This incredible packrafting expedition in Patagonia from Exploradores glacier to Leones glacier is a beautiful but challenging packrafting trip that wont let you down.
At 08:30, still dawn, we entered the Laguna San Rafael National Park. After passing through a path that crosses native forest, we reached the moraine of the Exploradores glacier, in which we delighted ourselves for a couple of days. The first hour progressed through the glacier without difficulty and as we entered, it was cracking more sharply. After drawing different paths along the ridges, we were unable to find one that would allow us to advance along the glacier. Luckily for us to our left there was a lagoon product of the thaw, so we had our first opportunity to inflate the packraft. This allowed us to advance and find camp on the banks of the lagoon.
We start the day crossing the lake surrounded by ice floes and enjoying the scenery. When we ran into the glacier wall again we decided to try our luck gaining altitude and progressing up the mountain. What we found was a terrain full of nalcas and leafy bushes that caused a slow and tedious advance. We did not manage to move forward as expected, but instead we spent the night with spectacular views of the Exploradores glacier.
From the height it was easier for us to evaluate the options we had. So we decided to get back on the ice and zigzagging through the cracks we managed to advance until we reached the moraine that would give way to the valley we wanted to reach.
Leaving the glacier behind we cross a sandy sector. Then we went upriver until we reached a vertical wall of mud, stones and ice bottom that was crumbling in our path and that made it very difficult to overcome. I added threatening stones falling from a great height. At this rate we call it the rise of death and in turn the point of No Return (or at least not from the same place).
Once this obstacle was overcome, we advanced through the moraine of the glacier and made camp celebrating life.
We woke up to low fog that prevented us from seeing the glacier in front of us. We continue skirting the moraine and navigating with gps to orient ourselves until we reach the Triángulo lagoon, where we would inflate our packraft for the second time. The crossing was easy and served as a rest for our shoulders and legs as we increasingly felt the weight of the backpacks.
The sweet moment ended as soon as they set foot on the other side of the lagoon. There we came an impenetrable extra dense forest. Looking for a path, we only found a possible path going upstream. This stretch, although slippery and expensive, was extremely beautiful. However, this did not lead us to the top and we had to go into the forest. There we found a peat clearing that allowed us to stay overnight.
We were becoming aware that the expedition was going to take longer than planned, so we began to dose our food rations and collect the precious and tasty calafate.
For today we would continue with a hard day of dense forest and a tedious climb worthy of a machete (which we did not carry). The degree of satisfaction upon reaching the top was as great as the beauty of the landscape. On the one hand, we could see the path traveled: from the Exploradores glacier, the Triángulo lagoon and the recently crowned mountain. On the other, the North Lake at the foot of the San Valentín mountain. Really beautiful.
The joy invaded our body when seeing that the descent to Lago Norte was not going to be so demanding: a combination of peat, hillside and small lakes would allow us to advance smoothly.
As soon as we reached Lago Norte, we would pump our packrafts again and cross with tailwind and over the sunset until we reached the only peat clearing slot we saw around us.
It’s raining cats and dogs outside!
So today was a day to rest. We only went out when the rain stopped for a few minutes and we took the opportunity to change the tent site since water began to enter the room. The gift of the day was that we had the opportunity to see an huemul hanging around the tent.
Fateful day! We thought we were clear on where to continue our advance, but this time the dense forest won the battle. There was no way to go and we had to go back, meeting again at the starting point.
Still, the mood did not drop and we looked for another alternative. We would try to skirt part of the lake on foot (with water up to the waist). The reward of the day was to be able to camp in a magical forest without so much vegetation and trace with our eyes the route to follow the next day.
We started the planned path with a steep descent, which would be very dangerous for us with our backpacks on our backs. So we lashed all the material well and let them go down the slope. It was a bit of a pain seeing them crash, but they survived the impacts and we achieved our goal.
Immediately afterwards, we came a long way between moraine stones until we reached a river again that we could not navigate, but we could skirt easily while collecting calafate. A few hours later we would camp on the banks of the river where, for the first time, we would see animal tracks that guided us along the way.
Today the path is easier, because we can follow the animal tracks and they will facilitate the path. It’s time to cross the forest, but this time it’s cleaner. Soon we reached Lake Fiero, which we enjoyed sailing and approaching the wall of the glacier of the same name.
It was a day of enjoying the landscape, sailing between icebergs until reaching the great ice walls.
The return was somewhat harder, as the headwind rose and created waves that made it difficult to advance. Still, we made it to land to camp with views of the ice floes that the wind and tide had displaced.
Rainy day! From the early hours of the morning everything indicated that it was going to be a humid day, and so it was. All day spent in water and cold for our liking. We continued with the strategy of following the animal trail, perhaps with a few more detours, but it went well. The terrain was swampy, ran between rivers and peat, which, apart from the rain, did not allow for very dry feet. But there life smiled at us and we found a gaucho cabin with dry firewood that gave us shelter and heat to dry our things (including the store). We couldn’t be more grateful! Days later we met a relative of the owners of the cabin, who had cattle and traveled the sector.
We left the cabin with packraft in hand to navigate a stretch of river that we saw feasible. And when we reached the area of rapids we got off to continue on foot. Once in Lake Leones our first intention was to navigate it to its ice wall as we did in the Fiero.
But given the circumstances (adverse weather, strong wind and little food) we decided to pass by and finish the route, now, on a well-trodden path with signs until night!
Now, on the way to the main road and ready to hitchhike a ride to return to Río Tranquilo, we found Mrs. Leonor, owner of a campsite that gave us the best breakfast we could wish for: sopaipiyas and bread kneaded with rhubarb and rosehip jams, and all homemade! Exquisite!