Monthly Archives: March 2018

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Hiking Argentina – Senda Laguna Cerro Torre – El Chaltén

Although I was trying to not overdo it, I did have several days in El Chaltén before starting the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia.  So, in addition to my “active rest” afternoon at the Mirador de los Cóndores and the Mirador de las Águilas, I decided to join fellow-Aussie, Brock, on the hike out to Laguna Cerro Torre.

Sign for the trail to the Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Sign for the trail to the Laguna Cerro Torre

Having done this trail before (and waaaaaay too busy talking with Brock), I didn’t actually take many pictures along the way…  But it is a nice, relatively easy hike with some glimpses of the top of Cerro Fitz Roy (if you are lucky), and the Torres (“towers”) – our final destination.

Views along the trail to Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The trail to Laguna Cerro Torre passes through some beautiful scenery

One of the few times I did break out the camera was when we had the amazingly great fortune of sighting a Huemul – a critically endangered South Patagonian deer!   In fact, such sightings are so rare, that the National Parks office asks that you let them know where and when you saw the Huemul so that they can record it.   We kept our distance, but followed this guy (who was completely unconcerned by us) for about 20 minutes, before rejoining the trail to the Laguna.

Huemul on the trail to Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Spotting a Huemul on the trail to Laguna Cerro Torre was an incredible experience!

Although it was very overcast, there was barely a breeze when we arrived at Laguna Cerro Torre a couple of hours after starting out.  This was in complete contrast to the last time I visited, where the wind would have blown a dog off a chain! 

Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The Laguna Cerro Torre. Cerro Torre is the tallest of the three peaks you can see at the end of the lake

Given the calm conditions, we decided that we’d hike out to Mirador Maestri for a closer look at Glacier Grande, one of the many glaciers in the park that flow down off the Southern Patagonian Icefield.  The park rangers are quite adamant that you shouldn’t attempt this trail if it is windy (the path is very exposed and rocky) so we took advantage of our continued good fortune!

Trail towards Mirador Maestri - Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Hiking along the trail towards Mirador Maestri at Laguna Cerro Torre. This is a very exposed and rocky trail that the park rangers advise against if there is wind

The view is amazing, of course

Glacier Grande - Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The view of Glacier Grande from Mirador Maestri

and the details are fascinating.  I love mountains and glaciers!

Glacier Grande view - Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Glacier Grande is very impressive, as are the details in the ice

We hung out up here for about 1/2 hour – eating lunch, taking pictures, and wondering whether the patch of blue sky we could see would actually arrive over the mountains.  But when the wind started to pick up, we decided to head back.  

Rather than re-tracing the last part of the route we took to get to the Laguna, we detoured via an alternate path and a beautiful wooded trail.  Although De Agostini is the main campsite for Laguna Cerro Torre, there is a”wilder” alternative (much less known) and this trail leads right to it.

Alternate trail to the Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The alternate trail to Laguna Cerro Torre passes through this beautiful Lenga forest. Definitely worth the detour on your way back

Checking over our shoulders periodically revealed that we took the right decision to head back.  The patch of blue sky was moving veeeeeeeery slowly, and seemed to be passing behind the mountains, rather than over the top of them.  Maybe it will be third-time-lucky for me to have a clear day to hike this trail 🙂

Views of Cerro Torre from the trail - El Chaltén - Argentina

The Senda Laguna Torre trail has fantastic views over the river valley to Cerro Torre

Thanks Brock for a fantastic hike!

Brock and I at Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

My mandatory “bad-selfie” with my hiking buddies

Recommendation

The Laguna Cerro Torre hike is one of the most popular out of El Chaltén, and for good reason.  The views are amazing and it is not as difficult as the Laguna de los Tres hike.  Also – if you can see from El Chaltén that Fitz Roy is clouded over, you may still have luck in seeing Cerro Torre. 

