This ice trekking expedition is a challenging hike across the South Patagonian Ice Field.

Also known as the Patagonian Ice Cap, our hike is one of Patagonia’s most beautiful, remote and demanding of challenges.

With effort comes great reward. We walk into Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, and spend our days amid towering granite spires and massive glaciers that very few see.

We hike up and onto the ice field for several days, away from civilisation and people. This is the third largest single expanse of ice on earth, exceeded only by Antarctica and Greenland.

More on the South Patagonia ice cap trekking expedition

Laded with food, tents and determination, this is as close as you can get to an Arctic/Antarctic expedition, with everyone helping out.

Experience in the use of crampons and snow-shoes is preferred. Previous experience of trekking and camping in winter conditions is beneficial.

The group size is two up to a maximum of twelve people, and everyone helps to carry communal kit and food as well as own personal gear.

This is one of the toughest treks we offer in Patagonia and way off-the-beaten-track.

If you want to visit one of the world’s true natural wilderness areas, where few have trod, then our Ice Field trek is for you.

Read our blog for more about what to expect on this magnificent hike.



Trip Highlights

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  • Patagonia's most remote and challenging trek.

  • See Fitz Roy and Los Glaciares National Park away from crowds, from unique view points.

  • Take full part as a member of an expedition team in tough conditions.

  • Expert guides lead the group through one of the world's most beautiful and pristine environments.

The trip was great. We had perfect weather - 8 days with no precipitation and sunshine for at least a few hours on most days. It was a tough hike, but completely spectacular.

Highlight was getting to the Cerro El Torre valley and camping there for two nights under the completely spectacular massifs there. The skies were clear and we could just spend hours sitting out there admiring Cerro El Torre and the other peaks.

Ven Seshardi, Canada, Ice Field Trek

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Full Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive Chalten, meet the guide, hostel.

Today you make your way (we can organise bus) from El Calafate to El Chalten, by bus (3 hours).

El Chalten is small town of approx. 300 population, located at the foot of the granite peaks of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.

You meet with the rest of your group and guide and receive a trek briefing about the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, and what lies ahead.

The guide will give detailed instructions on how to use camping and technical gear (provided) and check your kit. Spend the evening in a shared dorm room in a local hostel or upgrade to a lodge / hotel.

Day 2: Río Eléctrico Valley, camp (B,L,D)

After breakfast, our vehicle takes you to the bridge over the Eléctrico River, 15km northwest of El Chaltén, and the start point of our trek. Set off in the direction of the base of the Marconi Glacier.

We walk the first two hours on a well-marked path, through a forest of Lengas and Ñires, the southern beech trees alongside the Eléctrico River.

As the vegetation thins, we happen upon the Piedra Del Fraile campsite (Refugio Los Troncos – property of Estancia Ricanor), our last encounter with civilisation until we return to El Chaltén.

From here, we continue to trek towards the Fitz Roy massif, entering a great glacier valley surrounded by Treinta Aniversario, Marconi South and the North peaks. We follow the southern shore of Lake Eléctrico, crossing moraines and rocky formations left by the glaciers less than 70 years ago.

We cross the Pollone River and get views of the north-west face of Fitz Roy. Another hour of trekking brings us to the western shore of Lake Eléctrico where we set-up our camp, only 20 minutes away from the Marconi Glacier.

Those with energy can explore the immediate area.

Distance: 11km

Altitude gained: +270m

Trekking time: 6/8 hours

 

Day 3: Marconi Glacier - Marconi Pass, camp or refuge (B,L,D)

Today we get start what will be the daily camp routine – expedition: breakfast, pack up camp and backpacks, then trek.

Within 30 minutes of leaving camp we can see the face of the Marconi Glacier. A gigantic scree moraine is our first obstacle; the terrain here is unstable and moves constantly, preventing the formation of a clear path. It’s a scramble for 20 minutes until we reach the glacier for what is probably the toughest part of the trek.

We climb 800m/2,400ft on ice and snow, using crampons and avoiding crevasses, with the expert assistance of the guide and his team (we may rope up if necessary). It may be windy and stormy, or completely clear, but our goal is our second campsite, on the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field itself.

