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Argentina . . . So sad to leave April 20, 2007

Posted by Jason in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America.
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Well, the time has come sadly to finally say farewell to Argentina.  After spending 4 months in 2006 doing conservation work and travelling and the last 4 months or so travelling, trekking and climbing in Argentina, time has caught up with us and we have to finally move on to pastures new.

We can truly say that we are sad to leave.  Our Patagonian adventures were amazing, from summiting Aconcagua, to trekking, seeing Condors flying above our heads, to seeing Orca´s (killer Whales) beaching to catch the seals!  All simply amazing.  And not to mention the superb food and drink here, friendliness and hospitality of the Argentinians.

Our final days here have continued to inspire us.  After finally leaving Patagonia we travelled north to Cordoba, the University city of Argentina.  Many beautiful buildings and the best bookshops in Argentina!

We then travelled north again to Salta. A bautiful city with wonderful colonial buildings.  We stayed in a fantastic old colonial building which has an old safe where they have put the kitchen!  You just don´t want to get locked in!

We hired a car for 4 days and travelled up to San Antonio De Los Cobres , a mining town without many facilities up in the Altiplano.  We followed the famous railway here up to over 4,000m and then into the town.  A breathless journey but beautiful.  We had tried to get the train here but the train has not been running for a while due to an accident/breakdown of the train. 

We stayed the night in the town and then travelled the next morning to see the large famous viaduct.  Then along the Altiplano through remote settlements to the salt flats of Argentina. Not quite Uyuni, but still cool to see. 

Then we made our way to the beautiful village of Purmamarca in the province of Jujuy, with its narrow dirt streets and quaint buildings.  Behind the village is the hill of 7 colours.  

The following day we continued onto Humahuaca, another beautiful colonial town with narrow cobbled streets.  We then decided to try to visit the remote village of Iruya further north on a narrow dirt road in the mountains.  An eventful drive over another 4,000m pass in a small Fiat Uno.  Frankly I don´t think the car enjoyed the journey!

We made our destination by the late afternoon, unfortunately we then realised that we did not have enough petrol to get us back!  Quite a problem when there is no petrol in the village.

We also found to our horror that rather than being stranded in a quiet, little visited mountain community.  Every Gringo in the province was there and a 120 person film crew to film a Guinness advert!  The locals were loving it and hadn´t seen so much commotion before!

We ended up sleeping on a locals floor as all the accommodation had been taken by the film crew in the village!

So the next 12 hours were spent trying to find a source of petrol for the car, and finally a bus driver brought us 5 litres from the nearest supply 3 hours away!

We then made our way south and back to Salta stopping at Archaelogical sites on the way.  A beautiful are, and an eventful 4 days!

But now it is Chao to Argentina and Hola to Chile once again!!  To San Pedro and the Attacama desert we go.  But we will miss Argentina very much.

  

Orcas and Welsh Tea April 10, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America.
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Orcas at Peninsula Valdes

Leaving the mountains behind for awhile we headed off to the East Coast of Argentina with our friends Mandy and Tom, who had just completed another GVI expedition near Bariloche. 

Puerto Madryn

Our first night in Puerto Madryn surprised us by not being too like the brash seaside town we expected and after finding a fantastic hotel at a discount rate courtesy of Tom, we headed down to the Eco Center.  Puerto Madryn quite fancies itself as “the Ecological Capital” of Argentina, and the Eco Center is a museum come art gallery that houses informative displays regarding the marine wildlife of the area.

Having learnt all there was to know (or all we could digest at least) about Orcas (Killer Whales), dolphins and the like we picked up a hire car and drove out to Peninsula Valdes the following day.  Peninsula Valdes is a mushroom shaped peninsula stuck onto the side of Argentina´s coast.  It´s famed for the amount of wildlife it attracts and boasts colonies of sea lions, elephant seals and penguins.

Elephant seal slowly making for the water

On Peninsula Valdes, apart from the typical sightings of penguin and sea lion colonies, we were treated to a magnificent display from the Orcas one morning.  A number of Orcas were swimming just off the beach as the sea lions basked in the sun and the pups played in the surf. As high tide approached, the Orcas repeatedly swam right up to the beach and launched themselves out of the water onto the beach in an attempt to catch one of the sea lion pups, whilst the sea lions sat there seemingly oblivious.  The Orcas were huge and it was quite an exhibition. 

     

That afternoon we drove back to Puerto Madryn in time for an early morning start the next day as Tom, Mandy and I were going diving with sea lions! The dive was pretty shallow and close to the coast.  Before we were even in the water there were loads of sea lions swimming around the boat, and on diving in they are very curious to see who these strange new fish in the sea are.  They swam right up to us, looking us straight in the eye with their big puppy dog eyes and playfully biting our fins, hands and even attaching themselves to Tom´s head in a somewhat comical way.