Hiking Time: about 5 hours

Hiking Distance:  20km

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Hiking Argentina – Mirador de los Cóndores y Águilas – El Chaltén

The Mirador de los Cóndores and the Mirador de las Águilas (the Condor and Eagle viewpoints) are two of the three relatively short hikes around El Chaltén in Argentina (the 3rd one is out to the Chorillo del Salto).  Most travelers to the region only stay a couple of days and so tend to do these hikes plus one or two of the longer ones.  However, even though I stayed 8 days on my first visit to El Chaltén in 2015, I didn’t get around to hiking up to these viewpoints.  

On this trip, I arrived in El Chaltén 3 days before the departure of the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition with Serac Adventures and Swoop Patagonia.  Having just hiked for 5 out of 7 days around Ushuaia, and given the fact that I had a massive blister on the back of one foot, I was keen to take it a little easy in the lead-up to the expedition.  However, on my 2nd day in El Chaltén, the weather was so unbelievably amazing, I just had to head out.

As I followed the well-worn path from the National Parks office towards the Mirador de los Cóndores, I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no wind, the sun was shining brightly and there were only a few clouds in the sky – a true miracle in these parts!

Path to the Mirador de los Cóndores with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background - El Chaltén - Argentina

The trail to the Mirador de los Cóndores. You can see El Chaltén below and Cerro Fitz Roy in the background

The trail up to the viewpoint is short but quite steep, and I imagine quite an effort for the majority of people who hike it.  But the views over El Chaltén and the mountains are incredible!

Mirador de los Cóndores with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background - El Chaltén - Argentina

The amazing view from the Mirador de los Cóndores

On my last visit, I had 8 days of cloud and rain.  I never saw the top of Fitz Roy and barely managed to see the top of Cerro Torre, so it was a real treat to be able to relax on the rocks and take my time admiring these spectacular mountain ranges.  Yes, it looks like a single range – but the Cerro Torre range actually sits behind the Fitz Roy range.

Closeup views of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre from the Mirador de los Cóndores - El Chaltén - Argentina

Closer views of Cerro Fitz Roy (top), Cerro Torre (middle), and nearby glacier (bottom)

After spending about 2 hours stretched out on the rocks listening to Nanook (my favourite band at the minute – from Greenland of course), I decided to hike out to the Mirador de las Águilas so that I could enjoy more of the afternoon.  It takes less than half an hour to walk between the two and given that there’s not a big altitude gain, it is quite a nice stroll.

Trail to the Mirador de los Águilas - El Chaltén - Argentina

Trail to the Mirador de los Águilas. The viewpoint is on top of the rocks you can see to the left

From this viewpoint, you have a similar view of the mountains – but this time without El Chaltén in the foreground.

View from the Mirador de los Águilas - El Chaltén - Argentina

View from the Mirador de los Águilas

There is also a view over Lago Viedma (unfortunately the Viedma Glacier is hidden) and the Patagonian steppe.   

View of Lago Viedma and the Patagonian steppe from the Mirador de los Águilas - El Chaltén - Argentina

View of Lago Viedma and the Patagonian steppe from the Mirador de los Águilas

Another couple of hours soaking in the sun here before heading back to town made for a perfect “active rest” afternoon before the big adventure!

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Trekking Argentina – Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition – Summary

If you’ve done a few long-distance treks and are looking for a new challenge, the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions will certainly deliver!  Only about 100 people a year take on this remote trek, but it is an incredible experience in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Admiring the view - South Patagonia Icefield, Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre from the Refugio Garcia Soto

It doesn’t get any better than this. Taking in the view of the Southern Patagonian Icefield, Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre from the Refugio Garcia Soto

Was it difficult?

It’s the most difficult trek I’ve ever done!

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat! 

In fact, I already have my eye on the Marconi Pass – Estancia Cristina Expedition also offered by Serac Expeditions.  But this time I want to do it at the start of the season so I can experience different conditions on the Icefield and snow-shoes 🙂

Here are a few final thoughts about my adventure on the ice this year.

Training

I’m still relatively new to long-distance trekking, so my previous relevant experience was only:

plus a lot of day-hikes (many at altitude) in various places around the world.

Images from each of my previous treks

My previous relevant experience from top left to bottom left: Torres del Paine Circuit Trek (Chile), Ice climbing on the Viedma Glacier (Argentina), Unplugged Wilderness Trek (East Greenland), and the high-altitude Huayhuash Circuit Trek (Peru). Yes, I’m fascinated by ice!

