Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia 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 South Patagonia 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 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. 

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

The last look at the South Patagonia 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 South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day South Patagonia 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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