After a long trek, our second campsite is in the shadow of Marconi South Mt and only an hour away from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field itself.

With luck, the campsite offers fantastic sunsets and sunrises over the Fitz Roy Range, Cerro Pier Giorgio, and Gorra Blanca.

Note: The Ice Cap is always changing shape. Routes, stops and walks may vary from those detailed. Your guide keeps you informed at every stage of the hike. Flexibility is the key to enjoying the Ice Field trek.

 

Distance: 10km

Altitude gained: +800m

Trekking time: 7/9 hours

Day 4: Marconi Pass - Circo de los Altares, camp (B,L,D)

In the morning, we cross the Marconi Pass. The guide and team of assistants use sledges to carry most of the general equipment (tents, food, gas…) and we don our snowshoes.

The Patagonian Ice Field opens itself up, giving fantastic views (weather permitting) of Lautaro Volcano (still active), the Mariano Moreno Range (much larger than the Fitz Roy Range), the De Los Cuatro Glaciares Pass and Chico Glacier to the south.

Today is comparatively short, less demanding than the previous day, so after 6 hours or so we get to our snow-camp in an area called the Circo de los Altares (or the Cirque of Alters).

This is at the foot of Cerro Torre’s west face, one of the most spectacular places on earth.

Distance: 12km

Altitude lost: -200m

Trekking time: 6 hours

Day 5: Circo de los Altares - Ferrer Lake, refuge (B,L,D)

We continue our trek at first in a southerly direction avoiding crevasses in search of a large moraine-field.

We pass a series of lagoons and eventually reach the Paso del Viento refuge.

Distance: 13km

Altitude loss: -350m

Trekking time: 8/9 hours

Day 6: Windy Pass to Lake Tunel, camp (B,L,D)

Today we climb gaining height until reaching the Paso del Viento (windy pass), at 1,500m/4,921ft.

From here we leave the icefield and as we cross the pass we have some great panoramic views, before we head downwards to the Túnel river valley and back into the vegetated area.

Before arriving at the Toro Lagoon campsite we must cross the Túnel Glacier using a zip line across the valley’s river.

Distance: 13km

Altitude gain/loss: +600m/-900m

Trekking time: 7/8 hours.

Day 7/8: Reserve days (B,L,D)

These days are reserved for bad weather – sometimes plans change and we have to spend more time at certain stops.

If the weather is good/ no issues, the group stays up on the ice and the extra days may be spent exploring the area and trekking nearby.

Day 9: Pliegue Tumbado to El Chalten, hostel (B,L)

Weaving through forest and fields, in between the Huemul massif and Lake Viedma, we cross the Pliegue Tumbado hill.

After reaching the highest point we take a break to enjoy this fabulous place, eating our lunch with magnificent view of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy before descending to El Chaltén.

It’s a stunning walk back to El Chaltén, and our lodgings – civilisation –and very welcome showers, restaurants and drinks!

Distance: 15km

Altitude gain/lost: +400m/-600m

Trekking time: 6/7 hours

Day 10: Tour ends (B)

Tour ends with breakfast in El Chalten.

We can arrange for transfers to El Calafate and beyond, as well as more hikes in the El Chalten area, Torres del Paine and more.


Prices From $2,440 / £1,952 per person

Enquire about booking

What's Included?

2 nights accommodation in hostel mixed dorm in El Chalten (hotel upgrade to single/twin available), professional certified mountain-guides, one assistant for every 4 people, mountain-tents, mountain-safety equipment: ropes, ice axes, ice-screws, snow-stakes, technical equipment: crampons, snowshoes and harnesses, all meals during the traverse, cooking-equipment (stoves and dishes, etc.), first-aid kit, GPS, compass, maps, communication equipment: VHF radio and satellite phone, transfer to bridge over Rio Electrico.

What's Not Included?

Flights, services in El Calafate, transportation between El Calafate and El Chalten (we can arrange this at extra cost), meals in El Chalten, personal equipment, health insurance, personal porters, tips, services not mentioned in the programme.


