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ENG:Los Glaciares del lago O'Higgins

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Rutas Patrimoniales.jpg Original content from Heritage Routes of Ministery of Public Patrimony


Glaciar O'Higgins

Ruta de trekking Los Glaciares del lago O'Higgins
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Summary (editar)
Activity Trekking
Location Chile (english), Villa O'Higgins
Scenery Impresionante
Atractions Vistas panorámicas, Glaciar, Lago
Duration 5 días

Exigente

Trail Siempre Claro
Signage Suficiente
Infraestructure Inexistente
Topology Circuito
Distance (k) 0
Original creator Rutas Patrimoniales
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Season

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From November to April.

Access

By car

From Chile:

from Bahamondes bay, located 7 kilometers south Villa O’Higgins, there is a boat bound to Candelario Mansilla, 3 hours by the lake, depending on weather conditions. (For information on the time schedule, contact the Municipality).

From Argentina:

from Chaltén to Laguna del Desierto. A boat is necessary from there to cross, or the lagoon may be bordered by a path located in the eastern bank, to its north end, 9 kilometer path will drive you to “Dos Lagunas” crossing point, open from November to April, located 13 kilometers away from Candelario Mansilla.

Public transport

General description

Southern Ice Field Patrimonial Road, The Glaciers, is a 79.1 kilometer circuit. It starts and ends at Candelario Mansilla quay, on the banks of O’Higgins lake, at the south end of Region XI of General Carlos Ibáñez del Campo.

The journey comprises huge natural wonders, centennial Lenga forests (Nothofagus pumilio) and shrubby forest formations between 700 and 1000 meters above the sea level. High Andean steppe habitat and its vegetation floors may be observed in crossings of mountain ranges.

The Road provides a special opportunity to recognize native bird fauna. Between forests and steppes, you may be surprised by Black Woodpecker ( Campephilus magellanicus ) ; “ Viudita ” (Colorhamphus parvirostris), a little kind of parrot, or “Dormilona Rufa” (Musciasaxicola capitrata).

Most of the Southern Ice Field is made up by majestic glaciers which, along with their related habitat, transform this Road into a source of inspiration for naturalists interested in ecosystems and geomorphologic or glaciological phenomena, which are a real outdoors natural museum under austral skies.

Small glacier, GAEA glacier, and O’Higgins glaciers are some of the glaciers that can be seen from the Road. The latter measures 810 square kilometers and is the fourth biggest of the Southern Ice Field, after Pío XI, Viedma, Upsala. O`Higgins glacier shows a unique panoramic view of a more than 60 meter high and over 4 km long glacial front. You will be able to admire these grandiose tracks of the past, with O’Higgins mountain range as your witness.

The Road has been structured into seven segments, divided in accordance with their territorial and transitability characteristics. The first 6.7 kilometers correspond to the public road, therefore, it is fit for four- wheel drive motor vehicles, bicycle, horse, or walking. The next 65.9 kilometers are only fit for walking and horse-riding. Do not try to travel the road in motorcycle.

If you will walk, you must at least consider 5 days to complete the circuit from “Candelario Mansilla”. If you prefer horse-riding, you will take 4 days. However, a couple of days extra is suggested for further safety.

For those who are not used to long walks, note that difficulties of this Road are only restricted to its extension, unstable weather conditions, and strong winds that may sometimes delay the walk. We suggest you to thoroughly follow indications provided in this Topoguide to avoid missing the path.


Route description

Segment 1

CANDELARIO MANSILLA DOCK - BEGINNING OF THE TRAIL

  • Distance: 6,7 km.
  • Walking time: 2 hours 40 min.
  • Season: September to may

Panoramic Views: O’Higgins Lake, Fitz Roy Mountain and Torre Hill. Observation Lenga adult forest.

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The entire segment is a public road, and starts at the quay (Guidepost 1) of the old group of houses of “Candelario Mansilla”, the most austral location of the region, located at the banks of O’Higgins lake. Here you will find the information sign of the road.

If you want to visit old settlers' houses, you will have to follow a small path that starts at the quay sector, that will take you about 300 meters east. There, you can meet one of the few families that still live in O’Higgins lake and share their kind hospitality.

From Guidepost 1, you walk in the middle of Obstáculo river valley, always by the public road. Approximately one kilometer later, you will reach “Hernán Merino Correa” police station, next to the old aerodrome. Here, you may request further information on the Road and obtain the first panoramic views of O’Higgins lake. If weather is good and you have time, cross the aerodrome until getting to the edge: a small and beautiful beach will be waiting for you.