After the diving, we stopped for much needed refreshment at a cafe-bar on the beach, and then drove out to the Welsh villages south of Madryn.  Strangely, the only other place that Welsh is spoken outside of Wales is in a remote corner of Patagonia, Argentina!  We were immediately disappointed by the un-Welshness of the Welsh villages.  There weren´t any garish council estates or pregnant 16 year-olds in sight! 

Darwin´s Rhea  Orcas  Hairy armadillo

We stopped in one of the Welsh tea houses for a “Welsh” tea, the like of which I´ve never seen anywhere else in the world, especially not in Wales!  We had to send half of it back!  It was enough to feed an army.  With only a half portion, we were still stuffed full from the 8 different types of cake plus scones, jam, sandwiches and homemade bread.  If only I could find a tea like that in Wales, I swear I would give up travelling for good.

We stayed the night in Gaiman and visited the impressive dinosaur museum in Trelew the following day.  The sandy expanses of Patagonia have yielded an impressive collection of dino bones in recent years which has put Argentina firmly on the paleontology map.  Included in these finds are the new discoveries of the huge Gigantosaurus and Argentinosaurus (I love those names).

Jase dwarfed by dinosaur femur

Some of these fossils have been painstakingly pieced together and are on display in the museum.  It is most impressive to see so many dinosaurs skeletons together in one place.  When Jase stood next to a real life femur of the Argentinosaurus he was totally dwarfed by it.

Sadly that wrapped up our brief visit to the east coast and we were back on the overnight bus to Bariloche that evening.

Wildlife photos courtesy of Tom Rogers

Bariloche. . . We Love Patagonia April 10, 2007

Posted by Jason in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America.
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We finally left Patagonia following a final farewell dinner at the amazing “Albertos” Parilla Restaurant.  Enormous portions, and just “the” most tasty steak.

We are sad to be leaving, Patagonia has special memories for us and we have a special fondness for Bariloche after being here last year as well.  It is hard to believe we may not be back. But never say never! The temptation to alpine ski the Nahual Huapi traverse may be too much!

Bariloche at night    bariloche-cumbrech1.jpg    Nuahal Huapi

Luckily, we have been in Bariloche for Easter with its amazing Chocolate Easter Eggs!  If anyone is travelling in this neck of the woods you should check out the Hostel Refugio Patagonia with Tato and his family running the place. 

Refugio Patagonia Hostel

They are so friendly and welcoming.  A lovely place to stay, laid back and tranquil, we whole heartily recommend it.  Not to mention its proximity to a wonderful Empanada shop across the road!

Thanks Tato for making us so welcome.

As for Patagonia, we have many wonderful memories and are sad to leave, see the adventures we have had here, just an amazing place. But now starts a new chapter in our travels. To pastures new.

Hasta Luego Patagonia! 

New posts just added! March 31, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Argentina, Patagonia, South America.
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We are slowly getting this darn website up to date!

New posts just added….

Crossing the Southern Ice Cap

Isla Navarino and the Dientes Circuit  (from ages ago!)

In the meantime we find ourselves back in Bariloche having just completed our last hike for a while (or so Jason has promised me).  See, the Nahual Huapi Traverse below. We´re heading to the East Coast to visit Puerto Madryn and the wildlife sanctuary of Peninsula Valdes tomorrow before vamos-ing up north. 

The Nahuel Huapi Traverse March 31, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Argentina, Patagonia, South America, trekking.
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Jase under the flagpole at Refugio Lynch

Jase managed to talk me into doing this trek with him even though I had done it before (last year while I was in Bariloche).  He coaxed me into it by asking me to be his “guide” which was very brave of him considering I got myself spectacularly lost last time!

Although it is a tough trek with long days of big climbs and descents, the scenery is spectacular and the views you are rewarded with after a gruelling climb make it all worthwhile.

Cable car up the mountain

We started out taking the bus to the ski village of Catedral only a few miles outside Bariloche.  Last time when I was here the chairlift wasn´t running (peculiarly it doesn´t run on Sundays or Mondays) so I had to walk up to Refugio Frey but this time we could get the chair lift all the way to the top and then traverse along the ridge before dropping down to Refugio Frey. 

The ridge is fairly sheer on one side with steep drops into the valley and the terrain is tough requiring a fair amount of climbing up and down rocky sections using your hands.  Once far enough along the ridge there are another two steep sections to climb down before you get to the beautiful Laguna Tonchek with Refugio Frey on its shores.

