Author Archives: Harriet Pike

About Harriet Pike

Harriet first started planning a trip to Patagonia at the age of 14 when her parents returned from a holiday there. Four years later she went to work in the remote Patagonian region of Aysen where she discovered trekking, the great outdoors...and her future husband. From this base she went on to trek in Torres del Paine and throughout Patagonia, Bolivia and Peru before going to University. When Harriet returned to the Andes she did so with her bicycle and spent two and half years biking and mountaineering throughout the Andes, climbing 8 of the 12 highest Andean peaks completely independently. Harriet joined the Swoop team in 2014 and on her most recent visit to Torres del Paine and El Chalten she checked out both the traditional hiking trails and some off the beaten track trails that she likes helping our customers to discover.

An Idyllic Kayak Trip from Puerto Aysén

An Idyllic Kayak Trip from Puerto Aysén

My mission during my recce of Patagonia in spring 2016 was to delve into Chile’s little-known region of Aysén. I tracked condors, mountain biked in remote national parks and took to the water multiple times to see sights only accessible by boat or kayak. In Puerto Aysén, I enjoyed serene paddling and beautiful weather for a day’s kayaking with Rolando:

The day is clear with little tufts of clouds sticking to the hills. We put in at the Ibanez bridge – an iconic landmark in the centre of Puerto Aysén. The town, Aysén region’s former capital, is the second biggest in the region and home to just under 20,000 people. It was through this important port that the first pioneers traded wood and wool but in 1964 the port was closed due to excess sediment from deforestation being deposited in the river and Puerto Chacabuco was built in its place, some 15km southwest.

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Puerto Aysén is a lush green place with very high rainfall and it’s unusual to get perfect weather. Today though, there is not a breath of wind and the reflection of the steep sided green clad hills is unblemished by waves, we are the only thing that ruffles the mirror.

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I am a rookie so my guide, Rolando, takes me through some basic tuition: teaching me the parts of the boat and what to do if I capsize. He is clear and ensures that I understand exactly what to do. He shows me how to jump into the kayak from the beach and we unbeach ourselves and push off.

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There are no other boats moving in the water, but we pass fishing boats tied up on the banks. Rolando tells me that these work with the fish farms in the area rather than actually fishing themselves.

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We paddle up the large main channel before dipping into the area known as el pantano: “the swamp”;  local birds take flight as we paddle into their domain. Rolando tells me that when he first started paddling the swamp, he asked local people what the area was called and they had no name for it; although we were close to town, no one ever came here. So he named it himself: la herradura del los patos: “the ducks’ horseshoe”.

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Our narrow channel turns west towards the ocean and hanging glaciers come into sight. We recross the main channel which is starting to get a bit choppy; our mirror is dimpled and the picture distorts.

We stop on the beach for handfuls of delicious trail mix and a maté (a traditional herbal South American tea).

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We gently paddle back to town but Rolando has the upper hand as he has been given a kayak sail as a gift and is testing it out, so as I carry on paddling, he giggles.

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He is a wonderfully warm and likeable man and I am excited about my forthcoming trips with him down the Baker river and to Laguna San Rafael.

Read more about my Aysén adventures and to book your own unforgettable trip to the remote and beautiful Aysén, get in touch.

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.

Greg and Michelle’s Off The Beaten Track Adventure

Greg and Michelle’s Off The Beaten Track Adventure

Greg, along with his sister Michelle and two other friends, asked Swoop to help them explore some of the more unknown destinations in Patagonia. Their jam-packed itinerary took them to many of the well-known highlights but via routes that enabled them to truly discover Patagonia’s wild beauty. We put together a challenging, action-packed programme with some of our most trusted partners to deliver an unforgettable adventure.

Greg’s itinerary

Greg and Michelle flew from New York to Santiago in Chile. A connecting flight took them on to Punta Arenas where they had two bus transfers, first to Puerto Natales and finally arriving in Torres del Paine National Park to embark on the avid hiker circuit.

