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A trip to the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap is a fantastic and unique mountaineering challenge and an opportunity to discover one of the world’s most stunning mountain environments. Our journey is a ski traverse of the ice cap behind the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre mountain ranges, in fact almost a circumnavigation of this spectacular and unique region that exists in total isolation.
We hope to make ascents of peaks en route; weather and conditions allowing. For this reason the itinerary has extra days built-in for exploring on the ice cap. As the terrain on the ice cap is almost flat (except when getting onto and leaving the glacier through passes) we can travel by either snowshoes or skis with our gear on sleds. Weather permitting we will attempt Cerro Grande at 2,804m in the Torre mountain range and/or Cerro Gorra Blanca 2860m. The crossing can be undertaken in any kind of weather; more important on this kind of trip is the spirit of the group. Our stepping-off point to gain the ice cap will be the small village of El Chaltén, Patagonia’s adventure capital, situated between the Viedma Lake and the southern Andes.
If you relish the prospect of demanding travel in stunningly beautiful yet harsh terrain, with a reputation for some of planet’s most extreme and continuously changing weather patterns, this trip is for you!
Day 1: Arrival in Buenos Aires and flight to El Calafate
You’ll arrive in Buenos Aires or “BA”, as the locals call this bustling cosmopolitan capital, in the morning and transfer to the Aeroparque Airport for the flight to El Calafate. This is a small town named after a locally abundant berberis bush with edible blue berries, and on the shores of Lago Argentino, South America’s third largest body of freshwater. You’ll be met upon arrival and, after loading the luggage in our vehicle, drive to el Calafate and stay at the Koiten Aiken hotel. Once we arrive there should be time in the late afternoon to walk along the lake’s edge, before a group dinner (not included).
Day 2: Drive to El Chalten
After breakfast, we’ll drive across the windy Patagonian expanses, first back toward El Calafate, then toward the base of Mount Fitz Roy. Our route takes us around the south and east shores of Lago Argentino and past Lago Viedma. With clear weather, we’ll be able to watch the granite spires of Mount Fitz Roy rise up behind the turquoise waters of the lakes, as we approach the small community of El Chaltén, in the foothills of the massif. Here, we’ll check in at the cozy El Puma Hostería for the night.
Driving distance: 240 Km or 5 1/2 hours; Elevation: 810′
Day 3: The Marconi Glacier
Leaving El Chaltén, we’ll drive to the confluence of the Río de las Vueltas and Río Eléctrico and begin hiking towards the Ice Cap. We’ll follow the course of the latter river past its junction with the Río Blanco, towards Lago Eléctrico. Along the route we’ll identify a variety of colorful flowers and a multitude of birds. From Lago Eléctrico we’ll continue along rocky glacier moraines to our camp at the foot of the Marconi glacier.
Trekking length: 6 hours; Camp elevation: 2,130′
Day 4: The Marconi Pass Camp
Leaving camp, we’ll put on crampons and ascend the Marconi glacier to the top of Marconi pass at 4,830′. There are several areas of crevasses to be negotiated as we gain elevation and we’ll travel in rope-teams for security. We’ll have excellent views of the northwest face of Pier Giorgio, one of the most impressive walls in Patagonia. From the pass, we have a spectacular view of the backside of Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding mountains – perhaps, one of the finest views in the area! We’ll descend a short way along the glacier and establish our first camp on the ice cap.
Backpacking length: 6 ½ hours; Camp elevation: 4,730′
Day 5: Cerro Gorra Blanca Climb
Today we can make an optional climb to the summit of Cerro Gorra Blanca (9,385ft). This is a demanding 8-10 hour glacier ascent that involves some crevasse crossings, a couple of technical sections as we approach the summit and an approximate 4,500 ft. elevation gain from Marconi Pass. The views from the top are exceptional! We’ll return to the same camp for the night. Other exploratory hikes are available for those who may prefer not to ascend this peak.