Refugio Frey


Having decided to travel as light as possible and not take our tent, we were staying in the refugio where you can hire a dorm bed and buy all your meals.  We were carrying our breakfast and lunch, but had all our evening meals in the refugios (huts) along the route.  The Argentinians have great refugios in some of the most picturesque locations in the mountains.  They are open all year, but only serviced in the summer. 

Frey was very busy the night we were there and the small dormitory was very cramped so we didn´t get a great night’s sleep, but the Artesan Ale on draft went a long way to making up for that.  We spent a nice evening waiting for our dinner to be served and chatting to some of the people at the hut.

Refugio Jakob

From Refugio Frey we hiked back up to the top of the ridge we had climbed down the previous afternoon and then started the steep descent through the scree (loose rock) to the bottom of the valley on the other side.  This followed by a cool walk through the lenga forests before coming out into the open for another hot and steep climb to the top of the next ridge.  From here the next refugio (Jakob) came into view far below on the banks of another lagoon.  Some more slip sliding down steep scree brought us out at the bottom in time for a quick beer in the afternoon sunshine (one of the simple pleasures gleaned from hiking between refugios).

To begin with, there was hardly anyone at the refugio but we watched a steady stream of people making their way down the scree as the afternoon wore on.  We were soon inundated with people of many nationalities bravely jumping into the lagoon and just as quickly exiting it.

The talk in the refugio that night was all about who was going to go on to the next hut and how hard the next day would be.  There is a short section of scrambling (climbing using your hands) on the next section that although relatively easy, is exposed and therefore could be dangerous.  In our opinion it would only be classed as a Grade 1 scramble in England and therefore is not particularly difficult, but the Argentinians don´t encourage people to do this and therefore make a bigger deal out of it than need be. 

Scrambling up the rock face

The Jakob Refugio is a beautiful wooden building that is far more spacious than Frey.  Dinner tonight was a delicious 3 course affair.  How Marissa (the lovely lady running the refugio) achieved cooking such a great meal for this many people single-handedly is quite a mystery. 

We woke before dawn the next day to get an early start on what was going to be a long day.  As autumn approaches the Patagonian days are getting shorter and it is only getting light at 8am.  We ate a quick breakfast and were off by 8.30am.  A short way ahead of us were the two Americans we had met who had hired a guide for the trek.  The group of American youngsters who we had heard plotting the previous night to follow the guide up the mountain were still tucked up in bed.

Once again it was a beautiful morning, we had no problems on the scramble and made the top of ridge in good time.  Invigorated with our light backpacks (for a change) we climbed the extra few dozen metres to gain the top of Pico Refugio which looks less impressive at this point, but from below looms over the refugio dramatically.

Here we overtook the Americans and with me “guiding” Jason we took off right across the next ridge with me assuring Jase that even though the route markers went in a completely different direction, that this was definitely the way.  It was only later when the Americans were once again ahead of us that I grudgingly accepted that I´d taken him the long way round, at least a half an hour of uncomfortable terrain out of our way.  

With condors soaring overhead we made up for the lost ground and again met the Americans at the top of Cerro Navidad, the highest point of the trek at 2,060m.  The views from here of Tronador and the mountains on the Chilean/Argentinian frontier are stunning.  We could even see Volcan Lanin in the distance.  We sat around in the sunshine for a long break eating our sandwiches and enjoying the vista.

Sledding down the snow

The trail down the other side is exceptionally steep with sections of scree, snow (which we slid down on our bums) and rock.  Or rather, as our American friend Jim exclaimed when he got to the next refugio looking fatigued, “That´s not a trail, it´s a route”.   As you climb the opposite ridge after this descent and look back at it, it really does strike you as remarkable that you´ve descended that way, it does look impossible.

Refugio Italia on the banks of Laguna Negra was another gem of a refugio.  Very few people had come across from the previous refugio and it was quiet.  I played chess while Jase chatted about the day with the (anguished) Americans. 

We had another early start the next day in preparation for another long (10-hour) day.  The route took us up and along another ridge before descending into a valley and starting a stupidly steep climb through a rocky section of scree to gain the top of the ridge near Pico Turista.  We dumped our packs and climbed the rest of the way to the summit and enjoyed spectacular views over Nahuel Huapi Lake to Bariloche, the beautiful valley below us and once again the mountains on the Argentina-Chile border including Tronador and volcanoes Osorno and Puntiagudo.

