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Patagonia trekking with Mountain Madness

Wild Patagonia Brings the Wow!”

Wow. That’s what I said near­ly every day in Patagonia…“Wow!”

Patag­o­nia is an epic land­scape, ripe with adven­ture. What was once the des­o­late and inhos­pitable end-of-known-land, fill­ing the hearts of ear­ly explor­ers with trep­i­da­tion, is today a won­der­land of glac­i­ers, water, wildlife, and…fun!

Fitzroy Mas­sif as viewed from camp. Deana Zabal­do photo

On the Chilean side is Tor­res de Paine – a land so full of glac­i­ers that the abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple called it blue (paine), nev­er­mind the stag­ger­ing rock for­ma­tions cut in the ice age, the sweep­ing grass­lands, and the snaking rivers. The land­scape changes around every cor­ner, and icon­ic rock for­ma­tions are so plen­ti­ful that I took as many pic­tures of moun­tains as when I’m in Nepal. On the Argen­tin­ian side, the infa­mous spire of Cer­ro Torre and the jagged Fitzroy mas­sif (that you’ll eas­i­ly rec­og­nize from the Patag­o­nia cloth­ing logo) have been inspir­ing incred­i­ble climb­ing feats for over 60 years. Last year, Alex Hon­nold and Tom­my Cald­well com­plet­ed the first ever tra­verse of Fitzroy and its 9 satel­lite peaks: over 13,000 ver­ti­cal feet in 5 days!

Stun­ning views in Patag­o­nia. Deana Zabal­do photos

In between the Nation­al Parks, sweep­ing gold­en grass­lands and sheep farms give way to turquoise blue lakes nes­tled between the arrest­ing moun­tains. Sto­ries fill the geography…In 1521 Mag­el­lan dis­cov­ered a pas­sage from the Atlantic to the Pacif­ic, result­ing in the first cir­cum­nav­i­ga­tion of the earth. Fear­some giant natives were doc­u­ment­ed and gave the region its name pata­gon” (big feet). In the ear­ly 1900’s, sheep barons ran the largest sheep com­pa­ny in the world and built homes that look like movie back­drops. One day we stop for lunch where Butch Cas­sidy and the Sun­dance Kid used to hide out between rob­beries. Every­where here, the land­scape is mag­nif­i­cent, wor­thy of leg­ends, block­buster movies, or myths in the making.

The group at ori­en­ta­tion. Deana Zabal­do photo

Pic­turesque lake among the Patag­on­ian moun­tains. Deana Zabal­do photo

Through­out Patag­o­nia, we spot­ted a pletho­ra of wildlife: cir­cling con­dors, flocks of wild rheas (like a small ostrich), gua­na­cos (sim­i­lar to a lla­ma), red fox, grey fox, ibis­es, herons, great buz­zard eagles, and more bird species than I could count. We also engaged in one adven­ture after another…two treks (one 6‑day, then anoth­er 3‑day) were split by kayak­ing with ice­bergs, a glac­i­er hike, a boat tour of the glac­i­er face, inflat­able zodi­ac rides, a wind­ing riv­er ride, a cata­ma­ran fer­ry ride, and a bor­der crossing.

Fun in the Zodi­ac! Deana Zabal­do photo

Ice­bergs along the riv­er. Deana Zabal­do photo

The trekking itself was unex­pect­ed­ly delight­ful. The trails are well-main­tained, and the ele­va­tion change gen­er­al­ly grad­ual. We found com­fort­able beds and hot show­ers every night, an abun­dance of local wine on the trail and some deli­cious local cui­sine in the towns. We could fill our water bot­tles from most of the streams – the water is pure and uncon­t­a­m­i­nat­ed. We had record good weath­er (nev­er even pulled out our full rain gear!) and caught clear panora­mas of all the famous moun­tains and glac­i­ers. At night, the South­ern Cross and a dizzy­ing bil­lion unfa­mil­iar stars were strewn across the heav­ens. Although we hiked some long days, it was nev­er so hard nor so high as to be over­ly stren­u­ous – and Patag­o­nia is prob­a­bly the best place in the world to see miles of glac­i­ers with­out the com­pli­ca­tions of extreme alti­tude. The high­est point on the trek was only 3900 feet (yes, feet!), but we found ice­bergs calv­ing off and float­ing in the lakes. Unbelievable!

Trekking lodge. Deana Zabal­do photo

Argen­tini­ans love pas­tries. Deana Zabal­do photo

One of the great­est high­lights of the trip was the hike out onto Glac­i­er Grey. After some instruc­tion on using cram­pons and ice axes, we all pro­ceed­ed out for a mes­mer­iz­ing hike in a world of blue ice. Every­one from expe­ri­enced climbers to peo­ple on cram­pons for the first time were sur­prised by how beau­ti­ful and fun the hike was. Because the glac­i­er is not snow cov­ered, it’s easy and safe to explore, check out moulins (ver­ti­cal wells in the glac­i­er more than 100 feet deep), cross mini-rivers on the sur­face, and pause for a cup of tea to soak in the extreme land­scape (glad we brought that thermos!).

Scenes from hik­ing Glac­i­er Grey. Deana Zabal­do photos

Patag­o­nia was at times viva­cious­ly sun­ny or mys­ti­cal­ly fog­gy. Wind was ever-present. Locals were friend­ly and wel­com­ing. Wine flowed eas­i­ly. Days were filled with adven­ture. In a land so wild and pris­tine, Wow!” comes eas­i­ly and often. Don’t take my word for it – come find out for your­self: Patag­on­ian Adven­ture 2016

Hap­py Patag­o­nia adven­tur­ers! Deana Zabal­do photo

~MM Guide Deana Zabaldo