My “training” specifically for the expedition was 5 separate day-hikes around Ushuaia, and the Lago Torre hike from El Chaltén in the previous week.  Yes, I agree.  It could have been more extensive 🙂 And although my day-pack tends to be heavier than most (thanks to my camera gear), it would have been good to get some full backpacking in there as well.  Nevertheless, it was entirely doable for a fairly small person, even if a little tough! 

To be honest, the most important thing for this trip is your mental attitude.  The expedition is not overly technical (though there are a few moments) – but depending on the weather and your fitness, you must be willing to push yourself at times.

Gear

I’ve discovered that having the right gear makes the world of difference!  Although this expedition was much colder and wetter than the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland, I was more comfortable here. 

The equipment provided by Serac Expeditions (in my case, tent, sleeping bag and pack) were all excellent and high quality, and as for my own gear – I can highly recommend:

  • Hunger Hiker Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles.  This is the first trek I’ve ever done with hiking poles, and I have to admit they made a huge difference!  They help get you up the hills (by taking some of the weight off your legs), save your knees on the downhills (though I’ve still yet to master this – sorry Rafa), provide 3rd and 4th points of balance (really critical at times) and are amazingly strong and unbreakable.
  • LOWA Mountain Expert GTX Evo Boot.  Yes, they are heavy.  Yes, they take some getting used to.  Yes, they rubbed holes in my feet.  But boy are they amazing!  After 6 days walking on ice and slush (and 5 days of hiking through the peat bogs near Ushuaia) my feet were still dry.  They also have insulation built in, so my feet were rarely cold on the expedition – very unusual for me.
  • Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters.  This is the first time I’ve ever worn gaiters and these ones were comfortable and seemed to do the job they are designed for.  
  • Black Diamond Pursuit Cold Weather Gloves.  These were magic!  Along with perpetually cold feet I have constantly cold hands.  These did a wonderful job of keeping them warm and dry (despite quite a bit of rain on Day 7).
  • Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket.  Surprisingly warm given how small and light it is – and I really feel the cold!  Would have been better to buy the one with the hood, but oh well.
  • North Face Women’s Resolve Waterproof Pants.  Kept the bottom half of me nice and dry.
  • Buff.  I was always a little uncertain about these things, but I bought a merino wool one for the expedition and it was magic!  
Me in all my gear - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Me in all my gear. Everything performed fantastically well – very pleased and much more comfortable than I’ve been on previous treks.

Logistics

Given that my previous long-distance treks had all been supported (ie we only had to carry a day-pack, the rest of the gear was transported for us), the day-to-day logistics of this expedition were a little different.  There were two main things that struck me, mostly because I’m a sociable person and enjoy talking to others:

  1. Because the terrain was so difficult and we had to be roped together for a fair portion of the expedition, it was not possible to chat much during the day while trekking.
  2. I really missed the communal dining tent and the ability for the group to sit around in the evening chatting.  I really appreciated the days we spent at the Refugio Garcia Soto (Days 2 & 3) and Refugio Paso del Viento (Day 6) when we could all get together properly.

For these reasons, I found it a much more solitary experience that my previous treks.  Not necessarily good or bad, just different.  Though I must admit that meeting and forming friendships with the others is one of the things I really love about long-distance trekking.

Refugio Paso del Viento - eating together

Because the trek was not supported, we did not have a communal tent to hang out in. I really appreciated the 3 nights we had near huts, when we could all sit around together

Food

The food provided by Serac Expeditions is largely what you would expect/hope for on a trek like this:

Breakfast: a choice of cornflakes or porridge

Lunch:  Argentinean empanadas and “brick” sandwiches

Dinner: instant soup, a very tasty main meal, and something sweet for dessert 

Each tent-pair shared a bag of tea/coffee/powdered milk/sugar and several different packets of biscuits, and we each had our own “snack bag” filled with chocolates, alfajores, energy bars, muesli bars and lollies.

However, there were also some very welcome surprises! 

