Tag Archives: patagonia

Harriet’s Aysen Recce: Discovering Deep Patagonia

Harriet’s Aysen Recce: Discovering Deep Patagonia

With my anticipation building as I fly towards the Andes, the panoramic views from the flight down the chain of mountains to Patagonia is a great appetiser for my trip. I arrive amongst the bald peaks and forest filled valleys of Aysen by flying into Balmaceda airport. This tiny airport is out on the steppe and as you drive to Coyhaique, Aysen’s capital, the mountains grow around you until you are surrounded by rocky outcrops and glacier rounded hills. Aysen is a region the size of England but with just 100,000 people and 60,000 of those live in Coyhaique.

I love this place and it feels like I am coming home.  This is my Patagonia: with its warm-hearted people, who greet you with a kiss and take time to talk and to get to know you. This is my Patagonia: with wooden houses in all shapes and sizes, covered in shingle and with an enormous wood burner at their heart, where delicious jams are bubbled up.  This is my Patagonia: with its dry steppe, its mishmash of ice and granite, with wild enchanted lengas in the valleys and a green, fascinatingly forested, coast.

I had just three weeks to get to know this area better and this is a taste of what I did:

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Watching for condors with Alejandro, Tim and Magda above the Valle de La Luna and Coyhaique Alto. One of the best places to see condors, and they soar past incredibly close!

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Kayaking with Rolando near Puerto Aysen and discovering the meaning of ‘backwater’ on the Horseshoe of Ducks – a horseshoe shaped section of stream filled with ducks.

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Boating with Ian to the foot of San Rafael Glacier, both hoping and fearing that an enormous piece of ice will calve into the lake in front of us.

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Exploring a secret place in Patagonia that was very special indeed!

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Arriving at the Chacaubuco Lodge, surrounded by guancos and welcomed by Isabel and Manuel. This is the future Patagonia National Park.

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Hiking the Lagunas Altas hike in Chacabuco Valley, Patagonia Park after a briefing with local guide, Sergio.

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Finishing the trek at Lago Jeinimeini (pronounced ‘Hay-Kne-May-Kne’) where Ferdinando greets us and takes us to Chile Chico.

My Swoop recce was three weeks of the most spectacular adventures, making new friends and being treated to incredibly ‘un-Patagonian’ good weather. I finished exhausted (both emotionally and physically), smelling bad – having not really had time to do my laundry properly, and with ideas darting around my brain like viscachas. The warmth of the Patagonian people and the time people have one for another and for visitors is what makes Patagonia so special, perhaps more than the ice, the forests and the mountains. This is what brought tears to my eyes as I headed back to Balmaceda airport and back to the UK.

Many people hire a car and hurry along the Carretera Austral but I hope this summary of my trip will make you explore the valleys either side of the road, meet local people and share a maté with them and remember the Patagonian saying:

“Quien se apura en la Patagonia, pierde el tiempo” – He who hurries through Patagonia wastes time.

Harriet’s Aysen Recce

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Danny’s Ice Cap Exploration

Danny’s Ice Cap Exploration

As the world’s third largest mass of ice, trekking and living on the Patagonian ice cap is a truly unique experience and a challenge. Danny contacted Swoop in May of last year looking for an experience that took him to the ice field for several days.

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Danny’s trip to the Southern Patagonian Ice Field started with his group leaving El Chalten, entering the ice fields through Paso Marconi and leaving via the Paso del Viento. He travelled there in November, and below are a selection of his incredible photos and some feedback about the adventure he undertook.

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What were the challenges you faced?
My challenge was one of language and communication – I wish the group would have been more mixed with fluent English speakers. Communication with the guides was fine, they were highly experienced and professional, but small talk in the group did not really work well for me, as the group mainly talked in Spanish.

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What were your highlights?
The first day on the ice field, as we had perfect weather conditions. At the end, I think the most important success factor for this expedition is the weather, this Patagonian beast… But we were very lucky, and had some very sunny days.

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What was it like living out on the ice field?
It is a unique and very special experience due to the vastness and remoteness of the ice field. It feels like visiting another planet. A yet unspoiled wilderness which is challenging but also very much rewarding.

