On July 16, Elio Rubén Torres, a 42-year-old lawyer and father of two residing in Río Grande, set out across the Mitre Peninsula on the Southeastern tip of Tierra del Fuego province. He has not been heard from since.
Authorities including local police, the Civil Defense of Ushuaia, the National Gendarmerie, and members of the Argentine Navy, along with representatives of organizations like the Andean Club of Ushuaia, the Relief Commission of Ushuaia and the Argentine Association of Mountain Guides, have been searching for the missing hiker for nearly two weeks to no avail.
On Monday, the provincial Minister of Government, Justice and Human Rights Adriana Chapperón detailed the work of the Operational Search Committee, which is leading the effort.
“We have reviewed what we’ve been doing since July 25, when eight search party members departed from the Estancia María Luisa [for] the Leticia River, which they were unable to cross due to its high tides,” Chapperón said. “The next morning, [a] helicopter left with one of the people who had [traversed] the Mitre Peninsula in order to advise the pilots on where to search. The path is very wide, and they descended [near the spots] where they thought Elio might have passed.”
She added that “no traces were found.”
According to those who know him, Torres is an experienced hiker who has made solitary treks before and knows the peninsula well. He was reportedly traveling with a satellite intercom that would allow him to communicate without a telephone signal and track his geographic coordinates. The device’s last transmission was on July 20, fueling speculation that its battery may have died.
“This Sunday, the marine infantry began to carry out its search north from Moat Ranc toward Cabo San Pio, where it will spend the night before returning in the opposite direction,” Chapperón continued. “The Navy will have a boat with 35 crew members and 20 men who should arrive at Buen Suceso Bay Tuesday morning, weather conditions permitting. [There], one team will begin combing the north of the peninsula, and another [will comb] the south.”
Named for Argentina’s first president, Bartolomé Mitre, by the explorer Julio Popper in the nineteenth century, the Mitre Peninsula is one of the least inhabited areas in the region, if not the world. In 2022, the Tierra del Fuego legislature declared it an “Área Natural Protegida” (Protected Natural Area) following a 30-year campaign by environmentalists.
The peninsula constitutes the largest carbon sink in Argentina and is home to a vast array of archeological sites as well as endangered species that include southern river otters, humpback whales, and steamer ducks. It is also a deeply unforgiving terrain that can pose any number of hazards to hikers, from peat bogs and unwieldy rivers to frigid weather conditions that can induce hypothermia.
A Facebook page that appears to belong to Rubén Torres is rife with images of snow-capped mountains and serene lakes. In several photos, he’s pictured in extensive hiking gear. The page also includes several posts that express dismay about the wildfires that consumed Tolhuin and other parts of Tierra del Fuego late last year.
For Francisco Giménez, a friend and fellow lawyer, Rubén Torres’ only vice was “walking.”
“For him, as for others in the province, mountain climbing is a passion,” he told Telám. “I know that he prepared his trips very carefully and responsibly.”
Despite the extensive search party, Giménez believes his friend is “safe and sound.”
“I trust that he’s not lost because he knows the terrain,” he said. “Those of us familiar with the Mitre Peninsula know that it’s not possible to get lost. We’ve done this before. He’s a strong kid, and he knows this path. This time [around], he has fewer hours of sunlight. Sometimes the climate requires you to stay put for several days, but he may just be advancing slower than expected.”
With information from Télam