The evening meals on Day 1 and Day 6 were as gourmet as you can get for something that comes in a packet and is cooked by boiling the whole thing in water.  And the cheese/processed meat/peanut/olives/crackers platters that magically appeared on Day 2 and Day 6 were a real treat!  Thank you Serac Expeditions!

Images of some of the food provided for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition by Serac Expeditions

Some of the fantastic food we had on the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition: Argentinean empanadas and “brick” sandwiches stuffed with huge amounts of meat and cheese (top), hot dinners (bottom) and our luxury item on 2 of the days – a meat, cheese, nuts and olives platter

The Guides

What can I say – I love Juan and Rafa!

Our guide and assistant guide for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Juan and Rafa

Our guide (Juan, right) and assistant guide (Rafa, left) were absolutely brilliant and huge amounts of fun

They were great fun, very safety conscious, and very patient with the photographer 😉  Big shout-out to Rafa who was usually the one that would drop behind to help me catch up to the others after taking photos!

These guys have a tough job!  While we just retreated to our tents and stayed nice and warm and dry, they ferried hot water, food and anything else that was required between the tents – regardless of what the weather was throwing at them.  Nothing was too much trouble and they were always ready with a smile and encouragement. 

Seriously guys – you are awesome!  And I’m so happy to have met you 🙂 I hope we can trek together again in the near future!

In Conclusion

I’ve managed to see the world’s 3 largest Icefields in the past 14 months – Antarctica, Greenland and now South Patagonia.  All of them have been incredible, and immersing yourself in the environment and experiencing it on foot makes it even more special.

So far, this has been the most challenging trek I’ve done, and it was made even more so by the fact that I was taking photos.  This is not a trek where you have plenty of time to stop for photos, but rather an expedition where you have to keep moving.  That being said, the photography opportunities are incredible – but you have to be prepared to shoot quickly!

Despite the challenge, it has only increased my desire to do other, even tougher expeditions in the future.  My not-achievable-unless-I-win-the-lotto goal is to do the Greenland Crossing with Greenland Adventures, but in the meantime I have my sights set on the Marconi Pass – Estancia Cristina Expedition with Serac Expeditions and the Liverpool Land North-South Traverse with Tangent Expeditions for sometime in the near future. 

Who’s in with me?

Read more about the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day Southern Patagonian Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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Trekking Argentina – Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition – Day 8

Despite low cloud hiding the tops of the mountains, dawn over the Bahía de los Témpanos was a celebration of this beautiful area. 

Dawn over the Bahía de los Témpanos - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

An incredible dawn light over the Bahía de los Témpanos

Unfortunately, we couldn’t linger to watch it fully unfold, as we had to be at our pick-up point by 2:30pm, and we still had a 15km trail in front of us.  So off we set across the steppe that characterizes such a lot of Argentinean Patagonia.

Patagonian steppe - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Early morning on the Patagonian steppe

We were farewelled by one last rainbow over the Viedma Glacier

Rainbow over the Viedma Glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Our last rainbow for the trek – looking across Lago Viedma to the Viedma Glacier

And enjoyed moody vistas of the southern end of the Fitz Roy mountain chain.

Mountains obscured by cloud - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The partially obscured mountains loaned a bit of drama to the otherwise not terribly interesting steppe

It was a fairly easy and uneventful hike through the typical vegetation of the region: Lenga, Coiron, Nenao, Paramela, Calafate, Siete Camisas and Mata Guanaco – most of which are low, dry, and quite spiky plants.  It helps to pay attention before you sit down!

Steppe vegetation and Lago Viedma - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Vegetation on the Patagonian steppe and Lago Viedma

The most difficult hiking was through the boggy patches, and Reto commented that at times it felt as if we were walking through the Everglades.  “I hope we don’t come across any alligators!” I responded, reveling in the fact that my feet were still blissfully dry.  I LOVE my boots!

Negotiating the swampy bits - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Negotiating the swampy bits. This “bridge” was a luxury, we were generally just walking through water

To be honest, the scenery was not as interesting as it had been for the rest of our trek, and it felt like a bit of a sprint to the finish-line in the end.  We had one more obstacle to overcome first, however.  Another zipline.  Though fortunately this one was angled downwards and it was easy sliding from one side to the other.

