American Alpine Jounrna and Accidents in North American Climbing

South America, Tierra del Fuego, Argentine Patagonia, South Patagonia Ice Cap, Traverse Attempt

  • Climbs And Expeditions
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  • Publication Year: 1999

South Patagonia Ice Cap, Traverse Attempt. From December 5, 1998-January 5, 1999, Karl Feaux, Rob Weber, Bart Matthews and Kyle Bohnenstiehl (leader), attempted a partial traverse of the South Patagonia Ice Cap. This remote area, also known as the Campo de Hielo Sur or the Hielo Patagonia Sur (HPI), is the largest icecap outside the polar regions and the third largest ice mass in the world. Stretching nearly 325 kilometers in length and averaging 35 kilometers wide, the Ice Cap contains 48 distinct glacial outflows and covers an area of 13,000 square kilometers, which includes 15 distinct mountain ranges, at least one active volcano (Cerro Lautaro) and numerous unclimbed peaks near 3000 meters. After a five-hour boat trip from Tortel onboard the San Juan, we landed at Don Juan Nahuel’s cabin near the Glacier Jorge Montt at the northern terminus of the Ice Cap with 700 pounds of equipment. According to Chilean authorities, our expedition was the first American team to go up this route. Camp II was established on the glacier at 500 meters after a difficult approach through rivers and thick brush that followed Eric Shipton’s 1962 route (AAJ, 1962). We were disappointed by the dryer-than-normal winter and were unable to ski until Camp V, which we reached after ferrying loads for 12 days across difficult crevasses that would normally have been snow bridges. 1998, like 1997, was an especially bad year for ascending onto the Campo de Hielo. We gained the altiplano at Camp VIII and, after abandoning our principle objective, Cerro Lautaro (3380m), we aimed to climb Cerro Wonni (2498m). Strong winds and heavy snow trapped us at Camp IX for three days, and we were forced to return to the boat landing, as we were out of time.

The Glacier Jorge Montt is actively retreating, making this approach route onto the Ice Cap very time-consuming and difficult. Previous parties attempting the traverse encountered significant difficulty navigating, especially during foul weather. We used GPS, RADARSAT and LANDSAT data for navigation; all were useful to us, particularly during storms. Users of Iridium phones, take note: fuses in the 12-volt charger can burn out and accounts cannot be re-established over the phone. Complete details of our trip can be found at

Note: In the 1997 AAJ (p. 256), the Arved Fuchs expedition, which made the longest unsupported north-south traverse yet, mistakenly noted that they had made the first crossing of the “Mayo Fall” on foot. In 1994, Americans John Schutt and Mark Houston crossed this difficult section under their own power (1995 AAJ, p. 207).

Kyle Bohnenstiehl

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