From the police station, follow the road heading south, starting a slope where you will have amazing panoramic views of O’Higgins lake, as well as observing contrast of visible landscapes when projecting the sight to the Argentinean side, where the lake is called San Martín.

Following by the slope, you will see Obstáculo river, to your right, with its deep canyon that prevents any attempt to cross. You will now see the first Lenga (Nothofagus pumilio) virgin forests, until getting to top of the slope, where you will find a natural mirador (Guidepost 2) of Fitz Roy hill's range, a privileged site from which you can observe unique panoramic views of the Chilean side. If weather conditions are good, you will be in the presence of these mythical mountains that have constituted a milestone in Patagonian geography for almost one century, highlighting Fitz Roy hill (3441 a.t.s.l. a.t.s.l. = above the sea level) and Torres hill (3102 a.t.s.l.), considered by many one of the most beautiful and difficult mountains in the world: conquering it is a real challenge. We recommend you to approach a small rocky promontory, just at the other side of the road, from which you can enjoy the spectacular view and take a rest before starting to climb Colorado hill range (1799 a.t.s.l.).

Following the road, you will find Guidepost 3, few meters away, that indicates a bifurcation that will take you away from the road to start walking by a path which climbs Obstáculo river valley in its south spring.

Segment 2

BEGINNING OF THE TRAIL - LAGO CHICO PENINSULA

  • Distance: 18,1 km.
  • Walking time: 6 hours.
  • Season: November to april

Colorado Hill Cord Crossing Observation O’Higgins Hill Cord Panoramic Views: Chico Lake and Glacier.

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Follow the track from Guidepost 3 and you will get to a beautiful forest formation until crossing a little stream. Walk ahead about 100 meters and you will arrive to the east bank of the main stream of the valley.

Carefully, cross the stream bound to 280º, and you will see a gully where you will have to climb approximately 100 meters, and then take the right until getting out of the woods. We recommend you to be careful in such places where the track is not well defined; keep the track between Obstáulo river cliff and the forest limit, from which you can see a wide panoramic view of the river in its upper section.

After leaving the cliff, you will have to climb a new slope, having a sector of dry logs as reference. While going up, Obstáculo river will be at your right and a small stream at your left. Keep going until ending the inclined hillside, which also corresponds to the progressive end of the adult forest, until facing a large sector of swamps. Follow general course of 310º for a little more than 600 meters until crossing the first of 6 brooks, always in the presence of a shrubby forest up to the division fence of the property.

Walk forward for over 1 kilometer, and you will arrive to the top of the narrow pass, that divides local waters. Keep a small lagoon, located at approximately 1,200 meters of altitude, as reference, which must be boarded by the left.

Leaving the lagoon behind, continue by a flat sector until getting to Guidepost 4, which indicates the start of descent. It is a high Andean swampy terrain with an over 5 kilometer extension lacking of forest formation. This sector is covered by snow most of the year.

After Guidepost 4, in the next 2 kilometers, you will have to cross 2 small streams coming from Vicente hillsides (1918 a.t.s.l.), after which you will have to cross the main stream of little flow.

If visibility conditions are good, you can see while you walk one of the main mountain ranges of the Southern Ice Field associated to O’Higgins hill, one of the most unknown and beautiful geographic accidents in the Patagonia, highly recognized and admired by old explorers. There are countless summits that rise, highlighting O’Higgins hill (2860 a.t.s.l.) and Cóndor hill (1810 a.t.s.l.), as well as hanging glaciers that cover them. Don't forget to take pictures. If you are not lucky, don't worry, you will have a better chance in coming segments.

Remember that only one kilometer and a half is left to get to Guidepost 5 from crossing of the already cited main stream. Once you enter the shrubby forest, be careful to take the left side and start the steepest descent before getting to Guidepost 5 and finishing crossing of the narrow pass.

Guidepost 5, is an interesting natural mirador of O’Higgins hill range, located before starting descent to Chico lake peninsula. From here, you will have wide panoramic views of O'Higgins lake south west sector and of all Chico lake.

Note that Chico lake peninsula is an interesting remainder of Chico glacier advance, one of the many ice bodies that make up the Southern Ice Field, which is characteristic for the large amount of rocky and ashy material deposited in its ices, a phenomenon that demonstrates proximity to Lautaro volcano (3600 a.t.s.l.), the highest volcano in the Southern Ice Fields. At this point, landscape is unique. Take some time to watch and save in your memory these images that have only been seen by adventurer explorers and old settlers who arrived to these remote lands.