View from final pass with Tronador in the background

One last steep descent to Refugio Lopez where we had a 5 minute rest before continuing to the road to catch the bus back to Bariloche.  We were hoping to catch the 6pm bus, it was tight, but we may well have made it if only Jason´s “guide” hadn´t somehow led him off the 5 foot wide trail onto a smaller trail that ended abruptly in the middle of a thick bamboo forest, from where we had to fight our way through the bamboo to get back onto the right track wasting valuable time.  Jase, next time take Jorge´s advice and NEVER follow your girlfriend…

El Bolson 4 Day Trek ” Around Cerro Hielo Azul “ March 26, 2007

Posted by Jason in Argentina, Patagonia, South America, trekking.
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After relaxing and enjoying all that El Bolson had to offer we decided to get our packs back on and see the mountains around el Bolson.  The trek would be over 4 days from Refugio to refugio in the region of Comarca Andina.

We began by getting a taxi at about 12.30pm to Camping Dona Rosa where we began what was supposed to be a 7 hour walk!  We now wish we had started a little earlier!

Jason crossing the “perfectly safe” bridge

The beginning of the walk starts at a rickety old suspension bridge with wooden slats near camping Hue Nain.  It has several of these missing and others rotten and cracked which made things rather interesting!!  The lonely planet trekking guide description being “this is a perfectly safe bridge”!!  Obviously it has deteriorated much since this was written, or their definition of “perfectly safe” is somewhat different to ours!  

After this crossing we headed up hill through beautiful forest with view points across the El Bolson Valley and over to the mountain Cerro Piltriquitron that over looks El Bolson.                        .

We made the refugio by about 7pm.  Refugio Hielo Azul (meaning blue ice) is nestled below the mountain Cerro Hiel Azul in some trees below the cirque.  A beautiful spot, and the refugio is amazing.  Hand built by the family who run the refugio, made of wood from the surrounding forest.  We had dinner at the refugio and tried their homemade beer!!  Where else would we want to be!

On Day 2 we did a day walk up to the top of Cerro Barda Negra which over looks Cerro Hielo Azul.  This was a good 7 hour walk and scramble up polished rock and beside a stream before making our way over snow fields to the summit.  The view was amazing in all directions.  We could see Hielo Azul and its Glacier pouring into the valley below and the snow capped mountains stretching into the distance beyond the Chilean border.

Chez had much fun sliding down the snow and throwing snow balls on the way down! I think i fell into her ambush as she had the snow balls all lined up to be thrown at me!

We were glad of the home made cervesa when we returned to the refugio!

Next morning we headed off to the next refugio, Cajon Del Azul, a traverse through forest and past pretty lagunas and a steep descent into the next valley.

The Refugio was no less picturesque than the last and  also brewed their own beer, fantastic!  It seems anyone who is anyone around El Bolson brews their own beer, can´t be bad! The refugio is like an oasis of green fields within the forest right on the edge of a high spectacular gorge.

We had a fantastic meal here  and camped beside the refugio.

The following day we made our way down the valley back to El Bolson.

A truly beautiful area of the country, friendly people and great beer!  A different type of trek than many we have done with the paths less harsh and a forested landscape.

This was to be our last trek for a while, while we chill out and recover before hitting the trail again in Peru.  Foolishly, Cheryl has agreed to be my “Guide” on the Nahuel Huapi Traverse that she completed last year and so we are off to Bariloche to do another 4 day trek!  Hurrah!     

El Bolson March 21, 2007

Posted by Jason in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America.
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Arrival back into civilisation could not be much better.  The “hippie” town of El Bolson has welcomed us with open arms.

El Bolson

The food is excellent, the climate has been kind (warm sunny days!), a welcome change from the chilly days of Southern Patagonia, and the beer is awesome!

We have spent the day wondering aimlessly around the local market that happens 3 days a week here.  The locals sell there local goods clothing, crafts,  homemade food and local Artesanal Beer.

Jason enjoying the laid back atmosphere of El Bolson!    Chez after bying some organic homemade beer    Jason enjoying the fruits of El Bolson

Purely in the interests of finding out about the local culture we have been eating the local produce of Empanadas(Argentinian pie), Quiches, Fruit puddings and Alfajores (the most amazing biscuit with Dulce De Leche). All amazing, washed down with a couple of Artesanal beers!

El Bolson is a Mecca of locally brewed beers.  3 different types are available.  Rubia (like a strong Lager), Roja (like a continental beer or British or Pale Ale) and Negra (like a stout).  All are excellent.

So far here we have tried 7Lagos beer, Piltri Cerveza Casera, Aracuana, Cerveceria El Bolson and Ilegales beers.  Just superb!

Chez enjoying the local beers      El Bolson beers      7 Lagos beers, locally brewed sold at the market

This is a laid back town that has great food and great beer.  We had a wonderful meal at “Martin Sheffield” restaurant with excellent service and again locally brewed beers on draught.  We can recommend the Trucha Pie (trout pie) which was amazing.  You eat it between 2 and is enormous! Its so tasty with trout, salmon, sweet potatoes and Aubergene and more, each mouthful is different.

