Report from Jane Fields on her experiences on the Patagonian Icefield Expedition in 2010 Rolling across the Patagonian Steppe on un-surfaced roads on a crowded bus was how this journey began. Nothing for miles but open grassland and hills on the horizon. My daydreams were interrupted by a stop at an Inn in the middle of nowhere where we were treated to coffee and delicious home-made cakes.
As we arrived in El Chalten, so did the rain. We sought refuge in a friendly restaurant opposite the bus stop. The owner just happened to own a 4WD truck and kindly dropped us at the start of our trek. It seemed like a good omen when the rain stopped and we made our way through a forest of lengas and Antarctic beech to a cosy little mountain cabin, Piedra del Fraile. We camped at the small campsite adjacent to the cabin. Views of the mountaintops were shrouded in cloud so we consoled ourselves with local liquors sold at the cabin.
Clear blue skies, sunshine. We awoke to a different world. Lovely coffee was available from the cabin which gave is time to dry out the tents. Our route took us up the beautiful Electrico Valley, our view dominated by the surrounding peaks. We stopped for lunch on 'La Playita', a small beach by Lago Electrico which is often used as a campsite by groups due to the sheltered location and plentiful supply of fresh water.
A short scramble from the beach and we made our way along paths in the frontal moraine to the foot of The Marconi Glacier. The first section of dry moraine led onto a truly spectacular section of open crevasses. Richard led us through a seemingly impassable maze of chasms and deep melt-holes. Once through the danger zone we set up camp for night two. Sleep was interrupted by the distant rumbles of avalanches and the cracks and groans of our icy campsite.
Our route continued up the more snow covered section of the glacier and care had to be taken to avoid HUGE hidden crevasses. Then crampons were exchanged for snowshoes as we headed out over the pass. As the pass opened out onto the ice-cap the view was shrouded by a head-on light blizzard. I have to say, this did not spoil the day- it just added to the ambience of being in such a remote place !
The ice-cap was all we could see in all directions as we set up camp for the night, making sure our tents were sheltered from the famous Patagonian wind. Throughout the night the wind roared, like a train passing overhead and the snow fell deeper. My quasar tent shuddered in the onslaught.
Finally the wind had abated and we dug out our tents and set out into the icy wilderness. The mist and light snow shrouded any view of the mountains and all we could see in every direction was 'white'. For a few moments the mist cleared and I saw another group of people heading in the opposite direction, tiny black specks on the ice, then they disappeared and I wondered whether I'd imagined it !
This was an amazing day, just utter isolation. I can see how easy it would be to become hopelessly lost and wander for days without seeing another soul. In every direction it looked the same! We reached Cirque de los Altares where we set up camp.
We should have seen Cerro Torre in all her glory from this position but again the cloud was unkind to us. The tip of her summit is all we would see before the cloud moved in again!
The sheer expanse of the ice-cap was visible for the first time as we headed south on our journey. Today we could see the mountains looming out of the deep ice and the effects of the sun and cloud gave some truly awesome views.
As we headed east of the ice-cap, half of me was disappointed at the prospect of heading back to civilisation, the other half relieved that we had made it back safely (as Messner once said) 'from such a dangerous place'! Our route then took us over the gruelling lateral moraine piles of the Viedma glacier to our camp on the shores of Lago Ferrari
We were treated to spectacular panoramas as we crossed over Paso del Viento and flanked the Tunel glacier and followed the Tunel river down its course. This day had an interesting start with a river crossing. After carrying sandals for six days they finally came into use !
Heading back to civilisation
Our route then took us back to El Chalten via the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado where we were treated to some fantastic views of Cerro Torre and Fitzroy which we had missed the previous few days.
Final thoughts.........When you embark on a trip like this, the guide can make all the difference. Spanish Highs Mountain Guides's attention to detail throughout the seven days was certainly noticed and I felt safe at all times. His good humour made me laugh on the most strenuous of days. Thank you for providing a once-in-a - lifetime adventure and I hope to see you in the future for more 'aventuras extremes'