Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia Icefield Expedition – Prelude

In 2015, I did the 7-day Torres del Paine Circuit trek with Swoop Patagonia.  Although I had hiked most of the trails of the Torres del Paine National Park in my 3 previous visits (it really is one of the most spectacular places on the planet), I specifically wanted to do the Circuit for the moment when you reach the top of the John Garner Pass and have the South Patagonia Icefield stretched out before you.

Looking down on the Grey Glacier and the South Patagonia Icecap from John Garner Pass on the Torres del Paine Circuit Trek

Looking down on the Grey Glacier and the South Patagonia Icecap from John Garner Pass on the Torres del Paine Circuit Trek

I fell in love with long-distance trekking on that trip.

A rainy dawn at the Torres del Paine National Park

A gorgeous sunrise over Los Cuernos in the Torres del Paine National Park meant walking in rain for the rest of the day on the Circuit Trek

From there, I crossed the border into Argentina, re-visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate

Perito Moreno Glacier

The face of the Perito Moreno Glacier – one of the most impressive glaciers I’ve ever seen.

and exploring for the first time around El Chaltén – Argentina’s (then largely unknown) mecca for hiking.   

Approaching El Chaltén and the Fitz Roy massif

Approaching El Chaltén and the Fitz Roy massif

It was there that I first learned about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition, in which you spend several days trekking on the Icecap itself.  Guess what replaced the Torres del Paine Circuit on my bucket-list?

Fast-forward to 2017.

One of the friends I made while on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland told me she was traveling to Patagonia in early 2018.  While helping her plan her trip, I suddenly remembered the Icecap Expedition and went searching for it on the internet.  After the 12-day trek in Greenland, the 10-day Huayhuash Circuit Trek in Peru, and the 7-day Torres del Paine Circuit in Chile, I was looking for a new challenge and, having re-read the description, it sounded like the perfect trek to tackle next.  I contacted Swoop Patagonia (they were amazing last time) and signed up for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition with their Argentinean partner company Serac Expeditions.

Storefront of Serac Expeditions in El Chaltén - Argentina

Storefront of Serac Expeditions in El Chaltén

The website makes it very clear that this is a strenuous trek with an intermediate technical difficulty.  While the distance didn’t phase me at all, I have to admit I was a little nervous about the cold, and that fact that I’d have to carry a full backpack for the first time in 20 years.  On my other long-distance treks I only had to carry a day-pack, as the rest was schlepped by porters or donkeys or boats. 

Due to the nature of the trek, both Swoop Patagonia and Serac Expeditions screen potential clients for suitable previous experience and, fortunately, I passed the grade.  But I still had several months to stew on the question of the cold and carrying the weight of the backpack…

It was almost a relief when, the day before the expedition started, the group met at the wonderful Patagonia Travelers Hostel in El Chaltén (I highly recommend it as a place to stay) for a briefing with Juan, our guide, and Rafa, our assistant guide.   There were 4 of us in total – Anita and Reto from Switzerland, Jan from Czech Republic, and me, and this get-together was to make sure that we each had everything we needed to be safe and relatively comfortable on the trek.   

Rafa went through all my gear with me, item by item, and gave me the tick of approval.  Then we all gathered around the map as Juan explained the plan for the next 8-9 days.  

Our trekking route for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

The thick lines highlight our actual trekking route for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition as recorded by Reto and his fancy watch. This was exactly the plan that Juan suggested at this briefing

Despite my fears, it sounded incredibly awesome, and I was really looking forward to getting started.

The last part of the briefing was to take us to the police station to register our trek and get stamped out of Argentina (we would spend several days trekking in Chile), and I decided to have an early night in anticipation.

Sign to the police station in El Chalten

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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