Martin Sheffield restaurant

With all this good food and beer will we ever get back to the mountains?  I think it is Chezza´s plan to keep us here!  But scenery here nestled between mountains near the Chilean border is fantastic.  We will have to drag ourselves away at some point!

  

Return to Civilisation March 19, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America, Travel.
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This post has been rather a long time in coming, even I can´t quite believe how long.  We´ve been unable to spend much time on the internet as we´ve been travelling through the nether regions of Central Patagonia and it´s been a bit of a twilight zone as far as technology and internet connections are concerned. 

In El Chalten for instance, where the internet has only recently arrived, and competition is not that great, the charges were 6 times more than anywhere else we´ve come across and we simply couldn´t afford it on our budget.  More recently in Perito Moreno, the locals took their siesta so seriously that absolutely nothing was open between midday and 6pm.  This meant that the only 3 computers in town were frenetically busy at any other time and we could never get on them.

Air conditioned bus

So, all in all, it was pretty good to arrive the relative civilisation of El Bolson last night, even after a nightmarish bus journey in which our bus crawled windscreenless across the Patagonian Steppe.  The windscreen having been taken out by a large stone that shot up from the gravel road early on in the journey.  But, I think it was the first South American bus I´ve been on where the air-conditioning actually worked, so who can complain?

El Bolson is a pretty town nestled in a fertile valley surrounded by mountains and has something of a reputation for being a ‘hippie’ town.  The local farms are small and all the produce is sold locally, so all the restaurants and shops sell only organic food that can´t be bought elsewhere.  Tomorrow is market day so we´re planning on skipping breakfast to enjoy the home-made empanadas (meat pies), ice-cream, cheeses, sausages, pastries and breads all washed down with a pint of fresh-brewed draft beer.  Sounds positively miserable I know, but as a tourist, it´s obviously imperative that I must put myself through this.

Apologies for the recent lack of news, but hopefully now we´re back in the 21st century, we´ll be putting up some photos and posts of what we´ve been doing, so watch out for updates coming soon!

Ruta 40 and the Cave of Hands March 18, 2007

Posted by Cheryl in Argentina, culture, Patagonia, South America, Travel.
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Ruta 40 Sign

Well, if you really must know where we´ve been for the last few weeks, we´ve been slowly travelling up Route 40 in Central Patagonia.  Ruta 40 also known as “La Cuarenta” (the forty) to the locals has something of a mystical notoriousness in Argentina.  Ask a local about it and they go misty eyed and dreamy.  Quite why it has this reputation, I´m not sure.  To be fair, all it really is, is a dusty gravel road cutting 1,500km through relative nothingness.  Very occasionally (say about every 500km) you will see a petrol station loom up out of the nothingness or maybe even an estancia (ranch).  Sometimes you have been staring at the same scenery for so long that you think this is a mirage.  But mostly, route 40 is just a straight road with very much the same dry grassy shrubland on both sides of the road, and mind-numbingly little traffic.

Ruta 40 in Patagonia

We stopped off half-way between El Chalten and El Bolson in the small sleepy town of Perito Moreno, principally to visit an archaelogical site nearby called Cueva De Las Manos (The Cave of Hands).  This is a rock-art site with paintings dating from between 9,300 and 3,300 years ago.   It is set in the very beautiful Canyon De Pinturas.  There are a few access points, but the closest to Perito Moreno involved driving through a sheep estancia and arriving at a point on the far side of the canyon.  From there we went on foot, dropping down into the canyon and climbing out on the other side.

 Sheep Estancia in Patagonia

The rock-art was beautiful – mostly a collage of the hands of ancient peoples who had held their hands up against the rock and by spitting different coloured dyes from their mouths they painted around their hands in a spray paint effect.  There were also a few hunting scenes and pictures of the native animals such as guanacos (similar to lamas) and armidallos.  It was a very interesting place to see, and quite amazing to consider the roots from where we have come, particularly as in 6,000(!) years of painting this site nothing much changed apart from maybe the usage in later years of a new colour or slightly more sophisticated paintings.

Cueva De Las Manos

The Southern Patagonian Ice Cap Traverse March 14, 2007

Posted by Jason in Argentina, climbing, mountaineering, Patagonia, South America, Travel, trekking.
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Mount Fitzroy and surrounding peaks

 When we arrived in El Chalten our idea was to find some information on circumnavigating Monte Fitzroy and Cerro Torre by taking a route onto the ice cap.  We had read something about this a month or so previously in a German climbing book(or rather we looked at the pictures and maps!).

It looked pretty awesome, but we needed alot of information and in South America this can be err. . . hard to come by!

