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South America, Argentina-Chilean Patagonia, Southern Patagonian Icecap Traverse

Southern Patagonian Icecap Traverse. John Schutt, Mark Houston, Kathy Cosley and I made a crossing of the Southern Patagonian Icecap from the Fitz Roy region to Lago Argentina. We approached the icecap via the Río Túnel on February 28. The aptly named Paso del Viento was used to access the Viedma Glacier, which had much less snow coverage than was hoped. We used sleds to transport some 800 pounds of equipment across broken, bare ice past Nunatak Viedma and finally after two weeks of arduous work, permanent snow cover was reached. We followed a route south along the spine of the icecap. The best day’s travel was 25 kilometers, but the average was about 15. Small nylon sails worked if there was a tailwind. A stiff breeze could pull two persons plus sleds across flat to gently uphill terrain. Weather was variable with up to ten days at a time being spent trapped by wind, rain and snow. The descent to Seno Mayo was the most difficult part of the traverse. During the first traverse of the icecap by a Spanish team in 1993, a helicopter was used to pass this area. Having no helicopter, we were forced to traverse avalanche-prone slopes and negotiate a broken icefall by night, lowering the sleds over schrunds and crevasses. After 20 hours of continuous travel, the edge of the glacier was reached and a way found through the thick subalpine beech forest down to Seno Mayo on Lago Argentino. The terrain beyond looked difficult and food was short, and so we climbed back up and descended the Spegazzini Arm of Lago Argentino. During the retreat, we climbed a large spectacular peak that may have been Cerro Mayo. After battling more impenetrable beech forest, we reached the lake, arranged for a boat and arrived in Calafate on April 6.

Robert Parker