Set at the base of Campo Del Hielo Sur, The Great Southern Ice field, Torres Del Paine National Park is considered by many as the mecca of hiking in Patagonia and has been high on our travel hit list since the very beginning. The Park offers well over 100km of hiking trails to be conquered, and has a reputation for having Patagonia’s most extreme weather, with hikers often experiencing all four seasons in one day; baking hot sun, flurries of snow, horizontal rain, and hurricane force winds. A daunting four to five day hike, battling the elements, lay ahead. This was going to be tough mentally and physically and we new it, we just didn’t know just how tough. We were ready for the Challenge.
The day had finally arrived. After six very patient days in the city of Ushuaia, our anticipation growing everyday, we were ready to board our boat to Antarctica, The M/V Ushuaia; an old American research vessel built in the 1970’s and converted into an expedition ship for cruising the icy waters of both the North and South Poles. The weather was terrible but this didn’t deter our excitement as we boarded the ship with backpacks full of wine, cookies and thermals, ready for the next ten days of venturing to the bottom of the world, where penguins and whales swim freely, seals lie lazily, the landscape is pure white, and icebergs are your only neighbours. This is the final frontier, the unknown. This is Antarctica!
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to reach the end of the world? Well, look no further than Tierra del Fuego the southernmost province of South America and home to the “southernmost” city in the world Ushuaia, Argentina. Everything here claims “southernmost this” and “end of the world that”, it’s all very gimmicky, a nice way to get tourists excited buying up big in the souvenir stores – all that “end of the world” paraphernalia, but, at the end of the day it’s not even the southernmost point, or the southern most city. Across the Beagle Channel in Chile lies a smaller town, Puerto Williams, which is actually the southernmost settlement, and then there is Cape Horn, the southernmost point, and have we just forgotten Antarctica and the Sub-Antarctic islands, people live there too? Whatever the classification of the city’s location, we had reached as far south as we could travel on our amble about the world…or had we?
At the end of the Carreterra Austral lies the worlds third largest Ice sheet Campo del Hielo Sur, at a whopping 1300km2 this is a heaping mass of solid, impenetrable ice. The ice sheet makes up 30% of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, a world UNESCO site that contains 47 glaciers, and it is also the worlds third largest freshwater reserve. Two towns sit within the surrounding area of the National Park; El Chalten – hiking central, and El Calafate – glacier central. These vast landscapes of icy mountains were to be the next chapter in our Patagonian adventure.