Glacier Alerce was glowing in the morning light. Viewed on our arrival at Refugio Otto Meiling the night before it glistened in the morning light, picking up the reds and golds of the magical sunrise and alpenglow that filled the air first thing in the morning. After a warm night, the fresh mountain air was a welcome relief and setting off down the rugged path to the edge of the glacier the sheer scale of the mountain began to hit home.
Remnants of the winter remained, even though it was only a few weeks until the first snows of the new winter season arrived. Great chunks of ice were sitting on the rock edges of the path. These were carved by sunshine and flowing water into weird and wonderful shapes.
Crossing Glacier Alerce
Putting crampons on and being roped together we headed out onto the ice.
Each step crunching beneath our feet with the safety of the refugio getting further away. The glacier extended ahead of us, initially solid, but crevasses appeared as we neared the far side. The crevasses appeared to be deep, but I wasn't hanging around to find out how deep.
There was a layer of dust running through the glacier. I had always thought glaciers were perfectly clean white ice, but I have now seen the close up slightly grubby appearance of a glacier.
Working our way down from the glacier was hard, abseiling a single rope to the solid rock below. Small lakes at the base were beautiful and appealing. This was a great spot to wait for everyone to cross, have a dip and get ready for the remainder of the trek. Extending out in front of us was a basalt pathway, a reminder of the volcanic origin of the mountain. Views led down the valley to Lago Frías and the mountains beyond.
The time at the base of the glacier gave me a chance to explore the very edge of the glacier, a small drip of water running into a stream that slowly heads towards the larger lakes and rivers of South America.
The trek from Glacier Alerce to the start of the Paso de Las Nubes was rugged and complicated but gave amazing views of the glacier, reflecting light in beautiful shades of blue. The small heart-shaped Laguna Alerce was turquoise from the refraction of light on small particles from the glacier dust was perfectly situated at the base of the glacier in a valley.
Paso de Las Nubes
From the moment we stepped off the glacier our destination for the next two days of trekking came in to view. Perched on an outcrop of rock was the first overnight stop at Refugio Agostino Rocca and beyond that our final destination at Lago Frías.
Paso de Las Nubes means Pass of the Clouds and cuts through the mountains at 1335m. It is easy to see as we came down from the glacier how this pass could sit in the clouds on a less than stunning day. We were lucky in some ways. The pass was clear and the sky was shimmering blue all day.
Coming through the pass was hard with steep sections and just a chain to help, but the stunning scenery made up for this difficulty. We paused for lunch by a beautiful rock formation, a great spot for a picture or 10. Heading down from this rocky outcrop we had our best and final sighting of the mighty condor. It was as if it knew we were on our way out of its world and provided a perfect farewell fly by.
Each step of descent took us closer to life, the flowers became more frequent and the rocks changed from black rugged basalt and other volcanic rocks to granite with amazing colours running through the centre.
Finally the hard descent turned into a gentle stroll through an open valley. Trees were emerging the closer we got to the refugio and the rugged beauty of the high mountains was replaced with a gentle flowering landscape.
Refugio Agostino Rocco
Finally after 12-hours trekking in blazing sunshine our stop for the night appeared through the bushes. We were excited to arrive at this refugio as we had been told there were showers. Unfortunately this was not to be the case (the water was 'broken') and instead we had to make do with cold beer and perfect Malbec yet again.
The refugio was really busy and the evening was fun with a great atmosphere. School children were staying along with families and other small groups of trekkers. The food was good, accompanied by a stunning sunset through the window and it was great to sleep in a proper bed finally, one step closer to a soft bed with duvet and a shower.
Getting to Glacier Alerce and Paso de Las Nubes
Both the glacier and pass are a days walk from Pampa Linda north of Bariloche in Patagonia. The best way to explore this area is with a local guide. Over night accommodation is available at Refugio Otto Meilling or Refugio Agostino Rocco