We ascertained that maybe it would be too difficult to do ourselves with no real time to do any recce on the route and a guide would be needed.  Our investigations though with agencies proved fruitless as they wanted astranomical amounts of money for a guide. We tried to explain that we would do all the logistics, food, gear etc all we wanted was a guide.  But the prices would range from US$2,750 to US$1,000!!!

We put up a post in the Guardaparques building and sent a round robin email to individual guides we could find on the net.  But with no responses we settled for the normal trekking routes on the east side of the massif and a 3 to 5 day trek.

Then at short notice we were contacted by a guide Manuel Quiroga, who we quickly met for coffee. After chatting a while and discussing the options we agreed to hire his services.  All our plans changed and we put our efforts into the next few days sorting rations and hiring gear for our journey to the “Ice Cap”!

The Ice Cap Traverse – 8 Day Trek

Day 1   –  El Chalten to Laguna Electrico (March 6th 2007)

We arrived in a panic at Manuels house at 9:30am.  Our tent was covered in ice in the morning making our efforts to strike camp a little longer than usual!

We checked gear and rations and then called a taxi to take us to the beginning of the Electrico Valley where we would begin the trek.  Empanadas for breakfast! and off we went.

We started walking at about 12pm.  The sun was shining and it was clear blue sky.  Most unusual for El Chalten!  The Gods were shining on us.

The walk up the valley is beautiful and a fairly easy beginning to the trek.  Mainly flat to start and perfect to try and get used to the plastic boots we had hired. Through wooded pastures we arrived at the camp site and hut within a couple of hours.  Here the landowners charge a ridiculous $10 pesos per person to cross their land.

Manuel (the guide) and Jason having a rest on day 1     Marconi Mountain range ahead and the Marconi pass     Our camp site on the shore of Laguna Electrico

We were lucky enough (or not) to see a Puma here.  The landowner had caught a young Puma.  Puma´s here are considered a pest by some landowners.  They kill sheep and even young horses.  With young cubs around the mother will use sheep to teach the Pumas how to hunt.

The Puma had been chained up and the landowner said he was going to keep it!  We later found out that the Puma had been kept to attract the mother.  They ended up killing the mother and another young cub.

We continued on and gradually ascended the valley rising with the river and crossing large boulder fields.  The views to the south were fantastic seeing Monte Fitzroy reaching into the sky.

We reached the Glacial lake Electrico and crossed the stream before continuing across the boulder slopes when Chez over balanced her pack and dived head first over a rock!  Her screams alerted the guide who saved the day and pulled her pack off her.  Her back was badly bruised but after an Alfajor she felt fine!    

Monte Fitzroy as the sun went down looking up from our camp

Finally we reached our camp site beside the lake at about 6pm.  Set up camp and ate our dinner watching the sun go down.

Tomorrow would be the crucial day.  The wind here is so bad that many expeditions don´t get over the Marconi pass onto the ice cap.  The Patagonian wind is most fierce in these parts aound El Chalten.

Day 2 – The Marconi Pass 

A 9.10am start and we begin our ascent immediately. Climbing from the Lake we traversed around Laguna Marconi to the start of the Glacial morraine.  As it was mainly ice and rocks we did not we did not put on crampons.  The views here are amazing.  You can see straight up the Marconi Pass with a hanging glacier and Seracs to the left.

Chez on her way to the Glacier     Our guide Manuel striking off into the distance!     Cheryl making an impact she did not expect on the glaciar!

As the day warmed up, the Seracs began to crack and would break off with a thunderous sound.  Ice would flow down as an avalanche with pieces of ice the size of cars rolling into the ice valley.

Roping up as we climb the Marconi pass avoiding crevasses     Jason and Cheryl climbing the Marconi Glaciar Pass trying to avoid the crevasses!     Finally reaching the plateau of the ice cap       

As we climbed higher the panoramic view just got bigger and better.  The view over the Marconi Glacier and towards the spires of Gran Gendarme, Cerro Pollone, Torre, Pier Giorgio, Cerro Domo Blanco was amazing.

As I was probably paying too much attention to the view I slipped on the ice and cracked my knee into a rock whilst falling into a pool of iced water!  Cheryl though, no doubt jealous at my achievement went one better by falling over and cutting her face on a rock! It was most impressive with blood everywhere, even the Guide was impressed and proceeded to get his first aid kit out.  What Chez will do for attention!

Soon things were hotting up as we donned crampons and roped up to try to climb out of the valley and over the Marconi pass.  First we scaled the patch of snow covered Glaciar before taking a route over the ice.  The crevasses were numerous and large but fairly easy to avoid and eventually the steepness levelled out over snow covered Glaciar at the top of the pass. 

