Patagonia is somewhere I have wanted to visit for some time, and specifically to try to reach the base of a mountain in the Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina near El Chaltén. I have had an interest in rock climbing and winter mountaineering for some time and was a member of the University of Edinburgh Mountaineering Club in the 1970s, around the time that there was a controversial climb of Cerro Torre, a stunning Patagonian granite tower mountain. This was widely discussed in mountaineering magazines at the time (e.g., “Cerro Torre – a Mountain Desecrated!” in Mountain 23, Sept 1972).
We eventually had the opportunity to travel to Patagonia in February and March 2017.
Our tour, arranged through Swoop Patagonia, took us via Santiago in Chile, through it’s Los Lagos region and Chiloe island, down to Punta Arenas in the far south of South America, then via coach up the East side of the Andes to Torres del Paine National Park, over into Argentina to El Calafate and the Los Glaciares National Park, with a final bus trip up Ruta 40 to El Chaltén to trek in the foothills of Fitzroy, Poincenot and then to approach Cerro Torre. We returned to the UK from Buenos Aires in Argentina.
The Andes and Volcanoes
As we flew down the line of the Andes from Santiago to Puerto Montt we could see many volcanoes and two active ones… including Villarricia.
Chiloe and its NW Coast
We stayed in a beach house on the North Coast of Isla Chiloe near Ancud and explored the NW coast of Isla Chiloe by Land Rover doing cliff and beach walks and birdwatching with Britt Lewis of Austral Adventures.
Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins share space and overlap in their ranges on islands just off Puñihuil on Isla Chiloe – Las Pingüineras.
Los Lagos Region
On 26th February 2017, there was a “Ring of Fire” annular solar eclipse whose path passed directly over us while we were near Puerto Varas… but unfortunately at the full “Ring of Fire” phase the sky was overcast and we only managed to see a partial eclipse through heavy cloud.
We stayed at the Mitico Puerto Lodge on Lagos Tagua-Tagua and did a number of walks in the region…
At night we had beautiful clear skies with the Southern Cross constellation very bright and views of the Milky Way and the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds. We even had a very bright International Space Station pass to the South of us, something that surprised us until we verified the ISS current position.
Punta Arenas and Magellanic Penguins on Isla Magdalena
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
We trekked with Explora Patagonia in the French Valley and up to the French Glacier, over to Glacier Grey and in the East side of the National Park to see Andean Condor, Guanaco, Rhea and Puma.
We discovered Pisco Sours… we had to have one with glacier ice at the Grey Glacier… and Parrilla…
Los Glaciares National Park, El Calafate, Argentina
From El Calafate in Argentina, we had a trip up to the Perito Moreno Glacier to view the calving of icebergs into Lagos Argentino from the walkways and boat.
Cerro Torre, Poincenot and Fitzroy, El Chaltén, Argentina
We planned multiple days in each area on our tour as the Patagonian weather can be very wet, very windy and cloud levels very low. We planned our walks at El Chaltén with Walk Patagonia to maximise our chances of seeing the peaks and especially Cerro Torre.
Local guides indicated we had set ourselves a “High Goal” as Cerro Torre is surrounded by glaciers and situated at the head of a valley behind Fitzroy and holds clouds. But, with careful monitoring of the detailed weather forecasts on Windguru on our final day in Patagonia we woke to a rose coloured sunrise on the very tops of the granite towers – Fitzroy (3405m), Poincenot (3002m) and Cerro Torre (3128m)…
We were then fortunate and achieved our aim on a walk up to Lagos Torre and overlooking the Torre Glacier with views up to Cerro Torre itself…
Birds, Animals, Plants and Rocks
We saw many Austral birds and animals: Magellanic Woodpecker, Guanaco, Lesser Rhea, Grey Fox, Puma, Andean Condor, Commerson’s Dolphins, Black-necked Swans, Chilean Flamingo, etc. The geology and rocks included many volcanic, glacial and tectonic plate features with excellent examples of granite faces, intrusions, folding and conglomerate rocks. The southern hemisphere night skies were stunning in areas far from cities.
All images above © Copyright 2017 Austin Tate.
I found these two guidebooks useful, both being good for preparatory reading and being a reasonable size to carry on the trip…
- Patagonia (Footprint Handbook) 2015 by Ben Box with Chris Wallace & Anna Maria Espsäter.
- A Wildlife Guide to Chile (Helm Field Guides) 2008 by Sharon Chester.