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How does this adventure compare to other skiing and trekking trips you have undertaken?
It is quite different. Most trekking and skiing trips are not in such remote areas, and do not require such specific experience. Additionally, this is not one of those popular destinations like Torres del Paine with thousands of visitors and an established infrastructure, but truly a hidden gem which is rarely visited.

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How did it feel after completing your trip?
That this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I think the only place on earth comparable to this is Antarctica. But even in Antarctica, there would not be the such incredible views on Cerro Torre and the Circo de los Altares.

IMG_1595IMG_1591Would you recommend Swoop to friends, family or colleagues for a trip to Patagonia?
Yes, absolutely.

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To venture out onto the incredible ice fields yourself, get in touch with Swoop.

Ted and Rick visit Torres Del Paine

Ted and Rick visit Torres Del Paine

In November, Ted and Rick and a group of their friends took on a seven day circuit in Chile’s iconic Torres Del Paine National Park. They recount their trip and experiences of booking travel with Swoop Patagonia.

TedBrna1Ted’s feedback

“Many thanks for supervising a terrific and memorable trek. I would absolutely recommend you, certainly over other groups I contacted before selected your agency to organize our tour. Swoop always sent accurate communication – no question was left unanswered.  I really can’t think of anything you may have neglected.

IMG_5682Probably the best part of our trek was our trekking guide, Nicholas.  He was a perfect fit for our group of 5 with superb social skills, direction, knowledge base and flexibility. It was a shame that the wildfire had wiped out a lot of the native beech trees on the hike but that certainly did not detract much from the amazing beauty of the Park!  The highlight to me was the hike to the Towers and view there though the entire 5 day trek was awesome.“

Rick’s feedback

Trip went like clockwork and as planned. Swoop’s recommendations were spot on. Would definitely recommend Swoop and use them if I go back. Swoop’s local partners could have not been better or more helpful. Zoe and her team were great.

IMG_1536Self guided hikes were great, trails well marked. There was plenty of reading material for each hike so you knew what to look for on the hike. Reaching the Mirador base at Las Torres and Lago de los Tres at Fitzroy were certainly the highlights. Incredible views.

Ted & Rick’s itinerary

IMG_5741The group’s trip began in Punta Arenas, where we arranged a transfer for them to Torres Del Paine National Park. Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine then took Ted, Rick and their friends on a five day hike around the famous W circuit staying at refugios along the way. Of his time spent in the refugios, Ted said “Food was generally very good and better than expected – I personally was very satisfied. Our guide also carried probably 10 lbs of avocados on the trek and personally enhanced our lunches daily with them! The refugios also provided plentiful hot water for washing/showers and adequate toilet facilities”

Ted’s top tip would be to take a towel along as not all refugios provide towels (although it’s something Swoop Patagonia are currently working hard to ensure!):  “I wish I had brought a microfiber quick dry towel for the trip – the other 2 guys said you recommended a towel in your list but I missed that!”

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Charles and Eva’s Patagonia walking adventure.

Charles and Eva’s Patagonia walking adventure.

Charles and Eva returned in January from a two-week trip to Los Glaciares and Torres del Paine. Here they tell us about their experiences on the trip and share some tips for other people planning a trip.

Charles and Eva’s Feedback:

We would give you five out of five! Our main worry before the trip was the complicated logistics; especially in Torres del Paine in the middle of the busy season. Swoop handled it extremely well; there was always a spot reserved for us on crowded buses and a warm bed waiting for us in the refugios bursting in the seams on a rainy cold day.

Do not do anything differently; you are doing just fine!

We will recommend you to anybody who likes the mountains, is fit enough for some serious walking and understands that life there is still a bit more simple than in Paris or New York.

Charles and Eva’s Itinerary:

Charles and Eva started their journey in El Calafate, where they enjoyed an excursion to the to the Perito Moreno Glacier before heading off to a 6 day hike through Torres del Paine.  While hiking Torres del Paine they took in the sights of Valle Frances, Lago Nordenskjold, Lago Grey and the Towers of Paine. After that they spent 5 days on some self guided day hikes from El Chalten, where they took in some fantastic views of Fitz Roy and came back to the Hostal Los Nires each night to relax and enjoy the evening.

