Saturday 12 February

(magnify) Laguna Torre

A glacier walk is scheduled for today and after breakfast we sort out crampons and harnesses. The harnesses are not for roping up on the ice (Luqui assures us that would be more dangerous than no ropes) but to cross the Fitz Roy River on a tyrolean traverse.

We set off down the path for the lake (the correct one this time), dip through some trees, and emerge onto the moraine at the foot of the lake. There is a beautiful view across the water across to Cerro Torre and the sky is almost completely clear of clouds. A few small fragments of ice float at the bottom of a steep bank on the lake edge.

Helen braves the traverse

The traverse is across the wide and fast-flowing Fitz Roy river that drains the lake. Two ropes are stretched across and anchored on rocks either side. Walter goes across first with his rucksack and just touches the water in the middle.

Luqui is supervising harnesses on the near bank. When it is my turn, I lean back and lift up my feet, then start pulling myself along the wire, hand over hand. From the midway point onwards it is surprisingly hard work. I squint up at the sky, the sun, and the cable and keep hauling away until I hear voices close by and lower my feet onto rock. Once we are all safely across, the rucksacks are bundled together and pulled over.

The snout of the glacier is the other side of a steep cliff, so we climb up into the wooded area above the lake to work our way around. Then there is another tricky scree slope to negotiate to bring us down to the edge of the glacier. The bottom of the steep ‘V’ appears to mark the start of the ice, but in fact ice extends a short way up the scree-covered side that we are descending, making it all the more treacherous. This can be easily seen by kicking away the rock debris – shiny black ice underneath.

(magnify) On the glacier

The glacier itself is very dirty and covered with ground rock and small boulders. We tie on the crampons and then Luqui leads us away across the ice. We work our way carefully up and down, avoiding crevasses and sink holes. There is a flat region further across the glacier scattered with broken rocks, and we sit down there for lunch.

Helen tries ice-climbing

A short distance on, Luqui finds a suitable ice wall for us to try ice climbing. He scales it like a spider to fix in place the belaying point. Then it is our turn. The trick is to plant the two ice axes as high as possible and quite close together. You keep your pelvis close into the ice, feet wide apart, and heels slightly down.

Well, that is the theory. I make a hatchet job of it, not helped by my rather soft-soled boots, which fold in half as soon as I put any weight on them. The ice is hard and it takes some effort to get the points of the axes in – and much tugging and wiggling to remove them. I manage to get some of the way up, but then decide that enough is enough and abseil back down.

We return to the edge of the glacier and remove crampons. Climbing back up the scree slope to the woods seems much easier than descending. The water coming down a steep mountain river crossing the path has increased somewhat during the day so that the two logs spanning it are now just below the surface.

(magnify) Return to camp

Return across the traverse. As we round the foot of the lake a strong wind blows up sending dust and grit into the air.

At the campsite, Ron has procured a plastic bowl to wash in, and a queue quickly forms behind him. For dinner, Theo has prepared for us enchiladas (like pancakes). There is an intermittent strong wind, and Luqui advises us to get our washing in and to close up the tents.