Follow around 700 meters by a well defined track. Keep Chico glacier as reference until getting to a rustic gate, where a small stream has to be crossed. The track is well define throughout the descent, therefore, it should be easy to properly follow the Road.

An approximately 1 kilometer descent starts after the stream, passing by a small lagoon and crossing a stream by a well defined track. This area is mostly planted with new Lenga shoots. You will have to cross forests and small prairies until finally arrive to Guidepost 6. To continue by the road, take your right and go down until getting to the flat sector. We recommend you to visit the small settlement that you will see when arriving to the valley. There, you will find local services and hospitality of its people. Remember to obtain information on Chico lake drainage crossing.

At this flat sector of the peninsula, head west for slightly more than 1 kilometer by firm terrain and abundant short thickets until getting to Chico lake drainage.

Pay attention to Guidepost 7 that is marked in a small thicket on the opposite bank of the drainage.

You will need any kind of boat to cross at this point. Do not try to cross by your own means due to depth, flow and temperature conditions of the water. In such sense, you will have to contact the neighbors and try to obtain a boat to cross it.

Segment 3

LAGO CHICO PENINSULA – CAMP I

  • Distance: 7,3 km.
  • Walking time: 4 hours.
  • Season: November to may

Observation Lenga adult forest and bird species. La Carmela Farm Cord Crossing north sector. Panoramic Views: O’Higgins Glacier and O’Higgins Hill Cord.

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Keep walking from Guidepost 7 approx. 200 meters in north-west bound by a small slope, until getting to a settler's house that may help you cross. There, you can rent horses to continue the ride.

Here, you will find Patagonian hospitality and some local service. You may also take the opportunity to reorganize your gear to start climbing to arrive directly to O’Higgins glacier. Approximately 300 meters from the settler's house, you will find a bifurcation of the track. Go to the right, following the slope by a well defined track until getting to a brook next to a rustic gate. Keep on climbing this hilly ground that looks like an old lateral moraine connected to Chico glacier.

Following this direction, you will the brook at your right until arriving to a small clearing in woods and natural mirador. It is interesting to watch O’Higgins lake from here, Chico lake and its peninsula, which formation is associated to a classic example of an ice deposit of terminal character with old channels connected to the different lacustrian levels. It is a place to admire geographic formations and native flora of the surroundings. It is protected from winds, allowing to rest before getting to the next narrow pass.

Once you leave Guidepost 8 behind, keep on climbing until reaching a mark made in an adult Coigüe. From here, take general course 240º, in the middle of a dense forest, although shorter and shrubbier, indicating that you are getting closer to upper vegetation limit.

The track continues by a slight slope with general course 220º, progressively leading to your right until crossing a gully and then taking the right and continue climbing. In this point, you must change general course, bound to the west, always by the most marked track among abundant Lenga woods. Approximately one kilometer and a half from previous gully, you will arrive to the narrow pass of Fundo “La Carmela”, corresponding to Guidepost 9.

This is a surprising stop for the majestic panoramic view of O’Higgins Glacier plateau and the mountain range that makes up the landscape.

Do not be surprised if strong winds show up. It is a normal situation due to proximity to the Southern Ice Field, usually generating extremely unstable atmospheric conditions. In such sense, it is important to take forecasts made by locals into consideration, since they are highly reliable upon making decisions concerning continuity of the Road.

From Guidepost 9, start going down taking right bank of a lagoon that you will find in a few meters, always by swampy terrain and Lenga shrubby woods. Walk down progressively to the west until reaching the crossing of a small stream. From there, you will have to go ahead approximately 100 meters to start the walk by a beautiful forest of thin Lenga trees, between the hillside and an old side moraine, that you will soon have to climb by its top, boarding the scarp. This is an interesting run that blends majestic panoramic views of the surroundings and reconnaissance of the particular habitat.

Follow the track. Just before arriving to the next stream, remember to climb to the left by a moist esplanade where you will see some dry trees. Cross this esplanade having a rustic fence that divides the property as reference. Go through it (remember to leave it closed), keep going by the small and beautiful valley that is squeezed in between the hillside and the moraine system, where you can watch centennial Lenga trees. For bird watching lovers, the nature will bring you in these latitudes a never-ending bird singing.

Approximately 400 meters away from the above described rustic fence, pay attention to a mark indicating that you will have to climb again to the top of the moraine that is at your right. Do not continue by the bottom of the small valley, since stream water will prevent you from advancing.

