Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia Icefield Expedition – Summary

If you’ve done a few long-distance treks and are looking for a new challenge, the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions will certainly deliver!  Only about 100 people a year take on this remote trek, but it is an incredible experience in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Admiring the view - South Patagonia Icefield, Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre from the Refugio Garcia Soto

It doesn’t get any better than this. Taking in the view of the South Patagonia Icefield, Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre from the Refugio Garcia Soto

Was it difficult?

It’s the most difficult trek I’ve ever done!

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat! 

In fact, I already have my eye on the Marconi Pass – Estancia Cristina Expedition also offered by Serac Expeditions.  But this time I want to do it at the start of the season so I can experience different conditions on the Icefield and snow-shoes 🙂

Here are a few final thoughts about my adventure on the ice this year.

Training

I’m still relatively new to long-distance trekking, so my previous relevant experience was only:

plus a lot of day-hikes (many at altitude) in various places around the world.

Images from each of my previous treks

My previous relevant experience from top left to bottom left: Torres del Paine Circuit Trek (Chile), Ice climbing on the Viedma Glacier (Argentina), Unplugged Wilderness Trek (East Greenland), and the high-altitude Huayhuash Circuit Trek (Peru). Yes, I’m fascinated by ice!

My “training” specifically for the expedition was 5 separate day-hikes around Ushuaia, and the Lago Torre hike from El Chaltén in the previous week.  Yes, I agree.  It could have been more extensive 🙂 And although my day-pack tends to be heavier than most (thanks to my camera gear), it would have been good to get some full backpacking in there as well.  Nevertheless, it was entirely doable for a fairly small person, even if a little tough! 

To be honest, the most important thing for this trip is your mental attitude.  The expedition is not overly technical (though there are a few moments) – but depending on the weather and your fitness, you must be willing to push yourself at times.

Gear

I’ve discovered that having the right gear makes the world of difference!  Although this expedition was much colder and wetter than the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland, I was more comfortable here. 

The equipment provided by Serac Expeditions (in my case, tent, sleeping bag and pack) were all excellent and high quality, and as for my own gear – I can highly recommend:

  • Hunger Hiker Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles.  This is the first trek I’ve ever done with hiking poles, and I have to admit they made a huge difference!  They help get you up the hills (by taking some of the weight off your legs), save your knees on the downhills (though I’ve still yet to master this – sorry Rafa), provide 3rd and 4th points of balance (really critical at times) and are amazingly strong and unbreakable.
  • LOWA Mountain Expert GTX Evo Boot.  Yes, they are heavy.  Yes, they take some getting used to.  Yes, they rubbed holes in my feet.  But boy are they amazing!  After 6 days walking on ice and slush (and 5 days of hiking through the peat bogs near Ushuaia) my feet were still dry.  They also have insulation built in, so my feet were rarely cold on the expedition – very unusual for me.
  • Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters.  This is the first time I’ve ever worn gaiters and these ones were comfortable and seemed to do the job they are designed for.  
  • Black Diamond Pursuit Cold Weather Gloves.  These were magic!  Along with perpetually cold feet I have constantly cold hands.  These did a wonderful job of keeping them warm and dry (despite quite a bit of rain on Day 7).
  • Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket.  Surprisingly warm given how small and light it is – and I really feel the cold!  Would have been better to buy the one with the hood, but oh well.
  • North Face Women’s Resolve Waterproof Pants.  Kept the bottom half of me nice and dry.
  • Buff.  I was always a little uncertain about these things, but I bought a merino wool one for the expedition and it was magic!  
Me in all my gear - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Me in all my gear. Everything performed fantastically well – very pleased and much more comfortable than I’ve been on previous treks.

Logistics

Given that my previous long-distance treks had all been supported (ie we only had to carry a day-pack, the rest of the gear was transported for us), the day-to-day logistics of this expedition were a little different.  There were two main things that struck me, mostly because I’m a sociable person and enjoy talking to others:

  1. Because the terrain was so difficult and we had to be roped together for a fair portion of the expedition, it was not possible to chat much during the day while trekking.
  2. I really missed the communal dining tent and the ability for the group to sit around in the evening chatting.  I really appreciated the days we spent at the Refugio Garcia Soto (Days 2 & 3) and Refugio Paso del Viento (Day 6) when we could all get together properly.

For these reasons, I found it a much more solitary experience that my previous treks.  Not necessarily good or bad, just different.  Though I must admit that meeting and forming friendships with the others is one of the things I really love about long-distance trekking.

Refugio Paso del Viento - eating together

Because the trek was not supported, we did not have a communal tent to hang out in. I really appreciated the 3 nights we had near huts, when we could all sit around together

Food

The food provided by Serac Expeditions is largely what you would expect/hope for on a trek like this:

Breakfast: a choice of cornflakes or porridge

Lunch:  Argentinean empanadas and “brick” sandwiches

Dinner: instant soup, a very tasty main meal, and something sweet for desert 

Each tent-pair shared a bag of tea/coffee/powdered milk/sugar and several different packets of biscuits, and we each had our own “snack bag” filled with chocolates, alfajores, energy bars, muesli bars and lollies.

However, there were also some very welcome surprises! 

The evening meals on Day 1 and Day 6 were as gourmet as you can get for something that comes in a packet and is cooked by boiling the whole thing in water.  And the cheese/processed meat/peanut/olives/crackers platters that magically appeared on Day 2 and Day 6 were a real treat!  Thank you Serac Expeditions!

Images of some of the food provided for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition by Serac Expeditions

Some of the fantastic food we had on the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition: Argentinean empanadas and “brick” sandwiches stuffed with huge amounts of meat and cheese (top), hot dinners (bottom) and our luxury item on 2 of the days – a meat, cheese, nuts and olives platter

The Guides

What can I say – I love Juan and Rafa!

Our guide and assistant guide for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Juan and Rafa

Our guide (Juan, right) and assistant guide (Rafa, left) were absolutely brilliant and huge amounts of fun

They were great fun, very safety conscious, and very patient with the photographer 😉  Big shout-out to Rafa who was usually the one that would drop behind to help me catch up to the others after taking photos!

These guys have a tough job!  While we just retreated to our tents and stayed nice and warm and dry, they ferried hot water, food and anything else that was required between the tents – regardless of what the weather was throwing at them.  Nothing was too much trouble and they were always ready with a smile and encouragement. 

Seriously guys – you are awesome!  And I’m so happy to have met you 🙂 I hope we can trek together again in the near future!

In Conclusion

I’ve managed to see the world’s 3 largest Icefields in the past 14 months – Antarctica, Greenland and now South Patagonia.  All of them have been incredible, and immersing yourself in the environment and experiencing it on foot makes it even more special.

So far, this has been the most challenging trek I’ve done, and it was made even more so by the fact that I was taking photos.  This is not a trek where you have plenty of time to stop for photos, but rather an expedition where you have to keep moving.  That being said, the photography opportunities are incredible – but you have to be prepared to shoot quickly!

Despite the challenge, it has only increased my desire to do other, even tougher expeditions in the future.  My not-achievable-unless-I-win-the-lotto goal is to do the Greenland Crossing with Icelandic Mountain Guides, but in the meantime I have my sights set on the Marconi Pass – Estancia Cristina Expedition in November 2019 with Serac Expeditions and the Liverpool Land North-South Traverse with Tangent Expeditions in April 2019. 

Who’s in with me?

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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