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How were Swoop’s partners in Torres del Paine and Los Glaciares?

Both Laura in Puerto Natales and Zoe in El Chalten were warm and helpful. We had only one or two very minor issues to deal with and both were handled promptly and with competence. In Dittmar we especially appreciated their detailed day-to- day itinerary with the instructions for the dummies. Whenever we were not quite sure about something, we just looked (in Torres Charles was wearing it in a waterproof plastic bag around his neck) and there was always an answer. Good job!

The itinerary was lovely; again, we would not change anything.

We used guide services only during the trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier. The guide was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and bilingual in English and French.

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What was the highlight of your trip?

It is hard to single out just one or two things; the overall experience was very special. We had rain and shine; experienced wind that made us crawl on the belly and a whiteout like in January in the Rockies, but also some incredibly perfect, glorious days with blue skies and jaw-dropping views. We saw condors and vicunas, lovely lenga and nire beech trees, orchids, beautiful tiny alpine wildflowers and more. I think every day there was precious.

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Our tips to other people:

  • Use the wonderful Swoop flexibility and get an extra day or two wherever possible, especially in El Chalten as a backup for a rainy day. We did the Fitz Roy hike twice and it was worth every penny.
  • Learn some Spanish – it really helps.
  • Do not go cheap on GoreTex – it is nice to be dry.
  • We spent five fun days in Buenos Aires. We stayed in a nice hotel in the Microcentro (American Towers; ca $100 a night with all taxes included via Expedia) and did all the touristy things we could think of. We also gained ca 6 pounds each.

Thanks for everything!

Want to have your own walking adventure in Patagonia? Talk to us today. 

Torres del Paine – What is a Refugio

Torres del Paine – What is a Refugio

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The refugios in Torres del Paine allow you access to the mountains so that you can complete the entire W trek without the need to camp. There are 8 refugios in Torres del Paine. Torre Central and Norte, Chileno, Cuernos, Domos Frances, Paine Grande, Grey and Dickson

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A map of the Torres del Paine refugios

What is a Refugio?

refugio masculine noun

  1. english translation of REFUGIO: refuge, shelter
  2. swoop definition of REFUGIO: warm, friendly, convivial places with shared dorm-style rooms for 6 people, and hot meals and showers. The accommodation is basic but comfortable
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You will find a communal dining room…

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….shared bathrooms…..

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……and 6 person dorms.

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And some refugios have an area to hang out.

Your bedding and meals are provided so you only need to carry your trekking clothes, a change of clothing and personal belongings. More on what to pack here.


What will you eat in a refugio?

Refugios provide you with dinner, breakfast and give you a packed lunch.

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Breakfast

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Lunch

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Dinner

Each refugio has a small shop selling snacks and a bar with beer, wine and of course pisco sours.

Top Tips for Staying in Refugios

  • We highly recommend you upgrade to a cabin at Refugio Cuernos to get some privacy, bathe in the hot tubs and because Refugio Cuernos does get very crowded. 
  • Don’t forget to take a lightweight travel towel so you can use the hot showers and a headtorch for night time toilet trips.
  • The food is not very inspirational so take some trail mix from the Unimarc supermarket in Puerto Natales and grab some avocados to make your sandwiches a little more tantalising.
  • Wifi is only available occasionally at Paine Grande Refugio and in Hotel Las Torres (a short walk from Refugio Las Torres).  There is almost no phone signal in the park.
  • The showers sometimes run out of hot water so you may want to wait until after dinner.
  • If you would like some privacy then why not camp at a refugio? They will provide you with tent, sleeping bag and mat and you can shower and eat your meals inside the refugio.

unnamed (8)Have some privacy for a night at the Cuernos Cabins

Find out more about trekking Torres del Paine or get in touch with us today.

Sally’s experiences sea kayaking in the Northern Fjords

Sally’s experiences sea kayaking in the Northern Fjords

While on her recent trip to Patagonia, Swoop’s Sally Dodge went on a kayaking expedition in the Northern fjords. Here she gives her day by day account of her experiences and tips for people who are interested in doing the same.

