On Thursday we begin our 2014 Patagonian Icecap Adventure

Thursday we leave for Argentina and one of the last true wilderness areas on earth, the Patagonian Icecap. Who knows what adventures it will bring? What surprises it has in store for us?

It’s been a long time coming, our last trip was in 2011 (and what a glorious expedition that was!). This year we attempt the “Ruta de las Nunataks”, a rarely done route. We could only find one reference to it on the internet. This route visits Nunatak Witte and Nunatak Viedma traversing down the western side of the great “Campo de Hielo Continental Sur” Icefield. From that icefield (the largest outside of the polar regions) hundreds of glaciers feed the pampas of Argentina and westwards to the fiords of Chile, including the famous Perito Moreno, Viedma and Upsala glaciers. It is quite simply, unique!

The Southern Patagonian Icecap is some 300 km long and 50 km wide stretching between Argentina and Chile. If we are in luck with the weather we shall attempt “Cerro Moreno” a remote, shy and retiring peak in the center of the ice. The ascent via it’s east ridge will require good calm weather (rare in Patagonia), lots of stamina and steady heads. There are 8 of us going, including expedition leader. Richard Hartley and Kiersten Rowland from Spanish Highs.

Patagonia needs patience and you can be tent bound for days. For sure, there will be uncomfortable and difficult moments to come. But therein lies the attraction. The rewards are massive! Views of the western faces of some of the most dramatic peaks in the world, Cerro Torre, Torre Egger and Mt Fitz Roy to name but a few. An incredible sense of isolation will be felt and help is a long, long way away. The team will have to be fully self supportive.

Yes, it’s a big challenge. Will we succeed? Who knows? We are in the lap of the weather gods. But that is what makes it so worthwhile and such a life changing experience!

Spanish Highs, “Inspiring the Adventure” in you!

Each day the team will be reporting and tweeting from the Icecap. Follow the Expedition Progress via map and reports.

Follow Expedition Progress

We would like to acknowledge the support of the following for this expedition

Steph Ball – Weather information

Clive Fenn – Construction of sledges/pulks

Ian Tupman – General support and printing of maps

Yellowbrick Trackers – Sat Comms

Alison Edwards – Expedition Gilets and T-shirts

Supply of munchies and unbelievably tasty expedition food from

  • Sharon and Richard Iocono
  • Pam of Fluoroheaven 

Anne and Doug Rowland – Constant supply of expedition materials from the UK

Sue Halfyard and Andrew Phillips – Dog sitting!

The Spanish Highs team remaining in the Sierra Nevada and ensuring “Business as Normal” …..

  • Felipe Nieto
  • Jens Foell
  • Emma Hartley
  • Pepe Badaje
  • Jesus Contreras
  • Javier Aguirrebengoa

If we have left anybody out, oops sorry. Unintentional due to lack of sleep!

Mt FitzRoy from the SE

Mt FitzRoy from the SE

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4 Insights the mountains and wilderness have shown me in 2011

As the dawn on a new year breaks it’s a good time to reflect on the past 12 months. 2011 has been unforgettable in so many ways. There were ups and downs, of course (it is the mountains after all…..ha ha!), but experiences in the Sierra Nevada and Patagonia have shown me some insights I thought I’d share with you.

1. You can make a difference to your world no matter how small it seems!

Mule, Muleteers and Mountaineers making a difference

Mule, Muleteers and Mountaineers

One day in August a small team of like minded enthusiasts (a mule, 2 Muleteers and 3 Mountaineers) took tools and materials up to 3000m. They did some voluntary work, cleaning, painting and restoring an old mountain hut in the Sierra Nevada. They did it because it needed doing. Nothing more. Little did we realise at the time that from this small seed how things would grow and develop.

Now Accion Sierra Nevada has been born. It has had much support from the mountaineering community and the national park. Funds are becoming available to continue the restoration work on other mountain refuges.

Sometimes the red tape has to be cut through and by-passed. In this case the Sierra Nevada will be the winner! A few like minded individuals acting together can make a difference.

2. If at first you don’t suceed try and try again. No pain, no gain!

First view on attaining the Icecap

First view on attaining the Icecap

The Patagonian Icecap is a tough place. Our second visit here in 2010 was a difficult experience. We got our asses kicked big time! As I lay exhausted with the wind violently lashing the sides of the tent walls, I remember thinking this would be my last visit to this wild but savage land. No more.

