The trip description from Serac Expeditions for the South Patagonia Icefield Trek says this about Day 2:
…we trek up the glacier until nearing the Marconi pass – entrance to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. This will surely be the Expedition’s toughest day.
This is what had been fueling my fears for months!
We awoke to rain and wind, and had a brief breakfast of cornflakes and tea while still in our sleeping bags. Although I put it off as long as possible, I did eventually have to emerge, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that the rain was not as heavy as it sounded from inside the tent. We got dressed in our waterproof pants, jackets and gaiters and packed up quickly ensuring, as per Juan’s advice, that our sunglasses, crampons and harness were easy to get to in our packs.
And so began our climb up to the glacier and the entrance to the Icefield.
Was it as tough as it was made out to be?
And this was despite the fact that we had a pretty good day for this part of the trek! On some expeditions the wind is so strong that they have to stay extra days at Lago 14 waiting for it to abate.
The first 1.5 hours of the climb was essentially straight up a vertical cliff – in many places more like rock-climbing than hiking. There are a couple of reasons for this:
- changes in climate over the past few years have made ascending directly via the Marconi Glacier too dangerous. This new route accesses the Icefield via the Gorra Blanca Sur Glacier, whose face is at a higher altitude than the Marconi Glacier.
- we were trekking at the end of Summer. Earlier in the season this area is covered in snow and you can essentially just snow-shoe your way directly up to the glacier face.
There were some very tricky parts – particularly for a person with short legs and carrying more than 1/3 of her bodyweight on her back! One of my favourite images from the entire expedition is the following, which completely encapsulates the challenges of Day 2.
We had already climbed up from below the lake, being careful to brace ourselves against wind gusts and not fall on the slippery, wet rocks. Juan instructed us to put on our harnesses as we faced our third obstacle of the trek – a “step” that was taller than I was, with a sheer drop-off on the left-hand side. An attached rope provided the solution as we harnessed ourselves to our guides and used the rope to pull ourselves up onto the 1 metre-wide ledge. Anita has just executed this maneuver in the image and Juan is unhooking her.
At this point, we found a slightly sheltered place behind a rock for one of our short snack stops. The food provided by Serac Expeditions for this trek was great, and included Argentinean empanadas for lunch on the first 2 days! I chose to eat one of these, rather than diving into the chocolate bars, muslei bars, and other snacks – partially to save the others for later when I would be craving something sweet, and partially because they were the heaviest food item I was carrying! Anything to reduce weight 😀
Another obstacle we came across a little later was essentially a rock “chute”, where I had to brace myself against the walls in order to reach the top. Usually I’m quite coordinated, but on this particular occasion I somehow managed to get myself turned around and wedged pretty tightly in the narrow crack. I wasn’t at all sure how I was going to get myself out. But I was determined not to have to ask for assistance, and through sheer force of will I managed to extract myself.
Up, up, up we climbed. I couldn’t imagine doing this if it had been any windier!
Eventually we reached the face of the Gorra Blanca Sur Glacier and it was time to affix our crampons.
Then up onto the ice.
The next hour was a steady 30 degree climb up the glacier to the Icefield. At this time of year all the snow had melted so we were walking on hard ice and had no trouble spotting and avoiding the crevasses. The views back down the glacier were stunning, though the rise of the glacier itself seemed to be never-ending.
It was a relief to finally reach the Icefield where our trek flattened out.
Here, the crevasses became wider and deeper, often with small trickles of water falling into the abyss. We also came upon a Moulin – a hole created when melt-water encounters a weak-spot in the ice and, due to the Coriolis effect, begins to boar a narrow vertical shaft into the glacier. Ultimately, both processes deliver water to the base of the glacier to lubricate its movement, and it is for this reason that glaciers tend to move faster during Summer.
An hour later, the hut (our home for the next couple of nights) was in sight, though there was one last uphill in order to reach it.
We had crossed the border into Chile at around the point where the glacier flattened out, and arrived for a late lunch at the CONAF hut.
There are usually 3 Chilean Carabineros (police/border guards) stationed here (seriously, you find these poor guys stationed at the most remote outposts of their country) but, given their absence, we had the place to ourselves and quickly settled in. The hut was not warm (renewed respect for the Tasiilaq Mountain Hut in East Greenland), but we spent a great afternoon drinking tea and chatting around the dining table.
We also made several excursions outside to explore our surroundings. Although the mountains were obscured, we were treated to a bright rainbow arching over the glacier.
Amazing patterns in the ice.
Spectacular vistas over the Icecap (move cursor over the image to scroll the panorama).
And to top it all off, a platter of peanuts, olives, cheese, salami and crackers on one of our “tea-breaks” back inside the hut! Heaven!
We finished the day with a beautiful sunset that promised better weather tomorrow, and headed to bed early due to tiredness and the fact that we had to wake up at 5am for our ascent of Gorra Blanca.
- Hiking time: 5.5 hours
- Distance Covered: 8.3km
- Altitude: +818m, -22m
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:
- 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