Reaching the top of the Marconi Pass with the Monte Fitzroy/Cerro Torre Massif behind

We continued ascending and Manuel started using the sled for the first time.  The pass seemed to go on for ever but gradually it levelled off and we were finally on the plateau.

Wow!! The view was amazing.  Looking back at the massif of mountains behind us with Monte Fitzroy and then north to Cerro Gorra Blanca which would be our objective for tomorrow.  We were finally in a  position to see the ice cap full on.  A massive expanse of white snow and ice stretching as far as the eye can see.  Unbelievable.

We were both very tired.  We finally reached the Refugio (1,587m) on a rock promentary at about 7pm.  A 9 hour day carrying 30kg packs over snow and ice.  We were both knackered!

Manuel cooked us his speciality of Spaghetti, cream, nuts and blue cheese while Chez and I collapsed!

Day 3 – Ascent of Cerro Gorra Blanca (2,907m)

We had a late start 10am.  We were tired from yesterday, but the weather is holding, blue skies again and we had to make the best of it.  A chance of a summit! 

We carried a day pack only as we travelled roped up across the ice to ascend the long Glacier to the col on Cerro Gorra Blanca.  We did not wear crampons as there was a soft cushion  of snow on top of the ice. Wow, the views were amazing.

We start out across the ice cap to reach the foot of Cerro Gorra Blanca     Resting before ascending the Glaciar. Cerro Gorra Blanca in the back ground     Ascending the slopes to the col

The pace Manuel set at the front was better today and was easier to cope with without our heavy packs.  We reached the col after 3 1/2 hours.  We quickly put our crampons on and continued up the crevassed steep slopes.  We first traversed to south slopes and then up the ridge to the bottom of the ice mushroom. 

Ascending the summit slopes of Cerro Gorra Blanca     Jason and Cheryl on the summit with the ice cap stretching away into the distance     Hong Kong Phooey enjoying the view!

An Ice Mushroom is where ice is deposited on the top of a mountain by the wind and precipitation and is shaped by the wind, often referred to as Angel’s Wings due to their shape.  This continues to develop and can be extremely large.

Climbing the summit ice mushroom

The ice mushroom we had to climb was quite large and involved a short easy ice climb to its summit.  The view was amazing at the top!  See the video below to appreciate the panorama from here!  Words cannot describe. . . . . .

After many photos and a bite to eat we had to head off down as the clouds were coming in.  So we descended down the slopes banging the snow from our crampons as we went trying to prevent them from balling up. The Crampons we hired were pretty bad for this.

After reaching the col we were able to bounce our way across the softening snow slopes down to the ice cap and then across the ice to the refugio.  Another tiring 9 hour day but absolutely fantastic!

Most people do not get a chance to climb Cerro Gorra Blanca as the weather here is notoriously bad.  We have had 3 days of fantastic weather, surely this can´t last??

Day 4 – Ice Cap Crossing to the Cirque

Another 10am start.  No crampons necessary as the snow is again soft enough not to need them.

The weather clagged in last evening and it was raining overnight. YES . . RAINING!! It is often thought that it only snows on an ice cap but NO WAY!! In summer it can rain or snow.  When we woke this morning the clouds were down to just above the refugio height.

As we walked across the ice the weather began to brighten up and the cloud began to lift.  Finally the sun broke through and blue sky appeared.  We were to have another amazing day!

Beginning to cross the ice cap behind the Marconi range of mountains     Cheryl taking five on the ice cap after marching for a couple of hours     Manuel our guide with ice cap stretching ahead, using the mountains to the left as a hand rail

Today we were walking along the main ice cap.  This is where explorers like Shipton came to explore Patagonia and wrote of their adventures and amazement of this landscape.  And for the first time in Patagonia those stories have come alive.  Such an amazing landscape, and amazing place. 

The ice stretches for miles.  You can see the  Paso de los Cinco Glaciares (Five Glacier Pass) to the west and the mountains dividing the ice cap to the south west.  We used the mountain massif of the Marconi range as a hand rail to navigate as the cloud lifted and descended as we travelled.

There was truly a feeling of complete solitude here.  No sound of anything other than the 3 of us breathing when we stopped!  A pristine environment of bright white snow covered glacier and wonderful iced peaks in the distance.

As we travelled it was most disconcerting. Pulling the sled, marching forward we would look to the east at the Marconi mountains to see our progress.  But in this landscape the scope is so large it appears as though you are not moving at all!

Eventually we could see a small blemish on the landscape in front of us.  Then 4 tiny dots appeared in our view.  20 minutes later the dots got larger until eventually we recognised the 4 person party who we had met in the Refugio 2 days previously! They were also camping at the cirque.  We said our hello´s and proceeded to set up camp.

