Patagonia Argentina

26 December 2019

The journey into Patagonia Argentina commenced – surprisingly – with a long desert drive on Ruta 40. Driving through infertile and featureless desert on the other side of Chile’s very wet and ecologically-rich mountains, is a rather ruthless reminder of how incredibly fragile Patagonia is.

The arid journey south on Ruta 40 was a necessary detour that allowed us to swing back into the Patagonian mountains at two points – both very high on the tourist trail after the quietude of Patagonia Verde and the steppe: Mt Fitzroy at El Chalten and the Perito Moreno Glaciar at El Calafate. Both locations are part of Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, but are independently accessible off Ruta 40 and the desert run.

Shut your eyes to see the snow.
Ask the elderly about her, let yourself fall into the deepest silence, so you understand her secrets.

Ancient Iceland Proverb

Behind these Argentine mountains sits the quite incredibly vast ice shelves of Chile (which reminded us of how the German plains run up against the thin rank of German Alps, but behind which sits the much larger Swiss and Austrian Alps). These two Patagonian ice shelves are each over 100 km long and a natural frontier between the cold neighbours of Chile and Argentina. Above the ice shelves hovers a semi-permanent spray of frosty white cloud, and it is from these ice shelves that the glaciers of Moreno, Viedma, Grey, and so many others, spring like ancient white lava flows. In fact, this part of Patagonia was once entirely covered by an ice shelf, and all the mountain terrain of here down to Torres del Paine and beyond are shaped by glacier movements less than 20,000 years’ ago.

Ice trekking on Glacier Cagliero

And how to learn mountaineering very quickly

After a quiet Christmas lunch at El Chalten, we agreed to get a little adventurous with an ice trek on a glacier just north of Mount Fitzroy. We were collected at 8am for a full day’s journey to the glacier and back, but what the tour operator failed to mention to us (or anyone in the group) is that to access the glacier requires a 1.5 hour mountaineering expedition to get there – “via ferrata” it turns out is not a specific place, but a mountain climbing method with built-in iron pegs and cables!!

After a rather casual 5 minute explanation of how to use our harness and carabiners (tip: always have at least one carabiner clipped onto the cable) we were off: walking the rock faces, scaling 20 metre vertical cliffs and and ledge walking our way around the Cagliero Lake to reach the glacier, all in pouring rain. It was incredibly thrilling and nerve wracking at the same time, and the glacier walk with spiked shoes was easy after that. We just then had to get back down those 20 metre vertical drops….

Our level of adventure has just risen significantly and we’re thrilled to have achieved it – and nothing since has seemed difficult, because “we’ve done a via ferrata”.

Sometimes it’s better not to know what you’re getting yourself into?

Perito Moreno Glacier from Lago Roca

The Perito Moreno glacier is so big that it is creating a gap in the Andes along the Pacific Ocean allowing for the clouds to break through the mountains. This timelapse is showing the clouds passing through this gap. You can spot Perito Morino Glacier on the bottom right of the mountain range in the middle of the screen.

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