Trekking the Patagonian Ice Cap

The IceCap is the world's 3rd largest mass of ice and trekking and living on it is a truly unique, and at times bleak, experience. Whilst you don't need technical expertise or experience you'll want plenty of resolve to face the extreme conditions that the Patagonian weather will throw at you. Find trips based out of El Chalten, longer expeditions or expeditions on the Northern IceCap.

You can also read our guide and check out the map showing key landmarks for Ice Cap Expeditions.

Ice Cap Campsite SWX p-p

South Patagonian IceCap

Longer Expeditions (>8 days on the Ice)

Northern Ice Field

Trekking on the Patagonian IceCap - your questions answered

What is the Patagonian IceField/IceCap/Campo de Hielo?

Two vast caps of ice up to 1km thick, one in the North and one in the South.

The North Patagonian Icefield defines the huge Laguna San Rafael National Park in the Aisen Region of Chile. It covers 4,200 square kliometres and feeds 28 exit glaciers including San Rafael and Neff.

The larger South Patagonian Icefield (Campo de Hielo Sur) is 350km long and up to 40km wide. It influences and dominates nearly all of Southern Patagonia's must-see destinations; it feeds the Grey Glacier of Torres del Paine National Park in the South, and the famous Perito Moreno in the North. It provides the meltwater that makes Bernardo O Higgins park a truly unique kayaking destination. It sets a vast backdrop to Mount Fitz Roy and the Los Glaciares National Park.

And yet, very few people can really say they've set foot on either IceCap!

Ice Cap Map Screenshot 2010 SWX p-p

Where are the main trekking routes?

On the Northern IceCap routes tend to focus on the area around the Neff glacier.

There have been a few expeditions that have attempted the full length of the South Patagonian IceField from North to South - some more successful than others. Crossing West to East is more realistic and a number of expeditions have done this.

But if it's more of a 1-3 week expedition that you're after then then most treks focus on the area to the West of Mount Fitzroy, starting out from Los Glaciares National Park and the small town of El Chalten in Argentina. You'll typically head onto the Ice Cap via the Marconi Pass or Paso del Viento, and key landmarks include the Circo de Los Altares (a huge natural amphitheatre at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy), Volcan Lauturo (roughly 12 miles to the NorthWest of the Marconi Pass, and yes, there is a volcano underneath this Ice Cap!), Gorra Blance to the North, and Cerro Moreno (West of the Paso del Viento).

Some trips give you a taster with just 1 or 2 days trekking on the ice, on others you'll live on the ice for 3-5 days. For those who can get away for 3 or more weeks the longer expeditions spend 8 days+ on the ice and allow you to climb several of the peaks mentioned above.

What equipment do you need?

To get across the ice you need snow shoes, skis and sledge (all of which would be organised by an operator), in additional to all your standard personal gear.

Do I need a guide?


What are the weather conditions like?

Expect wind, lots of wind, and highly changeable conditions (very exposed the weather patterns of the Pacific Ocean) and, of course, snow.

Where do you sleep overnight?

There aren't many refugios out here! You'll be in tents each night, completed surrounded by snow and ice.

What experience do I need?

For the 5 to 12 day trips where you'll spend 4 to 5 days on the IceCap you don't need specific experience or technical expertise - your guides will provide you with all the training you need at the start of your trip. However you should have a high level of fitness and the mental resolve to be able to handle the extreme weather conditions.

For the longer expeditions guides do require you to have experience in this kind of environment.

Map of key landmarks visited on IceCap expeditions

Questions? Need help?

Ask a question on our Adventure Planner

Call us on: +44 (0) 117 369 0196 (we're open 9am to 6pm, 7 days a week)

Email us at:

Contact us on Skype: swoop_in

Twitter: @SwoopPatagonia