Huemul Circuit: A trip to the Southern Ice Field

We’re back with another post about trekking…woooo! Our third trek in under three weeks after arriving in Patagonia and one we were still very excited about, despite beginning to feel the effects of so many miles under foot. Some amigos we had met on the O Circuit told us about this trek near El Chaltén. They claimed it was free, challenging, had glacial lakes, snowcapped peaks, views of the Southern Ice Field, and was much less popular than other Patagonia hikes, it seemed almost too good to be true. We had never heard about the Huemul Circuit but we were instantly intrigued, even before our friends added that the trek had not one, but two, zipline river crossings.

It’s a bold assumption that there are more than zero people who have read our last two blog posts, but I’m assuming that if that person exists they are growing tired of my attempts at poetically describing the landscapes we’ve been hiking through. As a matter of fact I am also growing tired of trying to accurately describe these scenes, and coming up far short, so for this post I’m going to let the pictures do the talking.

A quick background to set the stage. The Huemul Circuit is a 4 day trek that takes you to Lago Toro, up and over two mountain passes, skirts the edges of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and then traverses the shores of Lago Viedma before returning to El Chaltén where empanadas eagerly await our return.

Day 1:

And we’re off, after a quick stop at the Ranger’s office to register and prove we have the essentials (ie. harness, topo map, compass, stove) we are steadily making our way up into the forest for most of the morning

Up and over the ridge, now just need to make it to Lago Toro way off in the distance

Lago Toro, not the most epic of lakes but we found tons of Calafate bushes nearby. Calafate berries are similar to blueberries but guarded by large thorns.

Folklore has it that those who eat them will always return to Patagonia so obviously we indulged. (I was gonna eat them anyways but it’s a nice thought)

Apparently this terrifying butterfly to be also guards the berries

Camp on night 1
Day 2:

Clean, clear, naturally filtered, free range, organic water

Calafate oats, a new favourite

Our first river crossing. Less of a zip line, more of a slowly drag yourself across line

Traversing the moraines before switching over to the glacier. Paso del Viento off in the distance

Chillin’, before starting the climb. Get it? Chillin’…..cuz it’s ice

On the up and up, Paso del Viento is off in the distance on the left

Epic views but still not what we came for….Hielo del Sur, the Southern Ice Field

After a seemingly never ending climb we finally reached a Paso del Viento and voilà…Campo de Hielo Sur, the second largest ice field outside of the North and South poles

“That’s a lot of ice”

After a tough climb this looked like a good place for a dip…

…it was

Refreshed, with perfect weather and a lovely trail following alongside a crystal clear creek (two points for alliteration) we had some extra spring in our step as we approached camp 2

Arriving first means you get the best rock shelter!
Day 3:

A relaxed morning eating more Calafate oats and chatting with other groups about how long the previous day had taken (the pass proved to be harder than expected and some arrived after dark), we set off following the glaciers edge towards Paso Huemul

We thought Day 3 would be a quick ascent to Paso Huemul and then a cruisy downhill to Lago Viedma. We were sorely mistaken. This is the view from Paso Huemul, which was a slog of a climb, we began to wonder how the other groups would fare. Side note: don’t even try to tell me glaciers aren’t cool….look at this thing

The face of someone who enjoyed the dusty, steep 700m descent from Paso Huemul

Our descent from Paso Huemul is the steep part that doesn’t look like it should be descended. As we struggled our way down we thought of the other groups who would have left after us. They had moved slowly the day before and this day proved to be even harder. The next day we spoke with a couple who told us that multiple groups did NOT arrive at the camp site and one duo even parted ways as the more able trekker left the other one for the Pumas

We were keepin’ it fresh on this trek…daily baths

Competing hard for the Best Camp Site award

Lago Viedma at dusk
Day 4:

Our final day was wet and relatively unenjoyable. We hiked in the rain through rolling hills back towards El Chaltén. 3 strenuous days, combined with our previous treks, and our joints and feet were starting to voice their displeasure with all the abuse. Our second river crossing livened things up a bit though. Weeeeeeeeeeeeeee

AAA Grade Argentinian Beef. Just under 20km of hiking and this was the only other picture I took

Arriving back in El Chaltén, even on the rainy days this place still looks sweet

4 days and 64km later calls for some empanadas and a box of wine. We had been given the heads up that there was a shop called Che Empanadas in El Chaltén that served up the best pies in South America. An incredibly bold claim, but one that was backed up by the pulled pork empanadas. Tough to call the gem the best but they certainly make the short list for top empanadas
All said and done the Huemul Circuit lived up to the hype.  The Southern Ice Field was one of the coolest things we’ve seen in Patagonia (mind the glacier pun, last one I promise) and there’s something to be said for the feeling of remoteness that we had been missing on the previous two treks.  Originally we had wanted to do some climbing around El Chaltén before making our way to Cerro Castillo in Chile for another trek but our bodies were begging for some rest so we packed up our tent and boarded another night bus to the Argentinian town of Esquel.  From here we’d enjoy slightly cheaper groceries from properly stocked grocery stores for a few days before setting off for a climbing trip to Piedra Parada.

That’s all for now folks!


6 thoughts on “Huemul Circuit: A trip to the Southern Ice Field

  1. Great story! I did this during the Patagonian summer. It was epic. So wait, what happened to those other groups who didn’t make it to the campsite? I hope they were okay. And what do you mean one trekker left his partner for the Pumas? Like he just straight out abandoned him? I hope everyone turned out okay. This trek is definitely not for the faint of heart

    You can read my account here:


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