South Patagonian Icecap – the first attempt
In July 2009 Linda and Rob attempted to travel from the Jorge Montt Glacier to the Upsala Glacier – a partial crossing of the Icecap. After 9 days, having moved a full distance of 7 kms from their starting point they turned around and came out the way they went in. In the 19 days of the trip they did about 75 kms, ferrying gear backwards and forwards through scrub, along a stream and lake and up the valley that provided access to the glacier. Their trip coincided with unusually warm weather, adding warm temperatures and high levels of precipitation to the already challenging climate of the Patagonian Icecap. It was a failed crossing but a fabulous journey.
Their dispatches follow:
Text messaging was used to minimise power use. The Australian Base Communications team had to interpret our texting codes and create readable messages.
Enroute to Patagonia
19 June 2009
The Australia Patagonia Expedition is about to get underway with Rob and Linda now en-route to Chile via the USA. The scramble of being packed and ready is over. An airline upgrade to business class made the initial flight to San Francisco much more enjoyable. Meanwhile the Australian Base Communications team is completing their preparations ready for when the expedition hits the ice. Training on the communication protocols is underway and rosters are being prepared so that an ABC team member is always available for expedition updates or if an emergency eventuates. Upon arrival in Chile there will be a mountaineering refresh for Linda and Rob followed by final preparation in Coyhaique ready for the start on 30June
Shakedown trip complete
28 June 2009
Rob and Linda have returned from their shakedown trip in the Cerro Castille area and are now in Coyhaique doing final preparations for the expedition. The shakedown trip gave them a chance to go over technical mountaineering skills under the guidance of Ben Gorelick from Patagonia Mountaineering School. It was also a chance to acclimatise and spend a bit of time talking about local conditions. Packing and doing final emails is the priority for the next couple of days – then the long road trip to Caleta Tortel, from which a boat will be used to access the Jorge Montt glacier.
Ready and waiting to go
2 July 2009
location: 47.48.14 S 73.32.24 W
Unfortunately the start to the expedition has been slightly delayed due to problems with our car and boat transport. At the moment we are in staying in Tortel but hope to start as soon as we can. Other than that everything is going well as we are all packed and ready to go. It is a relief to have all of our gear finally loaded in our packs and sleds which are heavy but manageable. On the drive here we had clear views of spectacular snowy mountain ranges although now in Tortel we are experiencing some wet weather. I am feeling confident despite a few pre-trip nerves and looking forward to getting a few days done. Every day is 1.8 kilograms of less weight (i.e. food) to haul!
Expedition Finally Underway
3 July 2009
After some minor delays we are finally underway and currently at 48.17.06S 73.30.53W. We are both fit and healthy and everything going extremely well. We are travelling as well as can currently be expected – portaging our loads over rock we have covered 2.3kms. Conditions are wet and misty with calm winds and 5 degrees Celsius average temperature. All our communications equipment is working well and receiving/ sending messages okay.
Expedition Working Hard
5 July 2009
location: 48.17.06S 73.30.53W
Unfortunately we haven’t been able to move forward over the last 2 days and remain camped at 48.17.06S 73.30.53W. We have been working hard hauling heavy loads across the rock and ice to our existing campsite. This process has been hampered by ongoing rain and wet conditions. Despite this the team is healthy and feel we are going extremely well. The current average temperature remains at 5 degrees with little wind and generally very misty conditions.
On the move again
8 July 2009
location: 48.20.48 S 73.30.74 W
We’re are OK, but tired, and travelling as well as can be expected. We have done 5 trips of around 2.1Km, portaging our gear over rocky terrain. However our visibility has been limited due to cloudy conditions. The rain has changed to Snow, which is faling steadily. The wind is highly variable, blowing from the west. The temperature is averaging around 2 degrees.
Out of the rain, into fresh snow.
9 July 2009
Location: 48 21.05S, 73 31.08W
Everything is going well. the team is happy,and traveling well, if a little slowly still. We have done 3 round trips of 1.2 Km each, ferrying our equipment through crevassed terrain to the campsite. We are moving through deep fresh snow, and need to be roped together while on the move. The weather is now ideal for traveling in. The skies are clear and visibility is perfect. Finally the temperatures are averaging below freezing, at -2, with a 5 knot wind blowing steadily from the west.
