(an autumnal ramble between rock, ice and a lenga tree)
Our thru-hike of Aysén ends in the sleepy, frontier town of Villa o’Higgins, where the dusty Carretera Austral dirt road arrived only 12 years ago, surrounded by snowy mountain peaks, lush lenga forrests and the northeastern arm of the huge, turquoise Lago O’Higgins. Nature halts all human progress. The vast Southern Patagonian Ice Field dominates to the south and west.
Dark clouds gather and strong winds blow over the southwestern arm of the 1000 km² Lago O’Higgins in Deep Patagonia, Aysen, Chile. Its turquoise melting waters from the Southen Patagonian Ice Cap, drain to the Pacific through the threatened Rio Pascua. Notice the waves on the lake.
An exploration hike up an unnamed peak, raising high above the Eastern arm of the Lago O’Higgins, Aysen, Patagonia, Chile. Remark the Chilea border post of Candelario Mancilla down left.
Some marketing boys/girls woudl call this remote part Deep Patagonia. Non-motorized travellers, nevertheless, don’t have to retrace hundreds of kms north to find a passable and legal border crossing over the Andes into Argentina to reach the more touristic hot spots in Southern Patagonia. A passenger-only launch gets hikers and bikers to the other side of Lago O’Higgins, where they can get off at Candelario Mancilla, an estancia and Chilean border post of carabineros. The majority of the hikers and bikers who brave this remote launch crossing, leave immediatly for the 25km hike through dense forrest to the by-foot-reached-only Argentine border post at Lago del Desierto, which will lead them to nearby El Chalten, right into the heart of the Los Glaciares National Park.
Easter Sunday. Approaching the autumnal treeline towards a pass to reach the southeastern arm of the Lago O’Higgins. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
Uninterupted, virgin Patagonian forrest towards the south. The granite tower of Cerro Fitz Roy (3359m) dominates the skyline 100km south of this peek through.
Despite the incredible remoteness of this part of Patagonia, some colonizers live secculed lives with some cattle tucked between the lake, virgin forrest and the towering ice cap, with the only possibility to get away 3 times a month when the forementioned launch tuffs by (weather permitting). In stead of heading to Lago del Desierto, as do the majority of the 2500 foottravelers doing this bordercrossing in summer season, we get off to visit these remote colonizers and try to explore the ridges and shores of the southern arms of the Lago O’Higgins, with big hopes of uninterupted views over the ice field.
Glaciar Chico flowing from the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap into the southeastern arm of the Lago O’Higgins. Easter sunday. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
Luigo Mancilla, a gaucho living on the southeastern arm of the Lago O’Higgins, rows us over the small channel to get to another penninsula which will bring us closer the Southen Patagonian Ice Cap.
Strong winds blow of the ice cap, forming impressive lenticulars over the pass we walked over a couple hours ago. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
Cordón GAEA, towering above a tarn. On route towards uniterupted views of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
The Glaciar O’Higgins calving from the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap into the southwestern arm of the Lago O’Higgins. The glacier front sticks out 60m above the water surface. It takes 2 days from Candelario Mancilla to get to this remote rocky outcrop towering high above the ice. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
Sun rises over the Cordon O’Higgins at the seccluded rancho of Don Lagos. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
“No trabajo con turistas, ahora entra! Toman mate?”/”I don’ work with tourists, so please come in and let’s have a yerba mate” – says Don Lagos as we melt from the heat around his stove after a long day to reach his seccluded house. We are the first foreigners he sees passing by since one year. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
An abandoned ranch along the central arm of the Lago O’Higgins. Aysen. Patagonia. Chile.
March turns into April. Magical red colours tumble down the mountain slopes, leaving only the valley floor with green toppings. It’s unuasally hot and crisp for the time of the year. You should be blown of your feet from this ridge so close to the ice cap at these latitudes. We reach a rocky outcrop. It’s all ice as far as the eye stretches west. The hue of the light is indescribable but very addictive. Milky white transcends into turquoise blue when the huge, fat glaciers breakmelt into the cold waters of the Lago O’Higgins. Sharp peaks emerge from the ice, shaking hands with the clouds. To the east, the contract of lakelight with the golden, yellow steppe leaves us stunned.
Lenga forrest turning in fairylike red in autumn. Lago del Desierto. Santa Cruz. Patagonia. Argentina.
A snow dusting completes the picturesque views over Lago del Desierto. Santa Cruz. Patagonia. Argentina.
Routefinding over sandy grounds towards the Loma de las Pizarras in the Los Glaciares National Park. Patagonia. Argentina.
There’s no way of getting bored of Patagonia. Every new visit reveals more beauty and secrets. It’s living a dream, for real and we inhale every part of it. We pass through the ranch of a lonely gaucho, set up camp, and sip mate all evening, trying to explain the complex politics of a small, bustling little country lacking any noticeable backcountry, mountain or glacier. The gaucho frowns and chuckles. Outside a full moon rises and a big chunk of ice says goodbye to the ice cap and tuffs by the ranch.
Exploring the Loma de las Pizarras ridge, with Cerro Solo (2121m) towering above the Laguna Torre. PN Los Glaciares. Patagonia. Argentina.
Moraine is only what’s left what used to be the Glaciar Piedras Blancas. Patagonia is a huge outdoor labo for global warming. In no other part of the world glaciers are melting at this astounishing, alarming rate.
Ñires and lenga trees struggle to get grip on the rocky ground so close to the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. A rock throw away the golden steppes of Patagonia yearn for winds.