Day 6: Los Altares Cirque
We’ll begin crossing the Ice Cap today! Following breakfast, our route takes us past the west face of the Marconi massif as we make our way to the Circo de los Altares camp, west of the impressive Cerro Torre massif peaks. In this isolated region there is nothing but silence, wind, ice and remarkable pristine beauty. Truly a once-in-a-lifetime, awe-inspiring experience! Backpacking time: 7 hours
Days 7 and 8: Exploration and Ski Days
The guides will decide how we use these extra days, which we also include in the itinerary in case of bad weather. Options include skiing at the base of Cero Torre or a simple hike or climb to near peaks.
Day 9: Viedma Glacier Camp
Sunrise in this fantastic, untouched wilderness is spectacular on clear mornings. We’ll watch as dawn slowly creeps from the pink-tinged tops of the Cordon Mariano Moreno mountains to the west, rolling down the slopes to reach the vast sea of ice, upon which we are camped. Following breakfast, we’ll break camp, load our sleds and continue south, traversing the immense Ice Cap negotiating around obvious crevasses and following a relatively level route parallel to the Adela massif and Cerro Grande. In the afternoon we’ll establish camp on the lateral moraine, at the foot of Paso Del Viento, digging platforms and putting up snow-block barriers to protect our tents from the wind.
Backpacking length: 8 ½ hours; Camp elevation: 4,100′
Day 11: Lago Torro Camp
Leaving camp early this morning, we face a rocky 1000 ft. gain to reach the summit of Paso del Viento, a 5,085′ pass that leads us to the warmer, eastern side of the Andes. From here, we have a panoramic view of the Continental Ice Cap and its glaciers, including the magnificent Upsala, which ends in Lago Argentino and branches off to the form the Viedma whose crevasses mark the beginning of its slow-motion plunge into Lago Viedma. Our descent is rocky until we reach the Río Tunel Glacier. We’ll cross in front of its terminal moraine before setting camp at Lago Toro. From here, we have a view of the northwest face of Cerro Huemul.
Backpacking length: 7 hours; Camp elevation: 2,460′
Day 12: El Chalten
We’ll descend along the Río Tunel valley this morning, passing through occasional patches of lenga forest. Along the way we’ll look for the unique, apricot-colored fungus called llao-llao, which only grows on trees of the species Nothofagus, or deciduous beech. We’ll cross Loma del Pliegue Tumbado ridge, where we have a panoramic view of the entire range, from Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and Cerro Huemul to the west, to Lago Viedma and the Patagonian steppes to the east. Following a long descent to El Chaltén, we return to the familiar El Puma Hostería for the night.
Day 13: Departures
Leaving early, we’ll drive back across the plains to El Calafate where we’ll catch an afternoon flight to Buenos Aires for onward travel to the USA. You may wish to fly the next day and have a night out in Buenos Aires.
N.B. Due to the EXTREMELY changeable nature of the weather in Patagonia this itinerary is subject to modification at any time. The number of backpacking days, as well as trekking segments and campsites, may vary for numerous reasons beyond our control including group, trail/river/snow, and weather conditions. Depending on conditions on the ice cap, backcountry skis or snowshoes may be used. Actual travel time may be quite variable, based on conditions and mode of travel. Numerous camp tasks, which require a lot of time, such as melting ice for drinking water, cutting blocks to make wind screens, pitching tents, cooking, etc., must also be done as a group effort. Driving and hiking distances as well as altitudes are approximate and times indicated are NET hiking or driving times that do not include lunch breaks, rest stops, time to explore the surroundings, etc.
This expedition is led by our excellent English-speaking Patagonian Mountain Guides. Depending on team numbers, there will be additional Guides on the ice cap section of the itinerary to help with carrying the group’s tents, stoves and food. Gauchos, horses, porters and cooks will also be used where appropriate. Our guides know the areas we are visiting extremely well and have completed the ice cap trek many times before in all conditions.
Travel to El Calafate, Argentina (FTE) typically takes 18 – 27 hours from the U.S. depending on your departure city, available connections, and flight times. Flights generally arrive in the afternoon on Day 1 of the itinerary. Departing flights may be booked for any time midday onwards on the final day of the program.