 

We arrived at the dock at the same time as our transport and were rewarded with ice-cold beers and a Fanta for me.  It was a relief to ditch the pack for the last time, but the end of every long-distance trek is bitter-sweet, and I was disappointed that it was all over.

Group Photo - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

We made it! Our Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition group from L-R: me, Rafa, Juan, Reto, Anita, Jan. Thanks guys for the amazing trip!

The 40 minute drive back to El Chaltén was uneventful and, after a visit to the police station to get stamped back into Argentina, we had to say our farewells to Juan and Rafa.  Truly awesome guides and fantastic fun.  Love these guys! 

Right.  Now where’s that shower…

Hiking Details

  • Hiking time:  5.5 hours
  • Distance Covered: 15.5km
  • Altitude:  +381m, -357m

Read more about the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day Southern Patagonian Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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Trekking Argentina – Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition – Huemul Pass – Day 7

We awoke to what we had been dreading the whole trek … rain! 

As we huddled in the Refugio Paso del Viento for breakfast, Juan tried to cheer us with the comment that “now you’ve experienced the full gamut of Summer weather in Patagonia“.  But we were less than enthusiastic when we had to leave the dry hut, pack our soaking tents and get ready for the day’s hike.

Rainy view from the Refugio Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Rainy view from the doorway of the Refugio Paso del Viento. I don’t want to go out there!

Though, in all honesty, if you have the right gear, after the first 10 minutes of hiking, it’s not really that bad and you tend to forget about everything getting wet.

Rainy trail - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

By this point we’d gotten used to the idea of everything being wet and it wasn’t so bad

Juan had described today’s hike as the following:

“Up, down, up, down, up, up, down, up, up, down, up, up, up, up, up, down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down”.

OK then!

The first two hours were, indeed, up and down, as we trekked alongside the Viedma Glacier. 

Half-views of the Viedma Glacier through the rain and fog - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

I can see it … just

We caught glimpses of this impressive river of ice through the rain and fog, and I was relieved to discover that all my waterproof gear held up very well to its first real test. 

  • Waterproof pants – winner!  Though must remember to tuck in my hiking shirt next time.
  • Waterproof jacket – winner!  Though it doesn’t help when I stuff a wet camera bag inside it.
  • Waterproof outer gloves – winner!  Well except for a very small pinprick of a hole in the GoreTex of left-hand one that felt a little cold after 2 hours in the rain. 
  • Waterproof shoes – winner!  Despite the sorry state of my blistered feet, they were warm and dry the entire time.
Me in all my gear - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

This is what I looked like for a large fraction of the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition. Fully decked out in waterproof gear with my pack on my back

The rain finally stopped as we hiked through green valleys at the base of  clouded, snow-topped peaks.

Green valley - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

After almost a week on the ice, this valley was vibrantly green to my eyes

This allowed us to have a decent break overlooking the Viedma Glacier before the major obstacle of the day – the Huemul Pass.

Rest stop overlooking the Viedma Glacier- South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

A rest stop overlooking the Viedma Glacier

The start of the trail was a moderate incline and offered incredible views of the glacier. 

First part of the trail to the Huemul Pass - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The first part of the trail to the Huemul Pass tracked the side of the Viedma Glacier and wasn’t terribly steep

And even though it didn’t look so bad on the approach, the “up, up, up, up, up” section of Juan’s hike description turned out to be very apt, as the trail suddenly became a lot steeper.

Asending the Huemul Pass - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Ascending to the Huemul Pass – it got steeper and steeper as we climbed

Turning around, we took in our last view of the Southern Patagonian Icefield.  Having spent 6 days contemplating and cursing it on this amazing journey that few people undertake, all of us were reluctant to leave it.  Such is the romance of the ice. 

Viedma Glacier from Huemul Pass - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The last look at the Southern Patagonian Icefield, with the Viedma Glacier descending from it

Unfortunately, there was still a long way to go to our campsite, and Juan pushed us into motion down the other side of the pass toward Lago Viedma.

