Wild Patagonia – A wilderness expedition through wind, wet and cold

During February and March this year I went to Central Patagonia with my packraft for a 36-day solo wilderness trip in the vicinity of the Northern and Southern Patagonian Ice Fields. I hiked and paddled from Cochrane in the Chilean Aysen Region to El Chalten in Argentina, passing through some areas that seldom see any human visitors. In many areas I planned for several route options depending on both weather and terrain conditions. A part of the trip passed through the dense valdivian rainforest in the fjord landscape close to the Pacific which asked for severe bushwhacking.

I will not write an extensive day by day trip report about this adventure. You can get a sense of the trip by looking at the video and the slideshow. I will just enumerate a series of idiosyncrasies and peculiarities about this adventure in this post.

I arranged two main food resupply points at the start of the trip by sending a food package ahead to the village of Villa O’Higgins with a local bus company. The other package was given to a local Chilean farmer when he passed by Cochrane. I visited his isolated farm near Rio Pascua later during the trip.

To be honest, this trip was not a very enjoyable adventure for me, especially because of often cold, wet and stormy weather and illness at the end. Simply put, it has become the weirdest trip I’ve ever undertaken. The weather during the trip was far from average for the time of the year. It was very wet which was not that unusual though, but it was especially too cold for the austral summer in Patagonia. Temperatures dropped to around freezing on many nights, even at low altitudes and daytime temperatures often barely exceeded +5°c during rainy days. Snow fell down to around 1100-1500m on most days and on a few days even down to 600m. I think the warmest temperature I encountered during the trip must have only been around +15°c on the first two days of the trip and during the last few days. Patagonia is well known for its strong winds and I certainly had my share of it.

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Because I had planned many crossings over fjords and big lakes with my packraft, the course of the journey was very dependent on wind conditions. I took measures before the trip to be able to plan ahead accordingly. A meteorologist was sending me wind and weather forecasts on my Delorme Inreach SE whenever I asked for it. These messages proved a huge help. Without this help I would probably never have crossed Lago O’Higgins. At the time I had to paddle long distances over the fjords, the weather was by chance always fine though and I even encountered two brief moments with complete windless conditions with the fjords as flat like a mirror.

I didn’t shoot much footage during the bad weather moments and during the harshest bushwhacking and when looking at the video and the pictures, it will probably give an unbalanced impression of how the trip really was. The weather changed completely during the last week of the trip. It became mostly sunny and no rain fell anymore. I became sick and felt weak however during the last week because of all the hardship in the wet and cold earlier during the trip, but I didn’t want to quit the adventure and continued at a slower pace. All this contributed to an almost continuous feeling of disappointment during the trip.

The satisfaction of such an adventure sometimes only appears afterwards when a sense of pride for what you have accomplished starts to predominate. I had a similar experience during my trip on Southern Greenland six years ago, only now this feeling has become much stronger with this adventure. As I said before, this trip through Patagonia has become the weirdest trip I’ve ever done within the meaning of the experience.

I choose to not disclose the exact route travelled and simply notify the bivouac spots on the map. Drawing the exact route followed is an impossible task anyway.

If I would do this trip over again at the same time of the year, I think I wouldn’t change much to my gear list, except perhaps a change from the Inov8 Mudclaw 300 trailrunners to a Rocklite 315 or 295 because of the stiffer sole. The trailrunners were almost new at the start of the trip and were almost worn out at the end. My gear list was not adapted to the coldest conditions encountered. I did not anticipate for such cold conditions deviating so strongly from the long therm average and would have been much more comfortable with warmer clothing in the rain and during the coldest nights. Despite this I think my gear list was perfect for this trip.

Finally I would like to thank the following persons for their additional help before or during the trip: S. Behaeghel, K. Ghijselinck, I. Verelst, M. Perez, L. Schindele & family, Señor H. Guelet & family, Señor R. Flores, M. Salgado. Kudos to all of you!

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11 thoughts on “Wild Patagonia – A wilderness expedition through wind, wet and cold

  1. Thanks for the impressions, video and the detailed gear list with comments. Interesting to read your % on lenses used, I just saw a great offer on the E-M5 and was straight thinking “I wonder if Joery still uses it?”. Did you use the filters a lot?

    • Hi Hendrik, I like to play with the filters but I didn’t use them that much on this trip as usual because the weather was often not suitable to use them (rain/wind).

  2. Great trip! Too bad the weather was only so so! I have hiked in that area some years ago and was so impressed with the scenery.
    Lots of respect that you went solo!
    Thanks for posting.

  3. Very nice, Joery. Lots of inspiration. Too bad the weather took so much energy, hard to enjoy long, wet and cold days. But as you surmise, the memories will get better for every year to come, sitting in front of the fireplace 🙂

  4. Epiiiiiic! Such an awesome adventure and accomplishment! Thanks so much for sharing, top class Joery! Shame about weather, tho 😦 Well, you’ll remember only the good things 🙂
    I’ve only one question about your sleeping system: cumulus quilt and bivy? Are you satisfied with this combo?

  5. Hi Joery
    I’m a bit slow to reply ’cause I’ve been looking at your courageous expedition over and over again. Sixty hours of rain under that flimsy tarp and wet bushwhacking to look forward to- no wonder you got sick. You must have had plenty of mind games! Thanks for sharing your brilliant photography and useful information. Those shots of Monte Fitzroy are world class!

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