Accommodation

Camping or basic hut, hostel in town.

Hostels sleep 4-6 people in bunk beds, shared rooms with a shared bathroom. Breakfast extra.  Upgrades to hotel rooms are available at extra cost.

On the trek, we use strong, two man mountain tents, which you help to carry. There is no dining tent on this trek, so any meals are served al fresco or in your tent.

Tour Staff

We work with local, expert fully-qualified Argentinian guides, some with +20 years’ experience of hiking and trekking this route and in this region.

If the group is large enough, a porter may be hired to bring extra food and equipment.


Meals

Almost all dietary requirements can be catered for – please enquire.

Breakfast in hostels in Chalten will be buffet style, with hot drinks, toast, jams, etc.(cost extra)

For the expedition, food will be prepared by your guides, often in difficult conditions. The group carries all of the food for the entire route, and so while nutritious, it can be basic. Be prepared – this is an expedition.

Please bring some snacks of your own, as those available in Chalten are expensive and not always the best quality.

Meals will be plentiful and will feature porridge, cereals and hot drinks in your tent for breakfast (there is no dining tent).

Lunch will often be crackers, cheese, meats etc. Evening meals can feature instant mash, rice, pasta etc.

Activity Level

We have classified this as a tough trek, due to its expedition-type nature.

Experience in the use of crampons and snow-shoes is not a requirement, but is useful. Extreme weather conditions can make the going tough and previous experience of trekking and camping in winter conditions would be beneficial.

This is an expedition and everyone helps to carry communal kit and food. You will carry a heavy backpack they may be 20-25kg at the start (it get lighter as the trips continues as the food being carried gets eaten).

A very good level of fitness is necessary, as well as a flexible attitude. The itinerary may change day to day, as well as camp sites and hiking plans.

Enquire about booking

Practical Information

Introduction to Patagonia

For most people, Patagonia evokes a vast, windblown plateau, jagged mountains and the life of the gauchos.

The steppe that occupies much of southern South America is only one aspect of a magical region, jam-packed with amazing and contrasting landscapes.

Patagonia (latitudes 40°-55°, approximately) embraces a vast portion of southern Chile and Argentina, from the Rio Colorado in the north, to Tierra del Fuego in the south.

For convenience, we have divided the region into three zones: the Lakes District of northern Patagonian, central Patagonia and southern Patagonia.

Kit list

Good kit is vital for every trip.

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When planning for the extreme climatic conditions encountered on the ice cap , layering is the most practical and versatile clothing system. It’s worth remembering that our clothing keeps us warm by retaining and isolating the heat we ourselves create.

To best maintain body heat, several layers of lightweight, warm and quick-drying clothing are far more efficient than one or two thick layers.

Layers should have the following qualities:

 

  1. Breathability (able to wick away the humidity produced by sweat);
  2. Isolation (able to keep in the warm air our body produces); and
  3. Impermeability (able to impede the passing of wind and water).

 

First (base) layer: This layer wicks the sweat away from our skin, thus helping keep the body dry and warm. To this end, synthetic fabrics such as polypropylene should be used.

Mid layers: These isolating layers should also be synthetic (e.g. the known polar linings such as polartec or windblock, which are light and insulate twice as well as wool). Very important layers for retaining body heat.

Outer layer / shell: Finally, the vital layer which protects us from climatic adversities. A breathable, wind-proof and waterproof anorak, such as Goretex.

 

Note that it’s our extremities that stand to suffer the most, and on the ice cap, the poorly-equipped mountaineer is at risk of becoming frostbitten. Hence, much thought should be given to deciding how best to protect hands, feet and head.

Give plenty of thought to kit selection, and try to keep weight down. You carry everything, including a share of the group food, tents, etc, and you will carry your pack everyday which will be around 18-25kg.

Crampons, harness and snowshoes are provided, as is all non-personal trekking and camping equipment. Plastic boots can be hired in El Chalten.

Below is a more detailed guide.

