Patagonia Icefield Expedition
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The immense ice cap of southern Patagonia remains one of the least explored mountain areas in the world. Encompassing vast glaciers, hundreds of peaks, and some of the most beautiful and difficult summits in the world, the area exerts an intense draw on our instinct for exploration and adventure. This expedition will include one or two climbs, spectacular and very rare views of the huge west face of Cerro Torre, and a short traverse of an eastern section of the Patagonian Ice Cap.
Sunset on the Fitzroy Group from the Patagonian Ice Cap. AAI Collection
This journey is spectacular from beginning to end with excellent sightings of wildlife, travel through remarkably varied ecosystems, and a climb onto one of the world's largest ice masses. You will enjoy observing the constellations of the southern sky, a sea of ice punctuated by elegant peaks that few people have seen, and close-up views of truly awe-inspiring mountains that are among the world's most beautiful and challenging. Like our other Patagonia trips, this is an excellent expedition for photography, and a great adventure.
Patagonia Icefield Expedition
After flying through the Argentine capital of Buenos Aires, we continue on to Calafate in Patagonia's Santa Cruz Province and meet fellow team members there. We drive around scenic Lago Argentino and Lago Viedma to the small settlement of El Chalten which lies at the foot of the Andes directly east of Cerro Fitzroy. There we meet our support staff, check gear, complete an expedition orientation, and make a morning excursion to view the Perito Moreno glacier.
Our mountain journey begins with a backpack through a forest of Lengas and Antarctic beech and then up the beautiful Electrico River Valley, from which we will enjoy excellent views of Treinta Aniversario, Marconi South, and the North Pillar of Fitzroy. We trek around Lago Electrico and establish our first camp at its west end, just twenty minutes below the Marconi Glacier. The next day we will make our ascent to Marconi Pass, climbing first on dry and open glacier, then skirting large and small crevasses that gradually become more hidden by snow as we move higher.
After 800 meters of climbing we will arrive at our second campsite in the shadow of Marconi Sur; this remarkable location offers surreal a lightshow over the Fitz Roy range, Cerro Pier Griogio, and Gorra Blanca in the evenings and at dawn. We will spend two days here making attempts on Cerro Marconi Sur and the snow and ice covered Gorra Blanca. Those summits can provide some of the most impressive views in the range, reaching from the pampas in the East, to immense Fitzroy and needle-like Cerro Torre to our South, to the vast Patagonia Ice Cap stretching west towards the Pacific Ocean.
Moderate terrain typifies this traverse. AAI Collection
The following morning we will cross the Marconi Pass and move out onto the ice cap. While each team member carries his or her personal gear, our assistants will pull sleds with group gear (tents, food, fuel). Conditions vary greatly, and we may use crampons part of the way, boots only, or snowshoes if necessary. Weather permitting, the views on the ice cap should be tremendous including the active Lautaro Volcano to the northwest as well as the Mariano Moreno Range to the west which rises up amidst the ice cap, almost as high and greater in bulk than even the Fitzroy group.
Our travel will be on a relatively flat glacier that is similar to Antarctic terrain with an ice depth of approximately 3000 feet. Because the surface is devoid of major rises and drops, the glacier lacks icefalls, and as a result, the crevasses that we encounter will be fairly easy to negotiate. We move south on the ice cap to camp on a shelf near the foot of Cerro Torre's 5,000-foot West Face. This is the "Circo de los Altares" named by Italian climber Casimiro Ferrari who led the first successful expedition to the face in 1970. This is among the world's most scenic camps, with close up views of elegant Cerro Torre and a sweeping landscape of ice, snow, and isolated peaks to the west.
Snowshoeing on the ice cap with lenticular clouds, an indicator of high winds, above. AAI Collection
The next day we continue south and again move over terrain that has remarkably varied conditions, sometimes requiring crampons and at other times snowshoes. We reach Laguna de los Esquies, a small lake in between an old moraine and the Viedma Glacier where we establish another camp. We next follow a mountain stream that runs beneath Cerro Huemul and later cross beautiful mountain meadows, and reach our next camp at a small hut built by the Argentinean Ice Field Institute. We will be just a short distance from a lake which is normally full of upland geese and a variety of Andean ducks.
We will then follow the immense Viedma Glacier while contouring the lower slopes of Cerro Huemul, all the way enjoying great views of the southern portion of the ice cap as well as the Mascarello Range. This section of our journey is also provides great photo opportunities because of the breathtaking faces of Huemul and the contrasting streams, ponds, and fields of wild flowers below. We pass through an area with a large population of condors and multiple roosts; sightings here are very likely. We then will move up easy terrain to a remote pass that gives us views across the Argentine pampas and down to the immense Lago Viedma and the dramatic entry of the massive Viedma Glacier into the lake.
After camping on the pass, the next day we descend through a cliff system on a "hidden trail." We emerge from the rock terrain into a dense lenga forest, and a little lower, cross a small pampa to the edge of the lake in Bahia Cabo de Hornos. By prearrangement we meet a boat there which takes us back to Bahia Tunel where we board our van for the short ride back to El Chalten and a final dinner with all of the staff.
Patagonia Icefield Expedition
Prices, Details and Dates
Max Ratio - 4:1
Capacity - 8
Prices are based on a minimum of 4 people per trip. Contact the AAI office at 360-671-1505 (Toll Free: 1-800-424-2249) or email: [email protected] for pricing on smaller groups.
- Excellent physical condition. We will be happy to advise you on a conditioning program; more information is provided in the registration packet.
- Previous experience camping in a backcountry environment and carrying gear, or multi-day backpacking trips or treks
- Previous glacier travel experience, including the use of crampons and ice axe. If you don't have this experience, you can register for the Patagonia Trek and Climb program; or sign up for two private days of training in Patagonia prior to your traverse or arrange for training prior to your Patagonia trip in the U.S. in our 3-day Glacier Skills and Crevasse Rescue course, our 6-day Alpinism 1 program, or you can work with a guide on a private basis. We have training venues in six states.
If you are in excellent physical condition, you will enjoy the challenges of this trip a lot. The most strenuous days are at the front end of the itinerary, when we climb to Marconi Pass and make the two summit attempts. Once we move onto the Ice Cap, elevation gains are more limited. Each team member will carry all his or her personal gear throughout the journey, as well as a small share of group equipment or food. In addition to the guides leading the program, we will also have support staff to help carry some of the group gear and ease the burden.
Other Programs in Patagonia
Patagonia Trekking and Climbing - Fitzroy and Cerro Torre Area
Thoroughly explore the Cerro Torre and Fitzroy massifs, view exotic wildlife from lakeside camps, climb to Marconi Pass, explore Glacier Torre, and ascend Cerro Marconi Norte and Cerro Velluda. (13 days, Dec-Feb)