It is pretty much impossible to travel through Patagonia without making your way to one of the gorgeous glaciers. Well, technically it’s possible BUT there is no reason you should miss them. One of the best places to see glaciers in the region is Los Glaciares National Park. If you are near El Calafate you can easily visit the Perito Moreno Glacier – featured in Destinations // El Calafate. Find yourself further north of the park in El Chaltén, then you can easily visit Viedma Glacier. If you find yourself in both cities, do yourself a favor and experience both like we did.
Viedma Glacier is a part of the Southern Ice Field between Chile & Argentina. I found the glacier quite impressive as it is not only the largest glacier within Los Glaciares National Park, but also the second largest in the southern hemisphere. We chose to head out with Patagonia Aventura who specialize in activities on the glacier. They offer three main adventures:
- Viedma Light: Set off on a catamaran ride across Lake Viedma to the terminus of the glacier. Riders get to see the glacier in all its glory and travel up and down the 2km terminus before returning back to the port.
- Viedma Ice Trek: Adventurers set off on the same catamaran ride but get the opportunity to throw on some crampons and go on a guided glacier walk.
- Viedma Pro: This adrenaline packed glacier experience takes the first two activities and adds in some rope for repelling and ice axes for climbing.
Wanting to kick the adventure game up a notch and test my limits I selected Viedma Pro. Check out the ice climbing adventure here.
After an early rise a group of us made our way over to the Patagonia Aventura office in El Chaltén. After checking in we boarded their bus and headed south about 17km to the Bahía Túnel harbor. We hopped on the catamaran which took us south on a scenic trip across Lago Viedma. Regardless of the amount of time you have spent around the El Chaltén area, the views on the lago of Huemel and Fitz Roy mountains are always a sight to see.
It wasn’t long after setting off that the boat turned west and the Viemda Glacier came into view. The catamaran took its time navigating up and down the 2km terminus to let us admire the glacier. It’s always hard to truly understand the size of these beasts until you see them against another object as a frame of reference. Our guides mentioned that Viedma Glacier often rises up to 40 meters above lake level. It certainly was towering over our catamaran.
After spending some time admiring the glacier from the boat it was time to make our move and get on land. We hopped off the catamaran on the glacier-smoothed rocks and said adios to our mates who opted to only do the Viedma Glacier Trek. The four of us that opted for the Pro outing made our way to the Patagonia Aventura dome to get kitted out. The sight of ice axes and rope began to make my palms sweat.
With helmets and harnesses on, we navigated the tricky, steep path down to where the once rocks met the glacier.
Once on the glacier we popped on our crampons and we began trekking. First stop? Find a training wall. Our guide took the time to teach us all the skills necessary to ice climb, including how to properly use the crampons and the ice axes. Before we started lowering ourselves down crevasses we needed to show that we could safely and confidently conduct the necessary skills to climb. Our guide found a nice ice wall, scaled it, anchored the rope and we were off. We did a few practice runs climbing up the small wall and then repelling down. Piece of cake.
Shortly after the practice runs our adventure kicked into high gear. No more walls to climb up and then simply come back down. Our guides hunted out large crevasses that required us to lower ourselves over and deep into. Each of the crevasses we climbed were at different gradients and some were even slippery due to massive amounts of melting water making its way to the bottom of the glacier.
Over the course of the afternoon the crevasses we lowered ourselves down became deeper, bluer, wetter, harder, etc. I remember lowering myself and saying “sheesh, am I at the bottom yet?” I filmed all of my ascents and some of them took about ten minutes to climb back out of. My GoPro strap broke so I ended up tying it onto my helmet using a shoelace. It’s what Bear Grylls would have done – right? (On a side note, I had a corrupted disk issue, which means I lost all of my footage. Collateral damage I suppose).
The last crevasse is one I don’t think any of my group will ever forget. It was vertical and very difficult to see it from the ledge – until of course you manoeuvred yourself over the edge and looked down. Our guides allowed us to repel down as far as we wanted (or the rope would go). I pushed myself as far as I could go – to the bottom. Once I got there I realized that what looked to be the bottom actually was nowhere near it.
You could actually see gaps in the ice that reveal you are nowhere near the bottom. The ice was a deep blue, very hard and quite difficult to sink the ice axe into. For a moment I felt all alone – no one else in sight, only the thin rope above me that is twice-anchored into the ice on top of the glacier and what appears to be a never-ending blue abyss below me. Amazing. At this stage my arms and toes were aching from slamming them into ice walls all day. Adrenaline in overdrive, I slowly made my way back to the top of the glacier one thrust into the ice after another.
We had a fantastic but very challenging day out. Our guides rewarded us with some Tia Maria on the rocks. And by on the rocks I mean ice that had been chipped directly out of the glacier.
Feeling accomplished (and warm inside – thanks Tia Maria) we celebrated with a YMCA photo-op, made our way back to the glaciers end onto the catamaran and headed back to El Chaltén to share our experience with the rest of our travel group.
Ice climbing was an awesome experience and one that I am glad to have been able to experience while in Patagonia. It’s a real game of mind over matter as you put yourself over a cliff and repel yourself down into the abyss. If you love the outdoors and have the opportunity to choose how you experience a glacier visit then I suggest opting for ice climbing. Visiting the Viedma Glacier on the Viedma Pro outing will be an experience I will never forget. I also suspect it will also not be the last time that I venture outdoors armed with an ice axe either.