The journey so far – taking stock
11 July 2009
Location: 48 21.05S, 73 31.08W
We are 11 days into our 22 day journey and have managed to haul our gear up the access valley, and onto the Jorge Montt Glacier. The good weather days (we’ve had 3) have been far outnumbered by days of persistent rain, heavy wet snow, or both. Low visibility and deep wet snow has consistently slowed our rate of travel. We are currently assessing whether the time available to us is enough to go forward or whether we have to retrace our steps. Despite the weather and the frustration it brings, we appreciate being in a spectacular area bounded by snow capped mountains and glaciers. When today’s snowfall clears we will be able to look across the heavily crevassed Jorge Montt Glacier, to the edge of the Hielo Suc (South Patagonian Icecap) in the distance.
Another Slow Day
13 July 2009
48 20.48S,73 30.74W
In wet conditions today we travelled 2.2km in deep snow and across rock with two loads back to Camp 3. There has been virtually no wind, an average temperature of -2degC and good visibility. Due to the very difficult conditions and the lack of time we now do not expect to complete our journey across the icecap and are currently considering a revised plan.
A difficult decision made.
15 July 2009
Location: 48 18.26S,73 30.43W
Well, after much consideration and deliberation we have finally made the difficult decision to retrace our steps and complete our journey back at our original start point. With the terrain and conditions having been most unhospitable thus far, we believe this to be the only sensible and safe option for us. An unanticipated turn of events, yes, but we continue to learn from and rise to meet these challenges.
We have returned to Camp 1 after a tiring day of portaging our load 4 times over a rocky distance of 2.1km. Conditions continue to be wet with an average temperature of around 5 degrees. The clear skies did, however, afford us the day’s highlight – 6 condors soaring overhead. MAGNIFICENT!!!
17 July 2009
Location: 48 17.07S; 73 30.46W
Linda and Rob are now back at the south bank of Jorge Montt Lake where they will likely be picked up by boat in 2 days time.
Today has been another exhausting day with it taking 7 hours to travel 2.2 km. This has actually been due to the awkwardness of travelling through thick bush rather than over the glacier. Tomorrow Linda and Rob will travel back the 2.2km to collect their final load – fortunately a lighter load than today’s. Amazingly they have been blessed with fantastic weather today with beautiful sunshine, 10 deg Celsius temperatures and amazing views.
Linda was interviewed on the Saturday Morning Show on 774 ABC Radio Melbourne (approximately 10:30 am Aust. EST Sat 18 July). Linda talked about the difficulties of the trip, the support from people in Australia and about the wildlife that they have seen. In a satellite phone conversation with her Australian Base Communications she spoke of learning so much from this expedition. The biggest shock for them has been the weather as they have not yet had a day with maximum temperatures staying below zero. This has meant that they have had to contend with rain rather than snow and consequently a much wetter environment than they expected. Linda spoke of feeling as though she has been undertaking an ‘underwater expedition’ given how wet the trip has been. She was extremely happy to finally be having a day of brilliant sunshine.
The Expedition Is Over
22 July 2009
47.48.14 S 73.32.24 W
We and all our equipments were picked up by Pablo in his zodiac at around 6pm local time on 21 July and transferred to a larger boat. This required several loads and navigating some white water. From there we dodged the icebergs without lights and arrived back at Tortel about 3am local time. The expedition is effectively over with our safe return to civilisation. All we now need to do is to make our way back to Australia
A big thank you to the ABC team for managing our communications and support. We will update our blog in due course.
25 July 2009
23/7/09 – As I write this, Rob and I are back in Coyhaique enjoying a couple of days of relaxation before returning to Australia. These transition times allow for recuperation and reflection before once again having to deal with the demands of ‘normal life’ back home.