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Dramatic skies in Torres del Paine National Park

Hardly pausing for breath, they ventured out on their first hike to see the famous granite towers that give the park its name. From there they hiked on to Japones Camp – a climbers only campsite near to the towers at the far end of Valle Ascensio. A night at the camp was followed by a hike of the Oggioni Pass. This trek is one of the more challenging and technical in the region. Climbing Oggioni highlighted that even within a group of friends on a tour of Patagonia, different people appreciate different things. Greg explains:

“In Torres del Paine we found the trails in particular on the W trek a little bit crowded. We loved the Oggioni Pass and this was a highlight-especially descending from the pass. However Liz and Marc, who were also on our trek, didn’t enjoy the Oggioni and didn’t really mind the crowds on the W trek, so it is a matter of taste.”

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Crossing a river on the Oggioni trek

After the strenuous Oggioni pass crossing, the group rejoined the traditional Paine cirsuit route at Dickson camp headed across to Perros Camp and then completed the John Gardiner pass with some ice hiking (read about Swoop’s Harriet and her ice hiking experience). From there, it was down into the French Valley via Lago Grey, and the group had completed their full circuit of the Torres Del Paine National Park.

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Celebrating the beauty of wilderness

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Taking a quiet moment alongside Lago Grey

After their trek, the group had a 2 day kayak along the Serrano river planned which was unfortunately cancelled due to high winds and so they headed on, to Puerto Natales and finally into Argentina, to the town of El Calafate, to see the Perito Moreno glacier.

A bus from El Calafate to El Chalten took Greg and his friends to the highlight of their trip: the Fitzroy range to see some of Patagonia’s most dramatic mountain and glacial landscapes. Two days of self-guided hiking straight out of town took the group to see Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Torre. They were well fed during their time in El Chalten too; using Harriet from Swoop’s handy El Chalten restaurant guide, the group made their way around town, particularly enjoying the vegetarian options.

After their warm up, they embarked on the tough but rewarding four day Huemul Circuit.

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Greg and his sister Michelle on Paso del Viento

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Trekking past a refugio on the Huemul Circuit

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The second zip-line crossing on the Huemul Circuit

Elated as opposed to exhausted, the group ended their epic trip in El Chalten and from there a series of transfers arranged by Swoop took them back to Buenos Aires and home to the United States.

We asked Greg a few questions about his adventure and for his top tips. Here’s what he said:

How were Swoop Patagonia?

“We would absolutely recommend Swoop. We really valued Swoop’s expertise, the fact that you had been to the places we were going and could link together all the different treks with local buses. All the buses worked out really well and we were happy with how it all worked out. When our kayaking trip was cancelled due to high winds our guide went out of his way to find alternative activities for us.”

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On a day hike out of El Chalten

What would you say to others considering a similar trip?

“In our opinion, El Chalten is much better and you should forget Torres del Paine and go straight to Fitzroy! The local operators were great and it was just a much nicer environment. Make sure you do your research on the various trekking options out of El Chalten to get the most out of your time there.

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The group day hiking around El Chalten

We would recommend you take the trip to Estancia Cristina near El Chalten, (we took the hiking option which included a 3 hour boat ride with a trip to the Upsala glacier), then we were driven up to a viewpoint and hiked back for 7 miles. We really enjoyed it and saw fossils along the way. Having visited both, I would say the lesser known Upsala glacier is much more enjoyable to visit than Perito Moreno with far fewer people fighting to see it.”

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Spectacular ice formations

“In terms of places that we stayed, in Torres del Paine, we liked Refugio Grey but didn’t like the dorms at Cuernos and Dickson refugios. One thing worth remembering is that we would have preferred to have camped every night rather than having stayed in refugios and this is possible, so think about that choice before you book.

We thought the buffs that Swoop sent were essential and would not go to Patagonia without one – it is so windy! We’d also recommend you take your own snacks on the treks to liven up the food a little.”

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Michelle sporting her Swoop buff

What was the highlight of your trip?

El Chalten and the Fitzroy range were the definite highlights of the trip – we loved the Huemul Circuit.

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Fitzroy

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Greg bathing in a glacial lake

If you’re looking for a unique experience in Patagonia and would like help planning your adventure, we’d love to help; get in touch!

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.

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 choose to hike, and it takes you to three magnificent valleys: the Ascencio, the Frances and the Grey. For more experienced hikers there are actually 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 first trek: a foray up to the Oggioni pass.

The second route was the Bader valley, a small valley that most hikers walk as a straight path. The turnoff isn’t obvious 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 climber’s 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 light dusting.

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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, so 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; it’s 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 pre-cooked 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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Check out those 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.

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.