Sea-Kayak, Petrohue River & Relconcavi Fjord

Day 1

An hours drive from Puerto Varas, around the shores of Llanquihue lake leads to the village of Ensenada where our kayaking partners have their main office and store all their equipment. Here, we sorted our possessions into dry bags, checked we all had the correct equipment and then headed off, kayaks on the roof, to drive to the drop in point about 30 minutes away.

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At the drop in point, we changed into our wetsuits, received our safety briefing and instructions and then we were off; as we slipped into the river there were enormous salmons jumping out of the water.

The first day of this two day kayak took us down the emerald green Petrohue river which is boarded by thickly vegetated, sheer cliffs. As we paddled down, steering to avoid tree trunks and roots, we were passed frequently by vibrant blue Ringed Kingfishers and Dark Bellied Cinclodes.
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We stopped for lunch on a beach before carrying on down stream to the Ralun hot springs. As the locals sat tucking into their picnics with toes dipped in the hot, steaming water, we certainly created a bit of a stir turning up in our kayaks.

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The hot springs were very rustic – the type with a spade on the side to dig down for the heat.

Back in the kayaks we paddled down to the mouth of the river and out into the most northerly fjord of Chile, the Reloncanvi Fjord. Here the water opened up, the birds changed and the wind got up a little. Passing Peruvian Pelicans and Brown-Hooded Gulls, we paddled our way to the western bank of the fjord to Yoland’s farm. Our paddling work for the day was done.

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Nestled amongst rolling hills and shrouded in forest is the achingly picturesque farmhouse of Señora Yolanda. We set up tents at the bottom of her garden and then walked up to the farmhouse for a cup of tea and a guided tour of the farm accompanied by Juan Carlos, her son and Muster, the dog.

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Señora Yoland was a real treat. She was house proud and welcoming with a lively character and a beaming smile. Her house was filled with black and white photos of her pioneering ancestors and old calendars showing photos from the dry and sandy north of Chile – a world so far removed from the lush green mountains of Yolanda’s reality.

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Our roast lamb dinner was really delicious, cooked in the wood burning oven and seasoned with local herbs; the conversation and experience were really humbling and the house so cosy.

Walking back down the garden, the stars were absolutely incredible.

As I snuggled down in my toasty warm sleeping bag I could hear the water lapping on the shore and nothing else – total and utter silence.

Day 2

I woke up with the first light of the day at 07:15 and opened my tent door to absolute tranquility. The sun was just coming up and with not a breath of wind, the forested hills, clouds, low lying mist and a strip of already bright clear sky was totally mirrored in the fjord below.

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The only noises were the cracklings of barnacles, a cormorant flapping its wings to take off and the lapping of water. As the sun rose the high clouds over head turned a beautiful shade of pink and the clouds on the horizon also. Just poking out above the clouds was the tip of the Volcon Yates at 2111m – its snow capped peak was illuminated pink.

As I sat writing peacefully, taking in the surrounding scenery, 3 dolphins appeared, playing in the morning calmness. The cloud cover was high and the sky blue so hopefully we were in for a beautifully sunny day.

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Once the rest of the group had risen, we walked up to the farmhouse where the chimney was smoking, a sure sign that Señora Yolanda had made fresh bread. She welcomed us into the kitchen, the table had been set and sure enough there was fresh ‘pan amasado’, fresh eggs, scrambled ‘a la chilena’, and honey.

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After breakfast, Juan Carlos took us for another walk around the property proudly showing off his apple press – it was like stepping back 100 years or going to a ‘medieval fair’ in the UK where they have re-enactments of what life was like! This was real, functioning and very much still in operation.

By 11:00, we’d packed up our tents, had said our goodbyes and then got back on the water. As we paddled off I could still see Muster tearing around the field, smoke coming from the chimney and Señora Yolanda tending to the garden – it felt very special to have seen into her world even if just for 1 night.

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Paddling across the fjord with the scenery moving much slower than on the river, it really did put into perspective the immense scale of the scenery.

