Tuesday 15 February

True to Luqui’s word, the wind sprang up during the night, waking me several times. In the morning, I wake with a dry throat and discover a thin film of fine dirt over everything in the tent, blown in through the mosquito netting.

After the usual breakfast and making of packed lunches, we depart towards the lake. Our aim is to cross the river just above it by another tyrolean traverse, and then climb up the valley to Paso del Viento (Windy Pass) to look out over the South Patagonian Icefield.

The lake is much larger than normal due to the rapid glacier melt driven by the exceptionally warm weather of the last few weeks. A steep climb and a scramble over rocks brings us to the traverse. A steel wire is strung across a narrow gorge through which the river from the glacier thunders. Luqui goes across first to set up the ropes. As the ‘landing spot’ is just below the top of the gorge, there is an additional rope hung down from a belaying point above to prevent anyone falling as they climb from the wire and to the safety of the rocks above.

Lawrence makes the traverse

It does look rather more alarming than the previous traverse. Getting off the wire looks quite awkward, and not everyone decides to go over. The final party is Luqui and Walter, then both Steves, Ron, John, Pam, Lawrence, and me. Once we are all across, Luqui packs the ropes and pulleys up and stores them under some rocks for our return.

Moraine and scree make the going quite hard. We bypass the worst by walking along the edge of the Río Túnel Glacier. We don’t have crampons with us today, so we’re relying on the thin layer of fine debris on the ice to give us grip.

Slide off the edge of the glacier and back onto moraine. Scramble up a cascade of large loose rocks, and then through regions of irridescent red, mauve and orange boulders. At about 12.20 pm we rest for a while at the last sheltered spot (behind a low wall built up from the boulders) and eat a sandwich each.

(magnify) Colourful boulders
(magnify) Approaching the pass

A gusty wind blows scattered raindrops at us. We continue, climbing steadily as we traverse a steep scree slope. Finally, the terrain begins to level out as we approach the pass.

The reason they call it ‘Windy Pass’

We enter a Martian landscape of fine debris and scattered boulders. A small lake sits in a hollow and a patch of snow survives just above. As I approach the far side of the pass, a strong wind laced sparsely with stinging raindrops hits me in the face, nearly knocking me off balance. Ahead, partially veiled in cloud, is the South Patagonian Icefield, a monochrome expanse of grey and white. The slow and inexorable flow of the glacier is delineated by the pattern of moraine on the surface – long sweeping curves converging on the tip of the Viedma Glacier as it presses in between the rock that funnels it down to our left.

(magnify) The South Patagonian Ice Field

It is too cold to stay for long, but between gusts of the buffeting wind, our cameras are kept busy. I then find a more sheltered spot away from the edge and finish my sandwiches.

(magnify) Deep crevasses on the glacier

We return the way we came. Coming down the scree slopes is much faster than going up, and when I get it right, the shifting scree cushions my descent and takes all the work of regulating my speed away from from my knees. At the traverse, the water below is even more ferocious. Pam tells me that as I hung on the wire, I aged ten years.

We are back at the campsite, exhausted, not long after six. Theo has made us an aubergine and potato starter, with chicken for the main course and pancakes with an apple filling for dessert.