Manuel built our snow wall as we pitched the tent. We cooked the meal tonight. Only a 6 1/2 hour day today so we were in alot better shape!  But as we ate dinner the clouds were descending and the cirque disappearing from sight.

The view of the cirque as we built snow walls for our tents     Our tent on the ice cap     Chez sorting our gear at the tent with the guides tent behind and the cirque in the background as the cloud descended

Day 5 – A bad weather day and a stormy night

As we woke in the morning we were greeted to low cloud and flurries of snow.  The wind was picking up and we were allowed a lie in!  The idea was to explore the upper reaches of the cirque today but we had time to see if the weather got better. . . . . . . it never did!!

We spent the day eating, sleeping and building walls of snow to protect the tent.

Beautiful views when the cloud lifted     Chez still with a smile on her face!     View from our tent    

As the day wore on the wind would pick up and just before nightfall the wind changed direction and we had to build another wall!

Within 3 hours the wind changed direction completely again and was giving our tent a hammering.  It went from west to east hitting our tent from the side.  The wind was ferocious all evening and bending the poles with ease.  Our Guides tent almost collapsed at one point.

Day 6 – The walk out, from the cirque across the ice cap to Laguna Ferrari

Thankfully by 7am the wind had died down and the rain we were having most of yesterday and over night had turned to snow.  With all the rain much of the snow left on the ice late in the season had melted and we could see many patches of bare ice beginning to emerge.

We packed up as quickly as possible and headed off with the snow falling at our backs. At first the conditions were not too bad but soon, being late in the season on this section of the ice cap, the snow bridges were weak or it was bare ice.  We wanted to keep pulling the sled for as long as possible otherwise we would have to carry our gear over the ice.

Starting out across the ice on day 6     Reaching the end of the ice and the beginning of the morraine, leaving the ice cap     The terrain we were crossing to exit the ice cap

We had to zig zag many times to avoid crevasses and the bare ice was resembling a ferocious sea with waves of ice making it difficult to pull the sled.

Eventually we reached the morraine at the edge of the ice cap where we would find our way through to the Viento Pass.  The snow was now turning to slush and getting us very wet. It was extremely cold and after packing our stuff into our rucksacks from the sled we continued over the Morraine and ice and found our way across to the pass.

Eventually we reached a bivi site where it was sheltered enough to pitch the tents by the side of Laguna Ferrari and directly below the Viento pass.  We were all soaking wet all the way through.  Our boots and socks soaking.  We were glad to dive in our tent and get some dry clothes on after a 7 hour day!

Day 7  – The Viento Pass

Overnight the temperature dropped and we had a snow fall dropping about 5 inches of snow! We packed up in the morning but did not set off until about 12pm.  We climbed up to Viento pass for our last view of the ice cap.  The cloud lifted long enough for us to get a good view back to the ice and the Viedma Glacier and then we descended to the other side of the pass to the scree. I think the weather has been kind to us.

In the morning we found a fresh fall of snow, this is looking from our tent to the viento pass we were to cross     Jason and Cheryl at the top of the Viento pass and our last look at the ice cap     We walked on the edge of this glacier as we passed over the Viento pass down to our camp site

The Glaciers on this side of the pass were still impressive and the scenery superb as we descended to make a short 1 hour traverse on the Glacier itself.  Large glaciers of Rio Tunel and De Quervain pour down from the peaks of Cordon Adela. 

Then we had a Tyrolean crossing where we slide across a wire over a gorge. Then an easy walk along the lake side of Laguna Toro to a wooded camp site. Another day of beautiful views.

Day 8 – Over the Pampa De Las Carretas and the return to El Chalten

We started at 10:50am for our final leg of the journey.  We followed the valley of Rio Tunel and then climbed the shoulder of Tumbado before descending to El Chalten through forest.  The views back towards Cerro Solo and Grande were magnificent and over towards Fitzroy were superb and the sun shone down on us again.  Just a superb end to the trek and back to El Chalten for 4.30pm.

Needless to say, after living on rations for 8 days we celebrated the traditional Argentinian way with a steak and beer!    The 8 days had lived up to and beyond expectation.  The mountains around El Chalten are superb. Cerro Torre and Monte Fitzroy cannot dissappoint and we had some of the best weather El Chalten can offer to appreciate this landscape.  The Ice Cap was everything we thought it would be and more. . . . . .Just superb! 

Links to more photos:

Getting onto the Ice Cap

Climbing Cerro Gorra Blanca

Crossing the Ice Cap

Camping on the Ice Cap

Leaving the Ice Cap

Back to El Chalten