Descending from Paso Huemul - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Descending from the Huemul Pass, with Lago Viedma in the background

We stopped for lunch in a forest of small Lenga trees (the first trees we’d seen in almost a week) and then climbed a nearby hill to look down upon the face of the Viedma Glacier.

Face of the Viedma Glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Looking down on the face of the Viedma Glacier. 3 years ago, the face was almost at the edge of the small peninsula. It has retreated several hundred metres in that time!

I had gone ice-climbing on the Viedma Glacier 3 years ago and was shocked to see how much it had retreated!  Several hundred metres at least!  Juan explained that they could not run tours there anymore because there was no longer easy access to the ice.  This is the first glacier I’m familiar enough with to have been able to notice a change between visits.  And all I can say is: we are in big trouble! 

Ice climbing on the Viedma Glacier - Los Glaciares National Park - Argentina

Me ice climbing on the Viedma Glacier in 2015

“Do you want to go see some Condor nests?”

Fortunately, Juan knew how to snap me out of my contemplation of the ending of the Earth, and the 6 of us climbed a little further along the cliff.  Approaching the edge, we dropped onto our stomachs and inched forward until we were looking straight down.  There they were below us – 7 condors circling lazily in the thermals.  

It was magical!

 

We watched the condors for quite a while before heading back to our packs and continuing on our way to the next campsite.

Condor Nests - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Looking straight down a a 200m cliff is quite disorienting. But it was incredible to watch the condors soaring, and see their nests (look for the guano)

We battled our way through the Lenga forest for a while

Battling the Lenga Forest - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Between the branches grabbing our clothes and pack, and the roots trying to trip us up, this was slow going through the Lenga forest

before suddenly dropping off the edge of the world in Juan’s “down, down, down, down, down, down, down, down” section of the hike.  The man has clearly done this several times before!

It was an incredibly steep (around 60 degrees), 1.5hr descent with loose stones underfoot and trees grabbing at our packs and clothing.  There was only one section that required the use of a rope, but it was a period of intense concentration to make sure we didn’t slip and suddenly (and unwittingly) end up several hundred metres further down the cliff. 

Using rope to climb down part of the steep descent - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Using rope to climb down part of the steep descent to the Bahía de los Témpanos

Rafa continued in his lessons to teach me how to use my trekking poles for descending and, although I understood the theory, I still preferred to tuck them under my arms and use my hands and butt.  Sorry Rafa, I still don’t have enough trust in them 🙂

Arriving at the Bahía de los Témpanos campsite was a relief for us all, and we were fortunate in that there were several big icebergs quite close to shore.  These icebergs have broken off the face of the Viedma Glacier and become stranded in this little bay.

Bahía de los Témpanos and its icebergs - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Bahía de los Témpanos and its icebergs from above (top) and our campsite (middle, bottom)

We pitched our tents, admired the views and then sat around chatting, joined by our new Kiwi friend, Tim, who was hiking the Huemul Circuit.  Our last night together was also the warmest we’d had, so it was really lovely to sit around outside for a change, chatting and listening to the icebergs crack.

Last dinner - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Sitting around chatting at our last campsite for the trek

Hiking Details

  • Hiking time:  7.5 hours
  • Distance Covered: 13.8km
  • Altitude:  +509m, -1160m

Read more about the Southern Patagonia Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day Southern Patagonian Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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Trekking Argentina – Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition – Paso del Viento – Day 6

After 5 days of strenuous effort, today was our “rest” day.  That’s not to say that we stayed put and did nothing.  Not at all!  But the distance to the next campsite was not far, the wind was less (though still quite strong), and the promise of a food re-supply sustained us.

Our route today would see us join the Huemul Circuit – a 4-day trek from El Chaltén that you can hike independently.  The two routes converge at the base of the trail down from the Paso del Viento (Windy Pass) – a pass which had taken on mythical proportions for me as a seriously hard-core feat having listened to other trekkers over the years.  However, given my experiences of the past few days, I have to admit its stature was somewhat diminished in my mind…

Since it was only a small-ish detour, we decided to climb to the pass to have a look before descending again and continuing our journey to the Refugio Paso del Viento and our campsite.  And even though my blisters were incredibly painful (the worst I’d ever had) there was no way I was going to miss this!