We passed mussel farms and fishing houses made of corrugated iron – these did not look anywhere near as warm, cosy and weather resistant as Señora Yolanda’s house.

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Lunch of tuna salad was served on a beach with a 15 minute siesta in the sunshine, how glorious. We then set off for the final hour of paddling rounding the peninsula to reach the village of Cochamo; charming, sleepy with coloured fishing boats and a traditional wooden church.

We’d made it – the weather had been kind, the scenery stunning and the hospitality humbling. The kayak trip was great fun, perfect for a beginner looking to gain some paddling experience, delve deep into the scenery and soak up some local culture.

Find out more about kayaking in the lake district here. 

Peter’s Winter W Trek

Peter’s Winter W Trek

Peter recently came back from a winter W trek, here he tells us about his experiences with Swoop, our partners and the trek itself.

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How was your winter W trek through Torres del Paine?

The walk was great and we were really lucky with the weather.

Day 1 was super windy with a few clouds – but was good to see how harsh this place could be.

Day 2 & 3 were the most perfect blue sky no wind days for the hikes into the french valley and grey glacier.

Day 4 the moving day was totally low cloud, couldn’t see a thing, but was okay because we walked out.

Day 5, was snowing on the drive and first hour or two of the hike to the towers. Then we continued on up through dense fog, and on the last scramble up to the towers it cleared to blue skies, so it couldn’t have been better. Just was we were heading down the fog rolled in again.

Overall our timing could not have been better, yes we got some bad weather but it came at suitable time. Although it made me realise in winter we could have easily been unlucky – we met some people doing hikes at slightly different stages to us and couldn’t see the towers or other parts.
Our guide was great. Couldn’t fault him. Was very accommodating and understanding when Natalie got sick.

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What were the guides like on your trek?

For me, my highlight would have been the walk into the french valley. Obviously the view to the towers on the last day was also incredible. Natalie really enjoyed the grey glacier, as she had never seen one before.

What would you have changed about your trip to Torres del Paine?

One thing that would have changed our plans was the advice we got (before leaving aus) that we couldn’t get a bus in winter from puerto natales over to el calafete in argentina to see perito moreno. We found this was not correct, it seemed buses were leaving natales almost every day to el calefete and we met multiple people who had done just that and see both. Anyway I can’t remember if it was you guys or the contacts at chile nativo that gave that advice, but that’s not the case and because we had already planned the next stage of our trip back up in northern chile we couldn’t just go while we were there. Our guide on the ground knew that it was possible, so perhaps the chile nativo contact based in Santiago (I think) could get updates from the guides in natales.

 

Bader Valley – Paine’s hidden valley

Bader Valley – Paine’s hidden valley

In Torres del Paine the W trek is the classic route that many people hike that takes you to 3 magnificent valleys – the ascencio, Frances and Grey valleys. For more experienced hikers there are a number of different routes including the Paine Circuit and others that take you off the beaten track and allow you to see another side to the park. On my recent trip to Torres del Paine I wanted to see these routes that I hadn’t seen before.
Read here about my foray up to the Oggioni pass.

The second route was the Bader valley, a small valley that most hikers walk straight path. The turnoff isn’t obviously and it slices into the range between the Cuernos and the Torres giving you an extraordinary close up of the Cuernos and a different view of the south tower.
We took some camping kit and spent a day hanging out at the climbers camp there.

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When you wander from the ascencio valley to refugio Cuernos you’d never notice the Bader valley or the path that takes you there.

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But a teeny tiny path heads right at the Cuernos. Snow had fallen in the night and the Cuernos were white with a thin layer of snow

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As we climbed the Nordenskjold lake lay below us …

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 …the fresh snow made the going tough at times.

 

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As we climbed the valley revealed itself and the Cuernos towered overhead…
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…until our necks had to strain upwards to see them.

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In a small thicket of trees we pitched our tents…

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…and continued up the valley with just the lids of our rucksacks.

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The path stops at the camp and to continue onwards we hopped from rock to rock which was made tricky by the fresh snow.

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We continued to marvel at the Cuernos ( I really am obsessed with these fellas) as they changed shape and size. My guide Justin traced mental climbing routes up them with his eyes

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A toothy ridge of pinnacles played in and out of the clouds up ahead, and the wind started to build.