After a few minutes of walk by the above cited moraine, the track will lead you to Guidepost 10, which will indicate you that you are few meters away from an ideal sector to rest or camp. Travel from this Snupie has to start before noon, in view of characteristics of the next segment and the possibility to have time enough to watch the landscape in coming points of interest.

Segment 4

CAMP I - CAMP II

  • Distance: 13,8 km.
  • Walking time: 6 hours.
  • Season: November to april

Observation of O’Higgins Glacier and GAEA Glacier. Panoramic View of GAEA Cord. Identification of periglacial environments and glacial geoforms. La Carmela Farm Cord Crossing north sector.

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From Guidepost 10, move forward a few meters and divert to the left, leaving the lateral moraine and beginning a ascent through the opposed hillside. From there, you should face an ascent to the west just until the upper limit of the adult forest. Take the track at the right which, at a few meters, will lead you out of the forest to directly have access to an exposed rocky promontory which locates at a few meters at the right of the marked track corresponding to Guidepost 11. There you will enjoy interesting panoramic views of O’Higgins glaciers and its surroundings.

Once you take the track again, enter the forest again, avoiding getting out of it, or going round the edge of it further on its upper limit, until reaching a slight ascent with well-marked track which will lead you to Guidepost 12, located in a small exposed rocky edge. This is an ideal place to observe the O’Higgins glacier, mountains that cast powerful spells on its visitors; we recommend to ensure a closeness picture of this beautiful glacial body and to take your time. Here, it is absolutely necessary to watch the glacial retrocession experienced during the last century.

Continuing the tour from Guidepost 12, we observe that the landscape gradually becomes a high Andean steppe, leaving forest behind and breaking serenity with constant, strong and gelid winds coming directly from the highest sectors of Campo de Hielo Sur. We recommend to specially consider in this sector to wear a windbreak jacket with thermal interior for your better comfort and safety.

Taking general south-east direction and always following the main track, you should direct your run to a small crossing beside a large rocky wall which is visible at a distance higher than 500 meters. After passing this accident, consider the crossing of small lagoons and the beginning of a slight descent. In this sector, you should be careful, since at about 300 meters after crossing said lagoons, it will be necessary to divert from the main track to the right, in order to have access to the most west lagoon, next to a scarp, where you could identify Guidepost 13 in its shore, on a large rock.

Guidepost 13 is a unique natural mirador for the perspectives of the O’Higgins Glacier front. Face to face with the glacier and in one of the most sublime sights of nature, the calm of the landscape is interrupted by the unknown clatter of the glacier pieces falling to the lake. The ice voice is heard, shaking us even with smallest loosening.

After beginning with the tour again and leaving the O’Higgins Glacier front behind, take general direction 210º going round the edge of scarp without visible track. After running more than 1.5 kilometers from Guidepost 13 you will find a plain sector, with pasturelands and abundant deep pools, just before crossing a small stream, reason why you should be extremely careful for not getting wet.

Consider no more than 10 minutes after this stream to reach Guidepost 14 on a large rock located next to a small pool, it is an excellent mirador of the glacier and the GAEA cord. In this sector, the terrace edge is exposed, it is advisable to keep a prudent distance.

It is also important to consider that the following 7 kilometers from Guidepost 14, correspond to an access ascent to “Alto de los Líquenes” mountain pass, which name is due to the abundance of this vegetation. It is mostly rocky lands of periglacial environment, where there is no track, demanding us to double safety measures and the attention to indications. You should note that the next camp is between 3 and 4 next hours.

If weather conditions are not particularly good, consider the convenience to continue with the tour. Remember to periodically check your barometer and to consider an appropriate break in camp I.

From Guidepost 14 take general direction 75º, at about 800 meters you will cross a small mountain pass, where you could observe a rock dry-stone wall, from where you should directly climb the hillside for about 150 meters until crossing a stream. Then, take your right and continue, because at a few meters you will cross the stream again. From here, remount about 500 meters with direction to the south to take as reference the mountain pass that will show you the cord crossing. It is a complex land to be followed due to the existence of abundant rocks, for this reason a map and ideally a GPS support are required.

At the end of the ascent, you will face Guidepost 15, that will show you the arrival to “Alto de Los Líquenes” mountain pass, from where you could begin the descent to the other side of the mountain. Said descent is made through a rocky sector, being approximately 300 meters with 40º of slope until arriving to the background of an old glacial cirque, formation proper of high-Andean erosion. For those who are horse riding, we recommend to go down unhorsed.