Blisters - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

I had a slight issue with my feet all through the Southern Patagonian Icecap Expedition… This photo was actually taken about a week after the trek had ended. Yes, they were very painful for a long time!

We hiked up to where the trails met and dumped our heavy backpacks.  No point carrying the weight if we didn’t need to!  From there it was a half-hour climb up a steep, switchback trail to the pass.

Approaching the Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The approach to the Paso del Viento from the Icefield side

Despite being blown about by the wind on the way up, the pass itself was not windy at all!  Apparently its name comes from further down the other side – a narrow defile through which the wind fairly screams.

Unfortunately, the sun was in exactly the wrong spot for photography, and the peaks of Cerro Grande and Cerro Solo were still hidden by clouds, but there were incredible views of the Glacier de Quevain and Glacier Río Túnel

Glacier de Quevain and Glacier Río Túnel - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Glacier de Quevain (left) and Glacier Río Túnel (right) from the Paso del Viento

and all the way down to Laguna Toro and the Río Túnel.  

Enjoying the Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Enjoying the Paso del Viento without any wind. With views down to Laguna Toro and the Río Túnel

We hung out up here for about half an hour taking pictures

Me at the Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Me at the Paso del Viento with Glacier de Quevain in the background

before heading back down to collect our packs.

The Icefield from Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Panoramic view of the Icefield, complete with rainbow! From the top of the steep descent down from Paso del Viento

A funny thought was that usually people take a short detour at this point to see the Icefield, where we’d taken a short detour to see the Pass.

The rest of the hike to the Refugio Paso del Viento was very easy, and we enjoyed bright sunshine for most of the way.

Approach to Refugio Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The hike to Refugio Paso del Viento. You can see the Viedma Glacier in the background

The Refugio itself was built in the 1950s and is only large enough to accommodate meals.  So we pitched our tents in the best camp spots (it was several hours before the first of the Huemul Circuit hikers turned up)

Camping at Refugio Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The Refugio Paso del Viento is not big enough to sleep in. However, there are plenty of great camping spots nearby

and made ourselves comfortable in the hut for lunch.

Refugio Paso del Viento - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Soaking up the sun outside the Refugio Paso del Viento (top) and enjoying lunch inside (bottom)

A few hours later, our fresh food supply arrived on the backs of two porters from Serac Expeditions.   They brought breakfasts, lunches and dinners for the next 3 days

Food resupply - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Yay for porters with fresh food! Checking out our haul in the Refugio Paso del Viento

plus some very special treats!  A can of beer each (soft drink for me), and more salami, cheese, peanuts and olives, which Rafa carefully prepared on a wooden chopping board a la Jamie Oliver.  The funny thing is – he didn’t actually know who Jamie Oliver was!

Special treats - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

I love Serac Expeditions! Along with food re-supply they also sent us treats! Rafa channeled Jamie Oliver in his presentation of our afternoon luxury, even though he’d never heard of him!

We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing, talking, joking and drinking copious amounts of tea and coffee, relishing in the fact that today was an easy one and that we had a communal area that we could all hang out in.  Rafa cooked our “fancy” meals for dinner and it was another relatively early night as we vacated the hut so that the other hikers could also eat in comfort.

Cooking dinner - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Rafa cooking our “fancy dinners” in the Refugio Paso del Viento. Luxury!

It is terribly selfish of me?  But I was disappointed when the other hikers showed up.  It had just been us for the past 6 days, and now we had to share our experience with others.  I guess this is why I preferentially choose to trek in remote places…

Hiking Details

  • Hiking time:  2.5 hours
  • Distance Covered: 5km
  • Altitude:  +228m, -437m

Read more about the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day Southern Patagonian Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me:
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Trekking Argentina – Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition – Day 5

Juan woke us at 7am to discover that the clouds had not disappeared and the winds had not abated overnight.  If anything, the wind was stronger than the day before!  