 

Feet

  • 2 pairs synthetic inner socks (e.g. polypropylene, thermastat, coolmax)
  • 3 pairs thick loop-stitch/wool socks for cold.
  • Plastic boots or four-season leather boots suitable for step-in crampons.
  • Gaiters (1 pair), heavy and large enough to fit over plastic boots.
  • Trainers/sandals, for city-wear, evenings at lower camps & river crossings.

 

Legs

  • Base layer leggings (1-2 pair).
  • Thick fleece leggings (or salopettes) (1 pair).
  • Goretex-type over-trousers (or salopettes) (1 pair).
  • Trekking trousers (1 pair).
  • Shorts – wear sparingly in early stages at altitude, as sun burns.

 

Body

  • Thermal base layer shirts (2).
  • Microfleece mid-layer shirt (1).
  • Shirt/T-shirt 1 or 2 for lower altitudes. Long-sleeved, collared shirt protects against sun.
  • Fleece jacket or similar (1).
  • Warm jacket (down or synthetic) with hood. For camp and upper slopes.
  • Waterproof Goretex-type jacket.
  • 1-2 sports bras/tanks (for women)

 

Head and neck

  • Broad-brimmed sunhat, essential.
  • Warm hat, fleece or wool. (N.B. Up to 30% of body heat can be lost through the head).
  • Balaclava/full-face ski mask (1)
  • Sunglasses with UV filter and nose and side-pieces.
  • 1 pair of glacier compatible sunglasses (full coverage – ask salesperson if you are not sure) or ski goggles.
  • Scarf for cold.
  • Bandanna  – to protect neck from strong sun.

 

Hands

For the extreme cold, we recommend a 3-layer scheme:

  • 1 pair of Gore-Tex shell gloves
  • 2 pairs of removable fleece glove liners
  • Mittens allow you to keep the fingers together, and better conserve heat (though they also make it difficult to perform certain tasks).

 

Technical kit

  • Large backpack (80-90 litres). Comfortable and with waterproof lining or cover.
  • You will need another bag to store belongings left at hotel during expedition.
  • Walking ice axe (can be rented).
  • Pair of telescopic trekking poles. (can be rented).

 

Other expedition kit

  • Sleeping bag – a good warm bag (‘4-season’, minimum) and liner will be necessary for camping.
  • Sleeping mat, a foam mat is provided
  • 2 x water bottles (2 litres each approx).
  • Pee bottle.
  • Personal first-aid kit to include: painkillers, plasters (band-aids), moleskin, anti-biotic cream, general antibiotics (ask your GP), after-bite (tiger balm), anti-diarrhoea tablets, throat lozenges, re-hydration salts & personal medication.
  • Towel & wash-kit.
  • Wet Wipes/antiseptic hand-wash cream.
  • Toilet roll (1)
  • Sunscreen (factor 40+) and lip salve.
  • Head-lamp (Plus spare bulbs and batteries x 2 at least).
  • Penknife.
  • Thermos flask (1 litre) Stainless steel.
  • Alarm clock.
  • Plastic bags ‘Zip-loc’ & tough bin liners.
  • Camera and film / memory cards (take at least twice the amount you think you will need!).
  • Book, e-book, mp3 player/ipod or other for free time.
  • Binoculars.
  • Spanish/English phrasebook.
  • Extra snacks i.e. cereal bars or favourite chocolate bars.

 

All other non-personal trekking and camping equipment is provided, e.g. tents, cutlery etc.

Weather

Patagonia, the very southern tip of South America, has a four-seasons-in-one day climate.

Summer (Nov-March) see temperatures reach up to 20°C, when glorious light pours over the region for up to 18 hours. This is the best time to visit, nevertheless, spring and summer is also when the central and southern Patagonian regions sometimes get buffeted by strong, westerly winds.

Summer days in national parks can also bring sunny, windless conditions, and you may well find yourself hiking in shorts and t-shirt. Afternoons can be warm with lots of sunshine. (Note: Patagonian UV rays are very strong).

It is usually cool and windy all year round but seldom does the temperature fall below freezing point. Some days start with snow and end in balmy sunshine. It is always interesting, and can range from 10°C-20°C in the summer, although the wind can make it feel chilly.