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The snow, boulders and wind made for slow going so we decided to leave exploration for the morning when better weather was forecast.

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Bader camp is a climber’s camp with no facilities just a shelter made from branches, tarpaulins and string. A shovel for digging cat hole toilets hangs from a tree trunk in the centre of the shelter.

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We prepare and consume an enormous pot of lentils and precooked pork with enough garlic to keep the vampires away.

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After a 12 hour sleep we wake to the roaring of the wind in the trees. The wind is so strong that we can’t walk in a straight line, it is certainly not great for boulder hopping. So we pack up camp and head down.

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1Check out the squalls on Lago Nordenskjold!

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There are beautiful blue skies and the Cuernos look spectacular!

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…as we descend with legs braced against the wind.

If you want to know more about Paine’s hidden valley, get in touch today.

Bushwhacking the Oggioni Pass – The Paine range’s most adventurous trek 

Bushwhacking the Oggioni Pass – The Paine range’s most adventurous trek 

 In Torres del Paine the W trek is the classic route that many people hike that takes you to 3 magnificent valleys – the ascencio, Frances and Grey valleys. For more experienced hikers there are a number of different routes including the Paine Circuit and others that take you off the beaten track and allow you to see another side to the park.
On my recent trip to Torres del Paine I wanted to see these routes that I hadn’t seen before.

The first route was the Oggioni pass high up above the Ascencio valley. This pass slices through the Paine range from the towers viewpoint directly to Dickson camp and looked incredible.  As I was short on time I recced the pass as a day hike from Hotel Las Torres but for very strong walkers you can hike across the pass to shorten a circuit trek or to create a completely different trek. Here is a description of the route and how we got on.

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The sun rose in a glorious and triumphant glow,

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We set off along the trail up the ascensio valley to the towers.

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Instead of following the general migration toward the viewpoint…

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…. We turned off and only caught this Scoundrels view of Las Torres.

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The path became small as we stumbled through a boulder field….

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….and into the woods.

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We followed the Ascensio river as it bubbled its way down through beech forests.

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There was no one around and we were on tenterhooks, certain that we would see a Huemul deer.

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Our target lay on the ridge ahead.

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At Japones Camp a climber’s camp with a ramshackle shelter made from Tarpaulin, string…

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…and fallen branches and hung with victoriously and carefully chiselled wooden plaques in celebration of climbs past.

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As the path narrowed we turned off it altogether…..

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A tricky river crossing followed which involved crossing on all fours.

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Before doing this trek ask yourself if this is a river you feel able to cross.

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The forest thickened…

– Swoop Patagonia’s BlogKfnWIhS-sN-Zv6zXj1x0BrEaLyaSa4wQ1dRR0ExdcmI,r4gPXkGuXJPX-Dd8Aa4Pm4aTztAIMSAK2preDebs7U0

…and we wander up through the forest, free of paths and people.

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WAHHHH!!!!!!

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The edible Pan de Indio didn’t tempt us as we toiled.

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As we left the treeline…

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…the views started to open out…

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…and as we climbed…

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…the peaks of Escudo and Fortaleza dominated the Silencio valley.

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Rock dykes guided us towards the pass.

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The scree slopes became tougher……

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…and tougher

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We left the valley far below, this was no place for vertigo…

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The final push to the pass was snowy and early in the season much of the scree slope can be covered in a layer of snow.

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At Paso Oggioni the view opened up to reveal Dickson lake. If you are continuing onward the trail bushwhacks down to Refugio Dickson at the near end of Lago Dickson.

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A further climb to Punta Oggioni reveals the Silencio valley. and a view back the way we’ve come…

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…and a peek at the back of the towers and the peaks of Escudo and Fortaleza peaks.

 

 

 

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My guide, Justin had been to the pass but never scrambled up to the viewpoint above. We whooped with excitement for a good 5 minutes…

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…AMAZING!!!

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The wind was starting to throw us around so we descended back to camp.

For more information on The Paine range’s most adventurous trek, get in touch today.