We have not achieved what we set out to do, which was to travel up the Jorge Montt Glacier, access the South Patagonian Icecap and head south before dropping off via the Uppsala Glacier in Argentina. In the 19 days we had in the field we travelled a total straight line distance of about 15 kms, establishing 5 camps along the way and doing each leg of the trip 3 times on the way out and 3 times on the way back, taking the total distance travelled closer to 90 kms.
It took us 9 days to reach the furthest point of our journey. Here, given the weather conditions we had already experienced and those predicted for the coming days we decided that the time we had available would not allow us to complete our planned forward journey. Instead, in order to remain responsible for our own progress we would have to retrace our steps and return to our starting point.
There was food and fuel enough to do more had we the flexibility to stay on. Our load consisted of camping gear, food and fuel for 24 days. This included mountaineering gear (rope, crampons, ice axes, snow stakes, avalanche beacons and probes), skis, snow shoes, sleds, communication gear, cameras and our little mascot Pablo (named in honour of our boat captain). In total this was about 80 kgs each. We did not weigh the gear but each load we carried during the forward and return journeys was around or more than 25 kgs).
We experienced three days without rain or snow and two of these were the final days of the return journey. We spent 3 days in our tent not moving because of rain or heavy snow combined with low visibility. First light each day was close to 8.00 am and on the clear days the sun rose above the surrounding mountains by about 9.30am. Sunset each day was at about 5.00pm each day and by 6.00pm it was dark. During the first week there was a full moon. Its light was certainly helpful on the couple of days when with headlamps we were still shuttling our loads into the evening.
My sense of the remoteness of the expedition includes understanding that the village we departed from is also remote and that infrastructure that we take for granted like sealed roads, phone coverage and the availability of mechanics to repair broken vehicles are absent. Tortel, a small village on the Baker Fiord 400 kms from Coyhaique has a car park but no roads. People who live in Tortel access their homes, shops and workplaces by boat or a grid of wooden boardwalks and connecting stairways. The roads are mostly unsealed and travel over several mountain passes, pass alongside huge lakes and rivers and travel is very slow due to the pot holes, mud slides and corrugations. Our trip out included putting on chains twice, stopping for a vehicle coming from the opposite direction to be hauled back onto the road after it slid off the icy road surface and breaking a steering arm on our vehicle making it immobile. Quick and effective organization by our support team meant that we needed to wait only 4 hours for a pick up so that we could continue our journey to Tortel. It needed two days however, before the damaged vehicle had been hauled off the road, loaded onto the back of a truck and transported to the nearest mechanical assistance). At Tortel the motor launch that was to transport us to the end of the fiord needed repairs. Waiting a day for the repairs to be completed delayed the start of our journey. We then spent two days on the boat. The first involved travelling to the end of the fiord and carrying an inflatable rubber boat across country for half a kilometer from the motor launch to northern end of Lake Jorge Montt. Icebergs in the southern extremities of the fiord considerably slowed the progress of the boat. After camping onboard overnight the first half of the following day was spent transferring our gear to the waiting inflatable at the edge of the lake, then crossing the several kilometers to the southern edge of the lake before pack hauling the gear over a scrubby ridge to a smaller lake and then on to our first campsite. The very wet conditions – it rained all day – and the tangled, prickly, very dense bush meant that travel was slow, uncomfortable and needed full concentration to route find and keep from falling. It took a full 5 days, including breakdowns, delays and 24 hours of continual travel, to reach our first campsite alongside the stream that would lead us to the Jorge Montt Glacier. Fortunately there were no breakdowns on our way back.
We’ve written up some more reflections – some serious and some on the lighter side. These will be posted on http://auspatagoniaexpedition.blogspot.com We are leaving Chile today after a memorable trip, some great experiences and happy we’ve been here.
Finally – a huge thankyou to members of AlpineSAR who rostered themselves onto receive our satellite phone sms messages and created something interesting for you to read about our progress. Thanks especially to Rik Head who set up the sms system used and to Rik and Mark who coordinated the effort and were on standby should help have been required by us at any stage of the journey. Bendigo Community Telco provided the satellite phone and associated gadgetry – it worked well and was a significant contribution to our safety and ability to tell the story as we went.
Rob and Linda