Even in summer (Dec-Mar) you should come prepared to find cold, strong winds (up to 130 km/hr) and rainfalls. The summer’s average temperature is 11ºC/52ºF (24ºC max, 2ºC min). It has been known to snow in camps in summer!

In general, the further south you go, the cooler it gets and the further west you go – towards the Andes and Pacific coast – the wetter and less predictable the weather is. The further east – towards and across the Patagonian plateau – the drier and more stable.

Winter (May-Sept) visits to these southern areas are possible, but many hotels close and not all trips are possible. Daylight hours can be very short and temperatures typically range from -2°C in the winter.

The lack of visitors can greatly improve chances of seeing wildlife in parks such as Paine. Winds tend to die down.

 

 

On the South Patagonian Ice Field (average height, 1,500 metres), the appearance of lenticular clouds – signifying changing conditions – can translate into extreme winds (up to 150 kmh) and heavy snowfall. Here, summer pre-dawn temperatures commonly reach -20°C, with wind chill lowering temperatures even more. However, on sunny, windless summer days, you might get away with wearing just a couple of thin layers.

In Peninsula Valdes, it does not rain much in the region on an annual basis, summers are usually mild, and the temperature sometimes gets very hot (touching 30ºC) and then eases off in the evening. The area does get very windy at times, especially on the peninsula, and warm and water/windproof clothing is recommended.

If you head to Ushuaia, due to its extreme southern location, temperatures may remain chilly during summer (Oct-March) the use of plenty of warm layers of clothing. Winter and Antarctic visits will require extreme clothing.

ATOL holiday protection

Andean Trails has two decades of experience of dealing with South America holidays.

We pay a fee to the CAA for every licensable passenger we book since we hold an Air Travel Organiser’s Licence granted by the Civil Aviation Authority. In the unlikely event of our insolvency, the CAA will ensure that you are not stranded abroad and will arrange to refund any money you have paid to us for an advance booking.

We also offer ATOL (Civil Aviation Authority) protected holidays to give our customers peace of mind when booking and travelling.

When you buy an ATOL protected air holiday package from Andean Trails Ltd you will receive a Confirmation Invoice from us confirming your arrangements and your protection under our Air Travel Organiser’s Licence number 6275.

You can read more about ATOL, who is covered and what protections you have if not ATOL-covered, on our ATOL page.

 

What is ATOL?

The CAA’s ATOL scheme offers protection to your money and your holiday if you book with us. Not everybody is covered (see ‘Who is covered?’ for more), as you must purchase an ‘air package holiday’ with Andean Trails to be protected.

And  ‘air package holiday’ is defined as including a flight and some ground services (hotel, transfer, trek etc). This is also known as an ‘ATOL-protected holiday’.

 

Who is covered?

To be covered by ATOL, you must book a flight and some ground services with us and be from the UK. If you are from the UK and only book ground services and no flights, you are not covered by ATOL (see below for more on how non-ATOL clients are covered).

If you are outside the UK and buy flights with us, you will be ATOL protected IF any of the flights booked with Andean Trails touches/stops in the UK at any point during your holiday package booked with us.

If you buy your flights elsewhere, please check with that agent if you are ATOL protected. Be careful with online flight purchases and make sure you know what protection you have, if any, before paying for flights.

Not all holiday or travel services offered and sold by us will be protected by the ATOL scheme. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking.

For land only holidays not involving any air travel, in accordance with “The Package Travel, Package Holidays and Package Tours Regulations 1992”, all UK passengers booking with Andean Trails Ltd. are fully protected for the initial deposit and subsequently the balance of all money paid to us, arising from cancellation or curtailment of travel arrangements due to the insolvency of Andean Trails.

 

I’m not ATOL covered, what protection do I have?

If you are not ATOL covered, any payments you make to us go to a Trust account.

We can only access this money once your tour has been completed, meaning that if anything happens to Andean Trails Limited while you are on holiday, then your money is secure and you can either complete the trip or be able to make it home.

If you pay for your holiday with a credit card, some offer payment protection – please check with your cardholder.

You also should have cancellation protection written into your insurance (which we recommend you have at the time of booking) in case you need to cancel.

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