But ….. 12 months later I was back!

This time Patagonia relented. Evidently there are only two short spells a year when there is no wind on the Icecap. We hit one of these. No wind and bright sunshine. This enabled some of the most superb views I have ever seen in my life. Cerro Torre, Fitzroy, Gorra Blanca, the Cordon Adela and Cerro Morena. Wonderful.

3. The biggest thrill in mountain guiding is seeing people enjoy it!

Pepe on Tajos de la Virgen ridge

Pepe on Tajos de la Virgen ridge

This year I have been particularly fortunate in having some good spanish friends join our mountaineering community and activities. For a mountain guide on his day off, it would seem like a “busman’s holiday” to go up into the mountains. For me, that hasn’t been the case.

For people who are not used to the mountains, but have only been told about them from parents and grandparents, visiting the high Sierras is like travelling to a mystical “shangri-la”.

I have received so much satisfaction from seeing the astonished faces of people who have suddenly realised that another, predominantly vertically based, world exists. Money can’t buy that!

4. I’m not as young as I used to be!

Exhausted on Paso Marconi, Patagonia

Exhausted on Paso Marconi, Patagonia

I am now 56 and have been walking and mountaineering since I was 15. This year has been life changing as I have suddenly realised that my legs don’t go as far or as fast as they used to. Sure, this is natural, but for a mountain guide it is initially difficult to come to terms with.

Do I continue to go on as I have done and over the years, becoming slower and slower, until eventually I start to become a liability to other group members?

No. Some thought must be given to a gradual retraction from the harder stuff and an acceptance of the limitations of advancing age.

I will always want to be in the mountains. They have been my life, my love. This will not change, but from now on I may just pick and choose what trips I go on.

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Video from our Patagonian Icecap Expedition 2011

This year our expedition was blessed by windless and sunny conditions, unusual on the Patagonian Icecap. A far cry from the year before. We managed to complete the full itinerary and had some of the most amazing mountain and wilderness views any of us had ever seen.

Here is a short 10 minute video from the trip. I can’t wait to return. The place is infectious! Consequently we are taking bookings for 2012. Have a look at our Patagonian Icecap webpage for details.

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Patagonia Expedition Update No 9 – Laguna Ferrari Glacial Lake

The group has made it safely off the main ice and is setting up camp for the night in a sheltered area by the Laguna Ferrari glacial lake. Plenty of water here and no need to melt snow for drinking water tonight ! Tomorrow is the climb out over the Paso del viento (windy pass) aptly named as the prevailing winds are strong here.

Fortunately the current wind is gentle and from the North so there will be no ‘funnel effect’ for the group tomorrow. There are fantastic views of peaks including Cerro Grande and Cerro Azara. The route will pass to the south of the Glacier De Querrain and the Glacier Rio Tunel. Weather forecast is sun all day so we should get some fantastic photos from this, the most ‘scenic’ day of the trek.

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Patagonia Expedition Update No 8 – Circo de los Altares

The team have reached Circo de los Altares. This is a relatively sheltered camp area regularly used by trekking groups. They have good weather so they should be able to get some fantastic photos of the west face of Cerro torre glowing red in the low sun. Tomorrow the weather looks good so they will trek south over the ice and leave the icecap around mid-day and start the painful climb back over the broken glacier to safe terrain.

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Patagonia Expedition Update No 6 – Camp 1 on the Icecap

The group have made it to Camp 1 on the Icecap. Here they will dig holes for their tents to protect them from the high winds which will blow relentlessly over the ice tonight. All is going well so far and everyone is OK. The wind is strong tomorrow morning so we have advised them to make a late morning start as the wind will drop towards lunchtime. They will be currently melting snow for drinking water and resting their legs after a full day crossing the glacier!

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Patagonia Expedition Update No 3 – Moving to the Piedra del Fraile

The team have finally got some luck with the weather and have successfully reached their first scheduled overnight camp at a small refuge in the forest at Piedra del Fraile. This will be their last night of civilization. Local forecasts show good weather for Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday for the traverse across from the Paso Marconi via the Marconi Glacier down to the Paso del Viento.

The tracking device is working fine and we can pinpoint their location exactly Richard sends a signal. You can see their latest positions in the map on the expedition page here. It will be updated as and when the team check in.

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