During the next two kilometers you will be close to a lagoon seen at the distance. Go around the edge through its north-east riverside until arriving to its sewage. From there, only 400 meters are left to arrive to Guidepost 16 located on a rocky doorsill, showing the beginning of a new descent, and soon allowing the path to the forests of Chico Lake.

Upon entering the forest, downstream the valley, you should take your left through a marked track, considering that in less than 20 minutes of run from Guidepost 16, it will be necessary to cross a stream at your right. From there continue next to the riversides.

Be careful when leaving the stream, the track is lost in this sector reason why you should try to not get too far away from it. Follow its south riverside in plain lands and with abundant forests until reaching Guidepost 17, corresponding to Camp II. It is a perfect place for a longer break, at the stream shore and well protected from winds in a beautiful wood of Lengas.

Segment 5

CAMP II- LAGO CHICO PENINSULA

  • Distance: 8,6 km.
  • Walking time: 3 hours 30 min.
  • Season: September to may

Observation of Lenga adult forest and bird species. Panoramic View Chico Lake and Gorra Blanca Hill.

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From Guidepost 17 continue for about 40 meters downstream, cross it and then take a small wooded ascent through a track that will lead you to a plain sector which you should cross. Run about 350 meters for these soft and wet land until crossing a small stream. From there consider a few meters until facing an open and more rocky land, where you should take your left with direction to the north.

At a few meters, you will cross a stunted Lenga forest and gradually going to the right and always in ascent considering the east rocky end of the hillside as destination. Do not confuse to arrive to a close mountain pass that you could see to the north.

After finishing the ascent you will arrive to Guidepost 18 , which is an interesting mirador of “Gorra Blanca” hill and the mountains of the upper sector of Chico glacier. If you want a better panoramic view, including the sights to the O´Higgins lake and Chico lake, we recommend to continue the tour to Guidepost 19 .

This SNUPIE is located in a rocky promontory sculpted by ice being a natural mirador at a few meters to the east and visually identified from the previous SNUPIE. Be careful of not exposing too long to the strong winds.

From Guidepost 19 , take the track again and continue down always through the hillside (north- east direction), going partially round the edge of the stream and listening to water at your left. If you lose the track, try to take referential direction to the O’Higgins lake, without getting far away the previous stream through lands where you will clearly observe that the forest is each time higher, a clear sign of our descent and closeness to the background of the main valley.

After continuing for not more than one hour, you will arrive to Guidepost 20, an ideal place to camp or to make a brief break before reaching the peninsula of Chico lake. In this place you could observe the native flora associated to virgin woods or birds, such as a Woodpecker with its red panache or – if you are lucky– a puma or fox unexpectedly.

From Guidepost 20, you leave the stream so that in a few meters, you begin the descent to the north. Please note that the track is well-marked until the peninsula of Chico lake, reason why you should not be confused. Anyway, at about 700 meters from the last SNUPIE, you will cross a small lagoon at the right, so later you continue with the descent through the wood until arriving to the division palisade of the site.

From this point, you will only have to run about 1 kilometer to end this segment, going through a marked track on an open hilly ground, which will directly lead you to the colonist’s house located in the sector and with whom you should agree the sewage crossing. We recommend you a longer break so that you have a pleasant rest, share and prepare the return.

Segment 6

LAGO CHICO PENINSULA – CANDELARIO MANSILLA DOCK

  • Distancia: 24,8 km.
  • Walking time: 8 hours.
  • Season: November to april

Colorado Hill Cord Crossing Observation O’Higgins Hill Cord. Panoramic View Chico Lake, Chico Glacier, Fitz Roy Mountain and Torre Hill.

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In this segment we begin the return to Candelario Mansilla. First of all, you should agree with the neighbors of the sector the crossing from Guidepost 7, located at the sewage edge of Chico lake. Upon planning the return, consider an appropriate time because of the extension and duration of the travel. The idea is to arrive to Candelario Mansilla with day light, and also have the opportunity to stop to enjoy the last panoramic sights of the O’Higgins cord and part of Campo de Hielo Sur, as well as the views of Fitz Roy Mountain and Torres hill in Guidepost 2.

If weather conditions are good to cross the mountain cord of Colorado Hill, we recommend to patiently wait in the Chico lake peninsula. Likewise, we recommend you to be advised by local inhabitants and not forget to notify your return to Carabineros de Chile.


Recommendations

  • This trekking is described in full detail in the following topoguide of the Ministery of Public Patrimony. The printed guide can be obtained for free in the Ministery:56-2-3512100 -> 2325. It is hihgly recommended to take it to the walk, as it enriches the experience with descrptions of flora, fauna, geography and geology.