Hotel Review: El Paraiso

Hotel Review: El Paraiso


This is a good, alpine hut like hotel with all the facilities that you need. The rooms are a good size, the bathrooms are also big with a great shower.

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There is a pleasant reception/dining area but no frills.
Tiled floors meant when I arrived sopping wet and covered in dirt I didn’t feel too bad about making a mess. Reception staff’s english was not so good so we spoke in Spanish. Internet was quite slow and not available in the room.

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Breakfast consisted of cornflakes, cakes or toast with a choice of spreads and hot drinks.

This is a great 3* option for those who want a good comfortable and functional hotel but don’t need any luxury.

Top Tip: Head up to the top floor for mountain views.

Hotel Review: La Aldea, Chalten

Hotel Review: La Aldea, Chalten

Harriet recently stayed at the motel-esque La Aldea in Chalten, here she reviews and gives her top tips for staying there.

La Aldea has a slightly motel-esque feel with external doors on all the rooms leading off from the garden and a first floor balcony. The rooms have all your basic requirements, hot shower, comfy bed, clean towels and sheets but they are a bit dated.

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Laminate flooring covers the floors,  the shower rail is easy to fall down and there is a cheap/antiquated feel to the fittings. 

The Aldea has the best internet in town, is close to the bus station. It is a good option for those looking for a private room with bathroom on a budget. 

Top Tip: Upstairs rooms are better than downstairs because the wooden floors make the downstairs ones noisy.

 

Places to eat in El Chalten

Places to eat in El Chalten

On Harriet’s recent trip to El Chalten she was on a mission to sample as many restaurants as she could. Here she takes you through the various options.

Techado Negro

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This slightly tumble down restaurant with its brightly coloured walls prepares wonderful, wholesome, home-cooked food. If you are looking for a taste of home then head here for homemade pasta, fish, milanesas (a thin slice of meat covered in breadcrumbs and fried) or salads.

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Look out for their excellent value menu del dia (menu of the day) with generous portions. There is also a great amount of choice for vegetarians .

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Hosteria Senderos

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If you’re looking to splurge a bit, then head to Hosteria Senderos. For a mouth watering steak try the Bife de Chorizo; the trout and local lamb are also good.

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The chef really knows how to work local ingredients into delicious treats and the waiter will tempt you with a a wide selection of Argentine wines.

Cervecería Artesanal El Chaltén

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This tiny little beer house is so snug and cosy that you may find it hard to get a seat and could end up sharing a table with others. Come early or persevere, either way you will be given a choice of delicious pizzas and pasta to accompany your home brew. The rustic wooden décor lends the bar a congenial atmosphere which is ideal for après-trek drinks.

La Tapera

Tapera

A rustic wooden eatery with seating around a fire pit. The tapas are yummy and the rest of the Argentine fare is hearty. Try stews, steaks or nibbles, all washed down with Argentine wine.

Wafleria

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A map shop that serves waffles is a dream come true for me. I sat planning my trekking routes with chocolate pouring down my chin. The gregarious waiters make this a great place for a savoury or sweet waffle whilst you wait for Fitzroy to appear from behind the clouds.

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Expect to feel guilty and gluttonous afterwards!

Panaderia Que Rica

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Before you head into the hills or onto the bus to Calafate, it is worth stocking your backpack with sandwiches, empanadas (savoury pasties), facturas (sweet pastries such as croissants) and alfajores (shortbread and caramel sandwich) from this heavenly bakery.

Facturas

Get there early before stocks sell out.

Self Catering in El Chalten

Supermercado

If you plan to self cater, unfortunately El Chalten is not very well served. The small supermarkets of La Tostadora Moderna on Avenida San Martin, El Gringuito on Cerro Solo or El Super on Avenida Lago del Desierto have a few offerings but try to shop in Calafate before you jump on the bus. For elusive vegetables and fruit head to the Verduleria on Cabo Garcia.

Other places that looked good:

La Estepa

La Estepa
A good slightly more upmarket establishment with good food and excellent wines.

patagonicus

Resto Patagonicus
Covered with nostalgic photos of climbers and pictures of El Chalten in years gone by. Tuck into Argentine style pizzas, pastas and of course meat.

For more delicious options across the whole region, read Swoop’s Top Pick of Patagonian Restaurants to get your mouth watering!