A valid passport is required when traveling to Argentina. Your passport must be valid for 6 months beyond the expected return date. U.S. passport holders may stay up to 90 days with- out visa. We suggest making a copy of the first two pages of your passport and keeping them in a separate bag as a backup. A copy should also be left with your emergency contact.
Please confirm any current travel advisories/warnings as well as passport and visa requirements with the U.S. Department of State
Information about Argentina’s Reciprocity Fee
If you are a Canadian or Australian citizen traveling to Argentina (US citizens are now EXEMPT), you are required to pay a “Reciprocity Fee” ($140). This fee is required by the Government of Argentina and is not included in your airfare. This imposed fee must be prepaid online (https://virtual.provinciapagos.com.ar/ArgentineTaxes/) prior to travel. Please check the Embassy of Argentina’s web site if you have any questions
Travel and flight information:
We suggest that you obtain an evening flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina, which arrives early in the morning and in time for a connecting flight to El Calafate, Argentina later that day (day one of the itinerary.
Upon arrival in Buenos Aires, after receiving your bags from Baggage Claim, you will proceed to Customs. There will be a random selection of bags for inspection. Be sure to keep all your bags together.
Please be aware that depending on your airline carrier you may be required to transfer to Aeroparque Jorge Newbery (AEP) for domestic flights from Buenos Aires to Mendoza and make your travel arrangements accordingly. Transfer time vary between 30 min to 1 hr + depending on time of day and traffic conditions. Several transfer options exist, taxis are the quickest method while some buses require stops in the city center before reaching the airport. Transfer to Aeroparque by Manuel Tienda de leon. www.tiendaleon.com.ar Upon reaching Mendoza proceed to the Baggage Claim to retrieve your bags.
Travel Insurance and Rescue Insurance:
We require the purchase of insurance plans to protect you from the unexpected. Please consult with your insurance company with any specific questions, regarding coverage, and policy details, and if you have any questions contact our offices.
General Travel and Trip Coverage: Travel Guard (US Toll Free 800-826-4919) provides coverage to protect against trip cancellation, interruption, or delay due to unforeseeable sickness, injury or death of you or a family member. Coverage also includes trip cost default protection; stolen or damaged luggage; and trip or baggage delay protection. Please check off piste and out of bounds backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering is covered.
Coverage should include lost or damaged baggage, BBE is not responsible for the personal items or baggage of its members at any time.
We recommend that you bring snacks to supplement the mountain lunches for 10 days. We may have a chance to purchase additional food in Patagonia, but we recommend you take what you need and only supplement with local food if necessary.
Take snacks that you genuinely enjoy. Eating well is the key to maintaining your strength while in the mountains. And in order to combat the loss of appetite at altitude, it is best to have a variety of foods from which to choose, from sweet to sour to salty.
This trips features local standard three-star accommodations in the larger cities and towns. These hotels offer all of the amenities you would expect; room service, laundry, wireless internet…etc.
The current currency of Argentina is the Peso. Check a financial newspaper or www.xe.com for the current exchange rate prior to departure.
You should find that $950-$1,300 for spending money is adequate for your restaurant meals, drinks, tips and pocket money. You may choose to bring more depending on your shopping plans and length of stay.
Cash machines are readily available in Bariloche and Junin de los Andes, as well as in Chile.
Credit cards are accepted in most, but not all, areas.
Everyone has a preferred way to carry money. Some use money belts, others have hidden pockets. Whatever you do, be aware of pickpockets and thieves in any area which caters to tourists.
Continental Ice Cap, Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre Massif, Patagonia, Argentina
Oct 7 – Oct 19 2016
Oct 20 – Nov 1 2016
Familiarity with glacier travel techniques, fundamental snow and ice climbing skills, and very good physical condition.
$4,500 minimum of 3
Does not include:
*NB Accommodations are based on double occupancy. A Single Supplement Fee will be charged to those occupying single accommodations by choice or circumstance. The single supplement is not available in huts, tents, or in all hotels.
Patagonia blew my mind... this was a hard trip but the most rewarding and remote adventure of my life! If felt I was in Antarctica, but our return to Chalten couldn't have been more Argentinean. Planning the next trip already!