Caleta WOW!! and The Great Beaver Hunt
Position: 55° 05.776S 069° 48.638W
Date: 4 March 2012
In this, the most spectacular cruising ground I have ever encountered, possibly the best in the world, there are anchorages which stand out – the must-see’s. Estéro Coloane is at the head of that list. When Laura of Pelagic Australis fame was going through with me the places I simply had to go to, she said of Estéro Coloane, “We call it Caleta WOW!!” Enough said.
All the fjords and bays here have different characteristics. Most have steep mountains all around them; many are overlooked by fantastic glaciers; occasionally the hills are sufficiently accessible to offer some first-rate hikes; some are pretty beyond belief, and a few are bomb-proof in whatever the often violent weather might throw at you. Estéro Coloane has all these characteristics and a few more. The inner bay is about a mile deep and a mile across. We arrived yesterday evening and tucked ourselves into a nook near the northeastern corner and tied ourselves in. Across the bay, directly in front of us, behind a low, wooded hill is a wonderful glacier that stretches up into the mountains beyond. To the left and to the right are other glaciers, all of them pouring melt water down the mountains in cascading waterfalls. And, by the bitter standards by which we measure Tierra Del Fuego, it was warm and windless.
I awoke this morning to something quite unique in my three month experience in these waters – a completely cloud-free blue, blue sky. We breakfasted early, got our walking boots on and took the dinghy round to a point that allowed easy(ish) access to the hill behind the anchorage. It was a steep climb but not too difficult and, as we climbed ever higher, we got better and better views looking way down into the bay at the increasingly small Mina2 and over the wooded hills to the glacier. (To my mind, the best restaurants and walks are those from which I can see my beloved Mina2). After about an hour or so, we crested the 450m mountain and were able to look down the other side over the entire length of the Brazo Sudoeste – the Southeatern Arm – of the Beagle Channel and, opposite us on the far side of the Channel, over to the fjords and glaciers on the southern side of Isla Gordon. It was glorious.
We returned for a late lunch and (for me) a siesta, before our next adventure. The evening before, Andrew had gone off for a recce of the entire bay in the kayak. He reported having seen what he thought might have been a beaver in the water near the western shore. I knew that beavers were nocturnal and they didn’t tend to venture out until the evening so at about 2000 we set off in the dinghy for The Great Beaver Hunt. There’s nothing I like more than a good beaver hunt.
We disembarked at the western shore where a river of glacier meltwater rushed and gurgled into the bay. With Andrew at the vanguard leading the way (it would be useful indicator for the DS and me if we saw him swallowed up to his waist in one of the numerous boggy pools hidden beneath the undergrowth), we made our way up the shallow valley through the thick and wooded undegrowth. We were all on the lookout for the telltale signs of beavers but so far, nothing. After a while we spotted the stump of a small tree that was chiselled into a pencil-like end. Beaver work. Working our way further up the valley we saw more and more evidence. And then in a small pool we saw a beaver swimming around. It gave us a toothy grin while we took the photographic evidence before it dived below the surface with a plop of its tail. A little further on was a much larger pool and there, in the middle, was the large mound that the beavers had built as their home (sorry, can’t remember the name of a beaver home). At the end of the pool was their dam – about 10 metres across and a full two metres deep and completely watertight. These animals are quite extraordinary. The Italian Guide makes no reference to the presence of beavers here and given the very few visitors to the area and the difficulty we had had in getting to their remote location, we wondered when was the last time that any human had been privileged to see this out of the way colony. Perhaps we were the first.
We saw a couple of beavers swimming around in the water, but as the evening was now drawing in quite quickly, we retraced our tracks to the dinghy and returned to the boat in the dusk for dinner.
As beaver hunts go, this was a good one.