amount of time taken to arrive to this point should be considered for the way back. You would avoid, in this way to have to return at night time.


  • This trekking is described in full detail in the following topoguide of the Ministery of Public Patrimony. The printed guide can be obtained for free in the Ministery:56-2-3512100 -> 2325. It is hihgly recommended to take it to the walk, as it enriches the experience with descrptions of flora, fauna, geography and geology.