The Icefield from Circo de los Altares - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

View of the Icefield from our camp at Circo de los Altares

This meant that we really had to focus as we trekked across the ankle-turning surface of the Icefield.  I mentioned before that glacier hiking requires concentration even in the best of conditions, and this was most certainly not the best of conditions!

Glacier hiking - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Our fourth day of glacier hiking as we made our way South on the Icefield. Less snow today – more hard ice and slush

If it had been a clear day, we would have had an amazing view of Cerro Torre and its associated range, but as it was, we only caught a 5-second glimpse of it in one of our short breaks.

Glimpse of the tip of Cerro Torre - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

A 5-second glimpse of the very top of Cerro Torre (just below the patch of blue sky). We had to wait for several minutes for a gap in the clouds. I can’t imagine how spectacular the view must be on a clear day!

For the next 3 hours, we hiked through snow, slush, and hard ice, all the while being pummeled with little ice particles hurled at us by the wind. 

Glacier hiking - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

We came across very wet and slushy parts of the Icefield as we headed south

It was mentally and physically draining to ensure we didn’t miss-step and twist an ankle due to the buffeting wind, and I found that I started to develop a little “target-fixation” as I negotiated the crevasses.  Even the narrow ones drew my eyes into their depths.

Crevasse - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

We walked over an uncountable number of these narrow crevasses during our 4 days on the ice. Some were very deep, some were the bluest of blue, and all were oddly compelling

This was our last day hiking on the actual Icefield, and as we journeyed further South, we turned towards the mountains.

Heading towards the edge of the icefield - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Heading towards the edge of the Icefield at the southern end of the mountain range

When we finally hit land again, it was strange (after almost 4 days) to hike without our crampons.  Having unstable, rocky glacial moraine under our feet also took some getting used to, as we stopped to admire the enormous crevasses at the edge of the Viedma Glacier.

Enormous crevasses in Viedma Glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Enormous crevasses in the Viedma Glacier. We were hiking on land precisely to avoid these

We crossed a tongue of land to skirt the worst of the crevasses in the glacier, and then had one last hike on ice (this time without crampons) before leaving the glacier for good.

The last of the ice - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Crossing the last of the Ice

But the fun was not yet over!  We still had 7 glacial moraines to cross in order to get to our campsite at Laguna Ferrari, each one requiring an ascent and descent over loose rocks and scree.

The first moraine was particularly tricky because it was essentially still all ice but with a very thin covering of dirt.  Slow and careful placement of feet and the prodigious use of hands to assist meant that I only fell once, even though it was incredibly slippery.

In contrast, the other moraines would have been quite easy to negotiate, if it hadn’t been for the wind.  By this stage it was blowing at 100km/hr and gusting even faster.  We were mostly walking perpendicular to it, and being small and light and still carrying a 20kg backpack meant that I was constantly bracing myself to avoid being knocked over.  There were moments when I actually had to stop moving, because if I’d lifted my foot to take the next step, I would surely have been blown over.  I cannot describe how much energy I expended simply trying to keep myself upright!

Lake on the way to Laguna Ferrari - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

A lake on the way to Laguna Ferrari. We could barely stand against the wind here and our next moraine is that pass on the left hand side

As it was, I (and Anita) fell more than 10 times over the next 1.5 hours as we made our way towards the campsite.  And there may have been a tear or two of frustration and exhaustion escape as I picked myself up from the rocks for the umpteenth time. “Type 2 Fun” at its best!

Moraine - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Up another glacial moraine, trying to stay upright against 100km/hr winds

Cresting the last moraine, we could see Laguna Ferrari and the stone protective walls that marked our home for the night.  I’ve never been so glad in all my life to see a campsite, and I could have kissed the ground had I thought I would be able to get back up again!

Camp Laguna Ferrari - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The campsite at Laguna Ferrari. The rock walls provide a little extra shelter from the wind

We’d been hiking for only 6 hours, but it felt more like 12.  I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired after a hike in my life!

Hiking Details

  • Hiking time:  6 hours
  • Distance Covered: 13.8km
  • Altitude:  +276m, -411m

Read more about the Southern Patagonian Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day Southern Patagonian Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

Like what you have read? Please follow and like me: