Tomorrow we set off for the end of the world but what will we find there?

Our expedition to the Southern Patagonian Icecap starts tomorrow when we all start travelling down to El Chalten in Patagonia. Will it be a glorious adventure or a bitter struggle against the elements. Its in the lap of the gods!

Yes the time has come around all too quick. Tomorrow, two South Africans, a New Zealander, an Australian and two spanish based English will start the long trip to the most southerly part of the habitable world, Patagonia. This land of storms and tempests holds the largest piece of ice outside the polar regions. It is a wild, untamed and wonderful wilderness.

Travelling across the icecap

Travelling across the icecap

We first went there in 2006. A little naive perhaps, but we enjoyed relatively good and stable conditions that enabled us to complete the icecap traverse from the Paso Marconi to Paso del Viento without mishap. Last year the opposite. Patiently sat waiting out the bad weather before making a move, only to be hit with ferocious winds when committed.

Both, very different, experiences were memorable. Both secured the mountaineers in a common bond that will last a lifetime.

This year we have never had a better prepared team. We have some great support and backup in place and are all raring to go. The weather however doesn’t look at all good. We have just missed a two week window of opportunity and the trend is for adverse conditions for at least the next week.

What will happen this time? We are in the lap of the gods?

Keep in touch with our trip via our expedition tracker and website (updated throughout the day, satellites willing).

8

The debilitating effects of Snowblindness – a personal experience

Becoming snowblind is one of the most debilitating hazards of being in the high mountains. This article relates my own personal experience on the Patagonian Icecap with this painful condition. I am not a medical expert and haven’t read up on all the facts, so if you want the medical stuff then do a Google Search. I relate below only my own experience.

Snowblind. Not a pretty sight!

Snowblind. Not a pretty sight!

I guess after spending over 40 years walking in the mountains I’ve been lucky not to have contracted snowblindness before. Sure, I might have had some mild symptoms before, some sore eyes that I always put down to the wind. But in truth I didn’t recognise these as being snowblind. That was all to change during our last expedition to the Patagonian Icecap in November 2010.  Now I am all too aware of the consequences.

It was supposed to be a relatively easy day. Reaching the flat plateau of the Icecap mid-afternoon. We had gone well to start with and were above the serac barrier and onto the long but slow rise to the Paso Marcoini when we got caught in a whiteout. Strong winds were blowing spindrift into our faces. Visibility went and we were surrounded by a grey howling mass. It was the worst possible place to get caught as the winds from the icecap escape eastwards, channeling together at the Paso Marconi. Too high to retreat. Pushing on meant some hard hours graft and discomfort.

After wearing contact lenses for 20 years I now wear glasses. Glasses and goggles in a blizzard do not make a good combination. They fog up and make navigation even more difficult. So I abandon the glasses as they are useless. Anyway, my shortsightedness will not affect things greatly. The lenses of my goggles become not only foggy but ice encrusted. I am blind. I am the navigator and as such I need any help I can get from the sloping, featureless terrain.  The team are relying on me. I take of my goggles.

Safe but in a lot of pain

Safe but in a lot of pain

My eyelids become iced up. Two inch long icicles hang off my nose. As night begins to fall we reach the icecap and hastily build our snow walls and put up tents.

Next day is just as bad. Today though we are pulling out. Uncertainty with the weather and the previous days mauling make us retreat to lick our wounds. We head east, this time with the wind at our backs. It is still a whiteout and the navigation to find the top of the Serac barrier, the key to our escape, is critical. There is no sun, just a dense grey mass. I leave my glasses and goggles off. After 3 hours descending we reach safety and leave the Marconi glacier.

We rest beside our campsite situated by the lake at “La Playita”. It feels good to be out of the wind. I fall asleep but wake early evening and my eyes feel gritty. During the next few hours the uncomfortable feeling worsens. It becomes painful to open my eyes. Every time I blink a tear detaches from the eyes and streams down my cheek.

I spend an uncomfortable night. The only relief is not to move my eyes behind my closed eyelids. Any movement of eyes or eyelids is painful. My buff is wound tightly around my face. Somehow it feels less painful tightly wrapped up.

Next day head back to civilisation. I have a rough day’s walk with a big pack.  More difficult as I find it hard to open the eyes. I squint my eyes together as much as I can and try to negotiate the rough terrain. Any light send tears down both cheeks. It is an awful feeling.

No epics. We get back. But the pain continues for a further 48 hours. I look ridiculous, crying in my beer, in the bars and restaurants of El Chalten! After 48 hours the symptoms gradually gradually, but I feel some discomfort for about a week to come.

So what have I learnt?

Well, I certainly know what to expect should I leave my eyes unguarded. But if I was in the same situation again what could I have done? In my opinion the damage was done during the 10 hours on the first day climbing up to the Paso Marconi. It was vital I was able to navigate correctly. A spare pair of goggles might have helped?

Day two should have seen me put on sunglasses or goggles. That was a mistake. It was grey, an absence of sun. Because of the previous 24 hours battling, maybe my head was not functioning correctly. I should have known better though, as I once got badly sunburnt in the Sierra Nevada on a grey, cloudy days ski touring.

Becoming snowblind is not nice. Even on poor days eyes must be adequately protected. I am going back to Patagonia in November 2012, revisiting the icecap. I will be much more guarded but any advice would be greatly welcomed!

Update……………….. you could of course use Gaffa Tape!!!!!

Gaffa tape as snow goggles

Gaffa tape as snow goggles

1

The best snow wall construction to eliminate drifting on the leeward side

Sometimes a basic snow wall is not sufficient to keep the elements at bay. The wind can drop spindrift on the leeward side thus burying the tents. Is there a solution in the way we can construct snow walls that would make them more efficient?

I asked this question on the Worldwide Expedition professional group on LinkedIn

Hastily erected snow walls

Hastily erected snow walls

Last year on the Patagonian Icecap we built snow walls as normal. In high winds spindrift gets dumped on the leeward side when the wind hits irregularities in the surface ie snow walls. This gave another problem in that we had good snow walls but the tents behind them got buried! Do you think there is any way the shape or construction of the wall can be improved to eliminate this occurrence? I ask this as I am heading for a rematch in Patagonia in November 2011! 

Thanks to the respondents and their excellent suggestions.

Damien Gildea • Richard, I had this problem once at high camp on Vinson. A 3-day storm blew in a lot of new snow and half-buried our VE25, needing lots of digging and a broken pole. I think it might help if you build the wall not so flat to the wind, with more of a V shape, or a U shape, so that the wind blows around the wall more, taking the snow with it, rather than just hitting it flat and dumping its load on your tent. I think it’s also good to make the wall at least as high as the tent, not the same or lower.

Stuart Remensnyder • no doubt shape is a huge factor along with height but something we had good luck with on Denali was a second lower wall in front of the main wall. The biggest mistake we made was taking over and abandoned “dug-in” site which filled in rapidly and we had to dig out in the am from drift snow only. from then on we always set up on a level the same as the main snowpack. good luck in November!

Tim Vogel • I like Stuarts method it tends to help with less snow behind the wall by lessening the eddy foot print (kayak talk) also try tapering the wall back to improve the flow over the wall.

Simon Garrod • Hi Richard, I would agree with the comments so far. I tend to make walls as aerodynamic as possible so the wind flows around them and is therefore less likely to lose momentum and dump snow. I therefore make them curved rather than straight and also back fill the windward (front face) to make an angled slope. This potentially creates less buffeting and hopefully keeps the snow moving. It also reduces the risk of scouring between the snow blocks with prolonged stays and reduces the risk of blocks being blown off and hitting the tent. I had this happen once in a 80 knot plus blow and it ended up breaking my tent partners ribs. My philosophy with walls is that I would rather shovel than have my tent destroyed by the wind, even if they can be a pain to build and maintain! A different tack would be to build lower walls and double pole the tents – just a thought.

Werner Berger • My three climbs on Denali concur fully with the comments made by Simon Garrod. V-shaped walls with packed snow on the windward side, angling to the top and about 6″ to 12″ higher than the tent allows the snow to fly over and get dumped on the downwind side of the tent.

Dave Hartman BS EMTP I/C • I would suggest that you review some basic concepts. First, and foremost, any time you change the velocity of wind, you alter it’s ability to carry snow. The deflection upwards creates a vacuum behind the wall. This causes an eddy which tends to rotate. This causes it to drop it’s velocity i.e. load. This is why you get cornices. It’s also why airplane wings ice up.

The reason the windward side is always cleaner is that the velocity increase can carry more,, thus “scrubs” the ground clean.

I’m not too certain that you can shelter a site and still not have it fill in with drift. Having said that, think about natural areas that are sheltered, and at the same time not drifted. If you can maintain the wind velocity over your site and not create turbulence on the lee you’ll be cleaner. (that’s why an igloo doesn’t accumulate very much). Either a secondary wall on the leeward side to maintain the wind velocity, or positioning your site directly before a negative slope change might work.

I would think combining Werner an Simon’s method of a smooth angled windward wall,, then a secondary leeward structure to minimize turbulence will work best.

Interesting problem! I’ll do some playing around and let the group know what I find. I’m teaching a mountaineering SAR class next month. I’ll turn my students loose on it and see what they come up with. Thanks!!

Stuart Remensnyder • Below is something technical on snow drifting with a number of interesting conclusions including:

“Scalemodel tests by Sherwood (1967a) in the NCEL wind duct have shown that the rate of drift accumulation around the types of at-grade polar buildings at present in use can be reduced by orienting them 45 degrees to the storm wind. These tests have also shown that buildings elevated on solid platforms 2 to 4 feet above the surrounding surface have much less drift than when directly on the surface.”

Dave – If would be great if you can all take some measurements and pics and report back to us!

here is the link to the download pubs.aina.ucalgary.ca/arctic/Arctic22-2-112.pdf

Snow Movement- Drift Control forSurface (At-Grade) Camps
N. S. STEHLEl
ABSTRACT. Snow movement in polar areas creates problems for surface (at-grade) camps,particularlyinareas of net annual snow accumulation. Snowdriftstudies, which were made over a 4-year period around a single unprotected building and around a cluster of buildings in an area of net annual snow accumulation on the Ross Ice Shelf near McMurdo Station, Antarctica, showed that at-grade camps will eventually becomecovered with drifting snow. Driftcontrol measures, however, can be used to increase the usefulness and life of such camps. The measures devel- oped cover proper building orientation and camp layout with respect to the major storm winds. In addition, mobile foundations may be used for buildings to facilitate camp moves when snowdrift becomes excessive.

Dave Hartman BS EMTP I/C • It’s funny,, the more you look at this, the more involved it becomes! I’m looking forward to seeing what my students come up with. Since they’re engineers I suspect they’ll beat it to death. We’ll take pictures and measurements. I wouldn’t be surprised to find there’s a master’s thesis in there somewhere!  I’ll report back.

Richard Hartley • Any news on what the students have come up with Dave? I tried v shaped walls and a smaller windward pre wall on the Icecap a few weeks ago. Partly successful but still had some spindrift over the tents. Unfortunately, we were blessed by 3 days of unheard of (in Patagonia anyway) windless and sunny days so werent able to try out slightly differing alternatives. Too tired to take measurements, sorry getting old!

0

We are renewing our tussle with the Patagonian Icecap. Want to come?

Yes, we are heading back to the Patagonian Icecap. In November 2011, a year earlier than planned, we shall be renewing our tussle with the magnificent but ferocious elements of the “Hielo Continental Sur” (Southern Continental Ice Sheet) in southern Patagonia.

Entering the Icecap

Entering the Icecap

Due to the difficult nature of the expedition we keep the group small. Only 4 places remain. This is likely to be an extremely demanding trip! Our 2006 expedition was completed in glorious weather. Our 2010 trip was beset by high winds and precipitation. BUT….. with the right mental attitude you can be assured the experience of a lifetime! If we have spare days at the end of the circuit we shall make short trips into the heart of the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre mountains and glaciers.

Before deciding if this is right for you………..

Have a look at our Expedition Page
“The Climax is the Coming Back from a Dangerous Place” – a summary of the 2010 Expedition
Surviving Patagonia – a trip report from Kiersten Rowland
Dairy of the 2006 Expedition
More photo galleries from the 2006 expedition

Also, you need to watch this before deciding if you want to come along?

Traverse of the Icecap

The objective of the trip is to make a circuit of the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre Ranges, traversing the Patagonian Icecap.

On the Marconi Glacier

On the Marconi Glacier

We are looking for clients to arrive in El Calafate on or before 20th November 2011
Day 1 – Arrival El Calefate airport. Transfer to Hotel Confin Patagonico in El Chalten (3hrs).
Day 2 – Day in El Chalten buying food and provisions. Hotel Confin.
Day 3 – Walk in to the campsite and refugio at Piedra del Fraile (Los Troncos). Level, sheltered and good, clean water available.
Day 4 – Move up to “La Playita” campsite by the side of Lago Electrico.
Day 5 – To the Paso Marconi via the Marconi Glacier. 7-9hrs glacier walking with only 1 section of badly crevassed ground.
Day 6/7 – Ascent of Gorra Blanca
Day 7 – Traverse southwards on the icecap to the Cirque de los Altares

Cerro Torre beyond Lago Torre

Cerro Torre beyond Lago Torre

Day 8 – Southwards again coming off the ice below the Paso del Viento. Camp near to the Lago Ferrari.
Day 9 – Up to the Paso del Viento and down eastwards into the Tunel valley.
Day 10 – Walk out to El Chalten.
Days 11,12 & 13 – spare days in case of bad weather. 13th night at Hotel Confin, El Chalten
Day 14 – Bus to airport at El Calafate. Flights home

Hosteria Confin Patagonico – The hotel has 4 large comfortable bedrooms with great facilities, including en suite, piped music and WiFi. Breakfasts are supplied as well. See hotel website for more details.

Advice and Recommendations for Travellers to El Chalten, Patagonia

Useful website for mountain information, photos, access, weather and history at PATAclimb

Notes re Itinerary

(1) Extend your trip by adding on the Torres del Paine or trekking in the El Chalen area independently
(2) Alternatives – Fantastic glacier trekking should bad weather affect the ice cap traverse. Multi day trips ascending the glaciers beneath Cerro Torre or Fitzroy, using the Agostini and Poincenet campsites.
(3) It is essential people have the right quality kit, as it could very well end up saving your life. We can advise on suitability.

0

Gear Review PHD Yukon Down Jacket

We bought the Yukon Down Jackets in an online winter sale from PHD Designs in the UK in March 2010. Gore Tex outer fabric. But how did they perform and stand up in the wilds of Patagonia?

The ordering and delivery process- Easy. The website is well thought out and helpful. Sale items are identified and purchased with minimum fuss. We occasionally have problems with suppliers delivering to our home in Spain. In this case the delivery was prompt and, pleasingly, without such issues. The jacket was a “special”. This means that normally the Gore Tex option is not there.

The Yukon Jackets, oh and Cerro Torre too!

The Yukon Jackets, oh and Cerro Torre too!

The down side – Strange colours. Well for me at least. Mine is white! Sorta camouflaged against the snow. My partner had a more acceptable bright yellow one. Not a problem for me. I like to remain inconspicuous.

Price – 186GBP for a Gore Tex down jacket is a real bargain. With 15GBP  delivery to Spain we got top notch jackets for just over 200GBP (Normal price for a Drishell outer lining is currently 255GBP!).

Features -

  • Front zip with internal draft baffle
  • 2 zipped handwarmer pockets
  • Stud-on down hood with stretch lycra edging
  • Stretch hem cord
  • Stuff sac
  • Gore Tex outer
  • Superlight MX inner

How did it perform?

Out on the Patagonian Icecap when we were in the thick of the action it stood up to all sorts of abuse, both from nature and ourselves. As we retreated down from the Paso Marconi in a blizzard, the gale force wind ripped though all our clothing until the Yukon was recovered from the rucksacks and put on. Immediately we started to feel warm again. Whats nice is that the rain and spindrift had no effect whatsoever on the Gore Tex outer. Well it shouldn’t you say? OK. But in my experience Gore Tex hasn’t been all it’s cracked up to be. Patagonia wasn’t a Cheap Holiday by any means, but this jacket was money well spent and the build quality should ensure that it will last many many years to come.

Building tent walls on the Patagonian Icefield

Building tent walls on the Patagonian Icefield

A pleasant surprise was that there was absolutely no condensation inside the jacket neither. Warm as toast I even started to enjoy our battle with the elements. Goes into my pack whenever I am in the Sierra Nevada ………. “just in case”.

Highly recommended. Not only PHD as a company, but also the combination of down and Gore Tex if you are heading for colder parts. Keep an eye on the sales they tend to have twice a year and you may well pick up a real bargain. The website can be found at http://www.phdesigns.co.uk/. I recommend you subscribe to their email list so you get advance notification of the sale.

Details of our trip to the Patagonian Icefields in November 2010

Details of our next trip to Patagonia in 2012. Places remaining.

5

Surviving Patagonia 2010

A report from Kiersten Rowland about her harrowing experiences on the Patagonian Icecap in November 2010. Not exactly a sparkling advertisement for joining us back there in 2012!

Two taxis arrive to take us to the trailhead at Rio Electrico. From the trailhead we walk a few hours through a forest to our camp at Los Troncos. You have to pay a small fee as you pass over private land, but on the plus side there is a small cabin where its your last chance to get food and drink. We did treat ourselves to one last bottle of wine, but I could not pursuade the others to one last pizza!

The next day we move on to camp at La Playita (the beach). Here we stay put tent bound for 4 days due to rain, snow, rain and high winds. One night we even get flooded, we wake to find the floor of the tent like a water bed, immediate action is taken by digging channels around the tents to drain the water from around our tents. There are a handful of other teams stuck in the same position as us waiting for a weather window.

Heading up the Marconi Glacier in good weather

Heading up the Marconi Glacier in good weather

Finally on day 5 that weather window arrives. We have a late set off because it was still raining at 9am but the skies turn blue. We pack up and head off up the valley towards the Marconi Glacier, allowing the other teams to get ahead of us. Summer in Patagonia = wind, but this years weather was more unsettled than in previous years. To get to the Marconi Glacier you have to cross horrible moraine and carrying a backpack as heavy as ours, being as small as me and with the wind battering you, you WILL fall. I did on numerous occasions, luckily never seriously hurting myself, but the strength it saps from you is incredible.

Onto the glacier we go, up towards the serac barrier. This is a dangerous section because the seracs are almost continually falling down, but usually you can avoid most of it. Also this section is heavily crevassed, but this year most were snowed in and safe.

Me above the seracs, Marconi Glacier

Me above the seracs, Marconi Glacier

We rope up and head up the steep section to the icecap. We are walking straight into the wind which slows our progress even further. Whilst taking a short break 3 rope teams of 2 Argentinian guides come racing past us, thanking Richard for breaking trail for them. They have light sacks on and are moving fast on a training mission with radios. Then all hell breaks out. What feels like hurricane force winds hit us face on, any tracks left by the other 3 ropes vanish in seconds. We only manage to move a few steps at a time before we have to dig ice axes and walking poles into the snow and brace ourselves for the next gust which tries to rip us off the planet.

We have to keep going, we are beyond the point of no return and safety lies ahead of us not behind us. Non of us have ever experienced anything like the 36 hours that that we lived through. Words cannot describe what the 4 of us went through and a special bond will be with us forever, our team became one and only the 4 of us can talk about it. No matter how we try to speak to others, unless you have been through something similar you can not and will not understand. The hours pass and we seem to be getting no where, thats a white out for you, daylight is running out, our energy is running out and we need to make camp. We spend the night in Chile!

Icefield camp

Icefield camp

With just a little daylight left we start to dig down into the snow and build snow walls to protect our tents from the ferocious winds. One little bit of luck. The winds abated enough to enable our tents to be put up in relative ease. Nobody ate that night, too exhausted to think about food, its all we can do to drink. The wind returned at full force sounding like a train coming at you. The snow is being picked up and dumped on our tents. I wake and find that we had been virtually buried, thankfully our tents have 2 entrances and I manage to crawl out of a tiny hole at one end to go start digging the tent out. Every hour after that I have to dig us out. Richard is so physically exhausted after breaking trail most of the day and mentally exhausted after navigating us through the white out (his navigational skills are exceptional) he is unable to do much but support.

Paso Marconi at sunset in a brief lull

Paso Marconi at sunset in a brief lull

When daylight arrives again and we take stock of our situation, which is no better than yesterday. We make the decision to retreat. We have no other choice. So now the wind is on our backs which presents different challenges. At one point all 4 of us are picked up and thrown onto the ground. We eventually make it safely down to the Marconi Glacier, still getting battered by the wind and back over the moraine to La Playita camp. We are greeted by a group who apparently had been 2 hours behind us yesterday, spent an awful night below the seracs and retreated back to the camp the same day as us. The Argentine guides were so happy to see us, they said they had been concerned for us. Nice to know someone was watching out for us without us knowing. We must look in a bad way because lumps of cheese and meat started turning up at our tents for us to eat. People can be so kind, a small gesture like a lump of fresh cheese is like heaven.

Crashed out at los Troncos

Crashed out at los Troncos

The next day, guess what, the weather is good, the other group head up to try their luck again and we pack up our rucksacks and make for El Charlten via the cabin at Los Troncos where we have a well deserved beer and pizza. You can now arrange for the hut to take your rucksacks to the trail head for a small price, so we happily hand them over and have an almost pleasurable stroll out to the trailhead. We meet our rucksacks and the man who had driven them out by quad bike and trailer. He then drives to an estancia to phone for a taxi to come pick us up. After half an hour we can see a trail of dust approaching and our taxi pulls up and drives us back to the warm and welcoming Hotel Confin Patagonico in El Chalten.

Having had time to recover, physically and emotionally, we realised how lucky we had been in making the correct decisions at the right time and bonding so well as a team, any weak link and there could be a different story. A group who we passed were not so lucky and eventually got caught out by this years unusual Patagonian summer weather. You can read more about that here.

They say time is a healer. After many “never again’s” in Patagonia, just a few weeks later I’m beginning to look forward to the next challenging visit there!

Read more from Kiersten Rowland

6

Advice and Recommendations for Travellers to El Chalten, Patagonia

Our own personal recommendations and help for mountaineers, trekkers and travellers visiting the town of El Chalten in southern Patagonia.

The town of El Chalten comes as a pleasant surprise. It is tucked away between some rock walls north west of the magnificent Lago Viedma in the  Santa Cruz province of Argentina. It has a clean and frontier feel to it and the people are genuinely warm, friendly and helpful.

The town of El Chalten

The town of El Chalten

El Chalten is a relatively new town. It was founded in 1985 so has just celebrated it’s 25 year anniversary. But, it is a very windy town. The winds that race across the “hielo continental” icecap from Chile batter the mountains and head down the valleys to the town and steppes beyond. I have heard it said that with hindsight the town would have been better placed slightly further SE behind a large rock outcrop, thus giving a measure of protection.

The first stop when you enter the town, from Ruta 40 or El Calafate, should be the “Centro Parque Nacional Los Glaciares” . Very informative and interesting. The park staff there are also keen to help identify animals and birds that you may have seen or photographed during your stay.

Heading for Fitzroy, Cerro Torre or the Hielo Continental Icecap?

You must book in with the Parque Nacional office. This involves filling in a simple form stating when you are leaving and when you are intend to be back. Also they seem keen to ascertain responsibility for the group. The office is found on the left on entering the town just before crossing the main bridge.

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
Seccional Lago Viedma
(9301) El Chaltén
Provincia de Santa Cruz – República Argentina

54 (02962) 493-004

In addition, you must registrar with the local Gendarmería Nacional. They will stamp your passport with a migratory stamp that allows you to cross borders between Chile and Argentina. Again, on your return you must return and report your safe arrival. They will stamp your passport again with an official Argentina entry stamp.

Sección El Chaltén
dependiente del Escuadrón 42 El Calafate

54 (02962)493-140

Where to stay, eat and drink?

In the 4 years since we were last there things have grown considerably and there is now a wide choice of places to stay, eat and drink. Prices vary to suit all budgets. These are our personal favorites.

Hosteria Confin Patagonico

The hotel has 4 large comfortable bedrooms with great facilities, including en suite, piped music and WiFi. Breakfasts are supplied as well.

Owners, Claudia Ruíz and Jorge Cerezo, went out of their way to make us feel at home. They also helped us with bus, taxi reservations and supplied us with printed weather forecasts.  Highly recommended! Have a look at their website for photos, contact, details and current prices. Tel +54-2962-493094

La Cervecería

Microbrewery and restaurant. Friendly staff, great empanadas and tasty beer (rubia or negra). Visit Website

Transporte Las Lengas

Transport to and from El Calefate, Airport ($80), Rio Electrico ($50), Lago del Desierto ($100). Prices at November 2010. Ring 02962 493023 / 493227

Como Vaca Parrilla Restaurante

Quite simply, the best steaks we’ve had in Argentina! Washed down with some delicious Malbec makes for a great evening. Rodrigo, the owner and his staff make great hosts. Conveniently situated next to the Hosteria Confin!

Patagonicus Pizzeria y Bar

Good pizzas and nice atmosphere.

Vegetarian Options

Many restaurants provide veggie meals. Vegetable empanadas are cheap and filling. There is a dedicated vegetarian restaurant but we can’t remember it’s name. It’s just a bit north of La Ceveceria on the opposite side of the road. A bit pricey, but excellent food and wine.

A word of warning. There is only 1 ATM cash machine in the town. At the month end particularly and at busy times it can run out very quickly. We did not have cash for 5 days and relied on the good heartinness of the locals. Make sure you bring enough into town with you.

Location Map

location-map-el-chalten

location-map-el-chalten

Mountain Guides and Gear Shops

El Chalten is the self proclaimed national capital of Trekking. With the wonderful mountains on the doorstep and the mystery and magnificence of the Patagonian Icecap, many mountain guiding organisations have sprung up recently. A walk down the main street will find you browsing the windows for glacier trekking and mountain ascents etc.

There are some gear and equipment shops. All basic supplies for an expedition onto the icecap can also be bought here including gas.

Mountain Guiding:

Casa de Guias de Montaña, San Martin 310 Tel 493118

Fitz Roy Expeditions, El Chalten Mountain Guides, Mountaineering Patagonia, Patagonia Aventura, Serac Sky y Andanismo, Walk & Trek.

Camping:

Del Lago, Lago del Desierto Tel 493010

El Refugio, San Martin S/N Tel 493221

El Relincho, San Martin 505 Tel 493007

Lago del Desierto

Piedra del Fraile

Camping Ricanor

Bonanza

1

Rescue efforts fail to aid climbers on the Patagonian Glacier

The rescue efforts to aid 3 climbers continue on the Patagonian Icecap. 2 Argentine guides and their Mexican client are trapped on the Nunatek Viedma. The Mexican did not survive and died from hypothermia. Yesterday, the helicopter could not reach the ice cave where the two guides await. If the weather does not improve, they will have to be evacuated on foot.

Mountaineering Patagonia Guide Office in EL Chalten closed yesterday

Mountaineering Patagonia Guide Office in EL Chalten closed yesterday

If the continental ice sheet was not there then the Nunatak Viedma would be a mountain. But it’s just a rock formation in the middle of the ice. Wind gusts reach up to 100 kilometers per hour and never drop below 50. The snow gets whipped up and dropped.  And so the cycle goes on. When this happens, the sunlight is just a wish.

Pressed against the rock, sheltering in a snow cave made with hands, the two climbers lost contact with a group of twelve rescuers and the body of a dead Mexican partner. They know that only a miracle could bring a helicopter, there will be no choice but to continue walking on the ice and that they will have to leave the body of mexican client, Mario Corsalini.

Yesterday, that was the situation Merlin Lipshitz and Damian Vilches, guide and assistant to the Mexican Corsalini had hired to cross the Southern Patagonian Ice Field in an expedition of thirteen days and 130 kilometers. The same wind that on Monday had destroyed the tent stopped the rescue helicopter from getting to the Gendarmerie.

The rescue is now in the hands of the “Rescate de El Chalten”, a group of climbers themselves and the unique ability to deal with risk. The most certain thing yesterday was to wait for the two climbers to recover from hypothermia to launch a return on foot.

At 23:48 pm on Monday 29, Merlin Lipshitz reached for his phone to send the exact position where the group had been stranded. Nothing more. It took more than twelve hours for Marina, his wife, to receive the first call for help. It was not until late Tuesday that the rescue group realized the gravity of what was happening: “We are in the oven,” he managed to say.

Everyone froze. Merlin is not only one of the most prestigious guides Argentina. In addition, he speaks little and never loses his cool. The coordinator of the rescue, knew she had to act fast. While she was trying to find a helicopter that rarely arrives on time, a first group of four rescuers went in search of companions who had been stranded.

But by that time, the fate of Corsalini was cast and he suffered severe symptoms of hypothermia. Attempts to revive him by the guides did not work. The odyssey began the night before when a gust blew away the tent where they slept. With the tent was backpacks and food. In a second, everything was covered by snow. Merlin decided to take refuge in a self built snow cave. But little by little the snow covered again. Merlin called on the telephone. He was shot and said the air was running out there.

Merlin started digging in the snow. He was desperate, but managed to escape and went on digging. Not knowing where to look he failed to find the backpack. But there was another night ahead. The talks became increasingly distressing.

At seven o’clock in the afternoon of Thursday, the first group of four rescuers arrived. It took a remarkable 15 hours to make a journey which usually needed 48, down the Tunel valley and over the Paso del Viento onto the icecap. They arrived at noon. They were not able to revive Corsalini. They sought to draw a circle in the snow in case the helicopter came but it was in vain. The helicopter that had been made available after hours of calls could not approach the area.

In the afternoon, the second group with eight other rescuers arrived. In total, about 35 people divided into four groups. All are members of the Relief Committee formed by guides and neighbors. Volunteers all. Today, they all try to defy the swirling winds that form in the Nunatak to return home.

We know from our recent trip how severe conditions on the icefield can be. Read our report from the November 2010 Expedition to the Patagonian Icefield, “The Climax is the Coming Back from a Dangerous Place”

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