The weather forecast over dinner last night predicted clear skies and little-to-no wind for our first day hiking down the South Patagonia Icefield to the Circo de los Altares campsite.
The day didn’t start out too bad to be honest, but within an hour, the clouds had completely obscured the mountains and the wind became a force to reckon with.
We spent the first hour crossing another crevasse field towards the smooth snow we could see from the Refugio Garcia Soto. After 1.5 days, hiking across a glacier with crampons had started to lose some of its novelty and, if you have weak ankles, I wouldn’t recommend that you undertake this trip this late in the season.
Juan bought our friend, the rope, out again once we reached the snow and tied us together in a 3rd configuration. We were in an area where the crevasses ran parallel to our direction of travel, so hiking in single file would result in all of us falling into the crevasse if Juan was clever enough to find one. In this new configuration, we fanned out in the same way that search and rescue teams do, so that if one person fell into a crevasse, the rest of us would hopefully still be on solid ice and could pull them out.
This was tough going!
Although the snow was only about 5-15cm deep, it still required more effort than walking on a solid surface, and we were battling a strong headwind. Fortunately, this section was relatively short, and we once again changed into the original configuration of a single-file.
Here I discovered that being short is a disadvantage. Although our route was fairly flat and the snow not terribly deep, it was still easier to walk in the bootprints of those in front of me than to forge my own way through the snow. But everyone in front of me had a much longer stride. I felt like a little kid trying to walk in the footprints of my dad – managing to reach the first few, but then either having to jump or make my own way for a few paces before rejoining the trail.
For the next 8km, Anita (who was roped behind me) and I half-walked/half-ran to keep up with the pace. It was a great workout, but when we stopped for a brief lunch, we had to ask them to slow down a bit!
By this time we were out of Argentinean empanadas and had moved on to our “brick sandwiches” for lunch. These are large, heavy bread rolls stuffed with a huge amount of meat and cheese, and were very reminiscent of our lunches on the Torres del Paine Circuit (where I first coined the term). As I did in Torres del Paine, I ended up pulling all the filling out and eating just that, not bothering with the bread. While it is important to eat more calories on an Expedition like this, it was still too much for me – particularly when I don’t eat a lot of bread normally. The difficulty was actually getting to the filling! Because it was so cold, prizing the roll apart took some skill and perseverence!
Almost all of our snack or lunch breaks on the Expedition were very short as, in these conditions, you cool down very quickly once you stop moving. Here on the Icefield we had no protection from the howling wind, and we soon hoisted our packs and continued our hike South.
For the next hour or so we continued hiking down the back-side of the mountain ranges that have turned El Chaltén (a town which didn’t exist before 1985) into the hiking capital of Argentina. By this point we had a tailwind of at least 60km/hr and, even though it was working with us, it was tiring to continually need to brace yourself against its pressure and random gusts.
We entered another crevasse field covered in a light dusting of snow, and Reto, Rafa and I all fell. Reto was first, falling to his knees as the snow gave out underneath him. Then Rafa plunged to hip-depth about half an hour later. My own experience was just to knee-depth, but it was an interesting experience to have what appeared to be solid ground disappear beneath me.
Our campsite for the night – Circo de los Altares – was located about half way down the mountain range and set in a small valley that offered some protection from the wind. It is meant to be the most spectacular campsite of the Expedition, but unfortunately the weather was not cooperating! Perhaps tomorrow…
We arrived at about 3pm and quickly went about setting up the tents and creating small snow walls for extra protection.
And I have to admit, even with the mountains obscured by cloud, it was pretty spectacular!
Despite the relatively sheltered location and our snow walls, it was still very cold and windy outside, so we hunkered down in our tents listening to the wind beat against the outside.
The weather deteriorated as the afternoon progressed, but Juan and Rafa kept us supplied with hot water, and eventually appeared with a delicious rice and lentil stew for dinner and a Dulce de Leche Milka bar for dessert 🙂 Juan also explained the plan for the next days before we all had another early night.
- Hiking time: 5.5 hours
- Distance Covered: 14.7km
- Altitude: +73m, -335m
Read more about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition
- 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