When coming down from the Pizarras ridge, we encounter these huge puma tracks around our left behind packs. Los Glaciares National Park. Patagonia. Argentina.
Glaciar Grande melts into Laguna Torre. Cordon Adela and world famous Cerro Torre (3133m) granite needle playing hide-and-seek in the clouds. PN Los Glaciares. Patagonia. Argentina.
By the time we eventually reach Argentine’s self-proclaimed trekking capital of El Chalten, the village is allready going into close-down mode. A handfull of brave backpackers shop the couple of outdoor shops for hiring a warm sleeping and a dry tent to get them towards the bases of of the famous Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
The granite needles of Cerro Fitz Roy and Poincenot are proud garders of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Los Glaciares National Park.
Towards the base of Cerro Torre. But it’s all hide-and-seek. Los Glaciares. Patagonia. Argentina.
Dripping rain over the Laguna Torre. Los Glaciares. Patagonia. Argentina.
A first autumn prick dusts the upper slopes with a reflective carpet of photogenic white. Lenticulars form cartoonish figures above the golden steppe. At dusk skies are clad with gold, orange, pink and a deep blue over the horizon. With a couple of stable days ahead, we climb away out of town towards more remote, windswept ridges with more uninterupted views towards the mysterious black & white backbone of the Lautaro-range cutting the ice cap in half. At our foot spreads out the maze of crevasses of the Viedma Glacier, snaking its way through the mountains towards its namesake lake, where the ice is losing the global warming debate.
Scouting route for crossing the Glacier Tunel towards the Paso del Viento, which is at the upperleft corner of the picture. Los Glaciares. Patagonia. Argentina.
Descending the Paso del Viento towards the side moraine of Glaciar Viedma, which forms part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. The Lautaro range splits the ice cap exactly in half. Bernardo o’higgins National Park. Magallanes region. Patagonia. Chile.
Before the real route finding started we crossed into Hugh and Fred, 2 young Brits on a South American backpacking trip. They had little backcounty experience and seemed very happy with our company into this remote, wild place.
High on the moraine of Glaciar Viedma. Los Glaciares. Patagonia. Argentina.
Glaciar Viedma calves into Lago Viedma. A huge amount of condors soar high above. Los Glaciares National Park. Patagonia. Argentina.
A rest on the cross-country, undulating route towards El Chalten. Lago and Glacier Viedma. Los Glaciares National Park. Patagonia. Argentina.
Our idea of packrafting 2 rivers in the Torres del Paine National Park, are halted by prolonged instable, rainy and windy forecast. An Indian Summer forecast for norhtern Patagonia on the other hand, makes us decide to alter our southern course into an northern one.
A gaucho once told us, there’s nothing to be more afraid of getting lost on the desolate Patagonian Pampa, so a 2-day busride on the Ruta 40 brought us back in Bariloche, where we started our adventure back in January. As fast as we could, we left town with all gear and food for a 14-day traverse towards El Bolson, to witness the mountains, rivers and forrest surrender to autumn.
Descending into autumn on a 14-day hike along the Huella Andina route from Bariloche to El Bolson through the Nahuel Huapi National Park and Comarca Andina ranges. Lakes region. Rio Negro. Patagonia. Argentina.
Lenga forrests falling into autumn. Nahuel Huapi National Park. Patagonia. Argentina.
Autumn around Laguna Jacob. PN Nahuel Huapi. Argentina.
I say jump! PN Nahuel Huapi. Argentina.
A frosty night on the shores of Lago Mascardi, which we explored on packraft. The nearby Rio Manso is so shallow this time of the year, we have to content ourselves with lakes. Cerro Tronador (3491m) dominates the lunar lit skyline. PN Nahuel Huapi. Argentina.
Rivers to shallow? Let’s play on the lake then… Lago Mascardi. Argentina.
Climbing up towards Refugio Otto Meiling. PN Nahuel Huapi. Cerro Tronador. Patagonia. Argentina.
Mmmm. Malbec. Argentine’s finest. Refugio Otto Meiling. Cerro Tronador. Argentina.
Farm-gazing. Lago Steffen. PN Nahuel Huapi. Argentina.
Exploring the Lago Steffen. Nahuel Huapi National Park. Argentina.
Hugging 3000-year old Alerce trees in the Valdivian rain forrest. Comarca Andina. Argentina.
Stands of 3000 year old Alerce trees in the rain forrest. Comarca Andina. El Bolson. Argentina.
Gaucho crossing the Rio Azul. Comarca Andina. Argentina.
With the last rosty leaves to cover the forrest floors, it’s time to settle the last 4 months of venturing into the backcountry of our beloved Patagonia. We accumulate a total of 1 year exploring Patagonia from 3 prolonged trips spread over 5 years. In some places locals start to recognize us from previous years and invite us for a talk over mate. Some are stunned on how detailed we know some remote corners of this pristine corner of the world, altough we feel we only start to know our way through this huge empty space of wild.
Will we be back? There’s a legend that says “the one who bades in the Rio Limay, will come back a lifetime to Patagonia”. We’ve been swimming and packrafting this pristine river back in January 😉
Time flies by. We have 3 months left from our gap year. Let’s head north to Colombia and Peru to meet some old friends…
For more pictures from our last 5 weeks rambling Deep Patagonia, please click:
Catch you on the flip side! Thanks for coming by to our blog. We’re off to Colombia and Peru now…