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 time: 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.
Trekking time: 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!
Trekking 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.
Trekking time: 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.
Trekking time: 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.