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.
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.
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”.
The first two hours were, indeed, up and down, as we trekked alongside the Viedma Glacier.
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.
The rain finally stopped as we hiked through green valleys at the base of clouded, snow-topped peaks.
This allowed us to have a decent break overlooking the Viedma Glacier before the major obstacle of the day – the Huemul Pass.
The start of the trail was a moderate incline and offered incredible views of the glacier.
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.
Turning around, we took in our last view of the South Patagonia 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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
We battled our way through the Lenga forest for a while
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.
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.
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.
- Hiking time: 7.5 hours
- Distance Covered: 13.8km
- Altitude: +509m, -1160m
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