Hiking to The Southern Patagonian Ice Field

Upon our return from Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, we cook lunch and rest for an hour in El Chaltén before we re-supply with food from the Jeep, register at the rangers’ office and immediately hit the trail to Laguna Toro. The trail is marked variously as taking between six and seven hours, and after some gorgeous hiking through forests, across lush farmland and a long, long descent to the valley bottom we find ourselves in camp four and a half hours later. Sonny has brought along a bottle of red wine (in a coke bottle) and so in order to lighten his load we drink the lot before crashing soon after dark.

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Perched on the mountainside

At seven in the morning, still rubbing sleep from our eyes, we find ourselves staring at a glacier-melt river, which, regrettably, stands between us and our continuing path. After scouting up and down stream for a while we both agree to the inevitable, take off our boots, and plunge in. The first couple of crossings through smaller streams are only ankle deep, and actually don’t hurt too much, though the more times we cross, the worse our feet get. Walking with numb feet is not so much a problem, it’s more the searing pain that comes immediately after exiting the water as the blood rushes back. Walking on the sharp rocks and pebbles in this state is not exactly fun and I can’t help but laugh at our comical hobbling.
If you look closely in the video below, you’ll see chunks of glacier ice floating in the river. Yep. It’s cold.

Back on the trail we make great time, though we actually lose the way, and basically make our own path right down at glacier/lake level. It’s amazing to be so close to the enormous glaciers and with Sonny’s huge amount of experience I feel confident striding across the surface of Tunel Glacier, checking out the crevasses he points out as we go.

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Glacier Tunel, another giant

At 16,800 square kilometers, the Ice Field is the second largest in the world and I’m completely awe-struck when we arrive at the high point of the ominously named Paso Del Viento (Pass of the wind). The view in every direction is pure ice, with amazing swirls and patterns where it’s been slowing marching on for thousands and thousands (millions?) of years. Luckily the wind is quite bearable and we stay for a solid half and hour, soaking in as much of the view as possible, which is not diminished in the least by the clouds that have been rolling in all morning.

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Fine detail of the glaciers

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Loving the Southern Patagonian Ice Field

The entire walk down I formulate a plan to re-cross the river, hoping to avoid the unpleasantries of the morning. I’ll admit that simply taking off my socks and plunging in with my boots is not much of a plan, and not surprisingly, it doesn’t help much. After a solid nine hours of hiking most people opt to stay in the night in camp, though for some reason Sonny and I decide to feast on the remainder of our food, and hoof it back to El Chaltén, where we arrive just after dark, extremely foot sore and a little cold, after fours hours of hard slogging.

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Glacier Quervain

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Dwarfed by another glacier

Needles to say we’re grinning like mad at the last couple of days.

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Thinking about the immense ice field


All the photos in this post were taken by Sonny. Checkout his blog to see more of his work.

4 Responses

  1. Nicole says:


    I found your website about a year ago and I want you to know that you truly inspire me. Good luck with everything and I look forward to reading about your future adventures. :)

    — Nicole

  2. kelly says:

    Hey Dan!

    I just found your blog; it is absolutely awe-inspiring! I am traveling to Argentina in late July for 3 weeks. I am going to both El Calafte and El Chalten. I am very intrigued by back packing to the Southern Patagonian ice Field, but am having trouble planning our trek. Can it be done in 1-2 days? We plan to stay in El Chalten for several days and really hope to be able to fit in a trek to the Ice field. Any input, advice or tips would be greatly appreciated!

    thank you!


    • Dan says:

      Hi Kelly,
      You’re going to have an amazing time!
      The hike I took leaves right form the Ranger station in El Chaltén – you won’t miss it. When you talk to the rangers in there they’ll give you a map, show you a big 3D model of the area, etc. etc. You have to register with them to do the hike. I just re-read my own post and it jogged my memory.. you have to hike in the 4.5 hours or so to a place you can camp.. you basically have to camp there as further on it’s all rock and scree and wouldn’t be nice camping at all. From that campsite you do a massive day hike out and back to the icefield, coming back to your waiting tent. Then the next day you hike back to the ranger station – so all told it takes 3 days.
      It would be completely impossible in 1 day, and you can see we had to put in a massive, massive day to get it done in town days.
      Obviously, I recommend 3 days.
      Have fun! Tell me how you make out,

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