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Expedition watch: Northern Patagonia Ice Cap crossing

Posted: Oct 18, 2012 05:43 pm EDT

(Newsdesk) Irish Mike O'Shea and Clare O'Leary and Canadian Bill Hanlon are to attempt the North Patagonian Ice Cap in October-November with Norwegian guide, Bengt Rotmo. They will be joined by fifth member.

The team leaves home on Sunday, October 21. Their transport will include flights, a bus ride, two days with horses before they eventually start sledge-hauling. It will take in the region of a month for the team to complete the crossing. This Ice Cap is the 5th largest in the world and has only ever been crossed by a handful of people.

Bengt Rotmo, who lead a 2007-08 South Pole ski expedition from Hercules Inlet, has crossed the Northern Patagonia Ice Cap twice, last year and in 2009 with Børge Ousland and Thorleif Nøkleby.

Clare and Bill have both summited Everest and skied from Hercules Inlet to the South Pole. Bill told ExplorersWeb he is still doing remote area medicine/improvising in areas with few resources and have been working in northern Pakistan recently. He will be heading to Bhutan after Patagonia.

Mike told ExWeb he and Clare wanted to do a training trip for their next year’s North Pole expedition and “this tied in lovely”.

There are two Patagonian Ice Caps. The Southern Ice Cap spreads from Jorge Glacier (N) to Balmaceda glacier (S); it is 350 km long. The Northern Ice Cap is located between 46° and 47° South, being 120 km long and 30 km wide.

The surface of the Northern Patagonian Ice Cap is at about 1200/1500m of altitude. However, the area includes the highest peak in Patagonia: Mt. San Valentin, almost 4000m.

The Southern Patagonia Ice Cap, or Hielo Patagonio Sur, is 400 km by 80 km. The cap is long and narrow. It has been crossed several times east/west and west/east, as this direction is shorter and the main difficulties of the glacier can be avoided. But only once before has the cap been crossed in its full length.

There are two main obstacles on the route: The first obstacle consists of a wall that must be climbed to reach the Glacier. The second - and worst - obstacle is a big rift with a huge ice fall right in the middle of the glacier.

In 1998/99 Chileans Pablo Besser, Rodrigo Fica, Jose Montt, and Mauricio Rojasa achieved the first and only complete crossing of the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap. However, their trip can’t be considered unsupported, since they used a pre-placed cache.

The first traverse of the Northern Patagonic Ice Cap was achieved by British explorer Eric Shipton, accompanied by Spaniard Miguel Gómez and Chileans Eduardo García and Cedomir Marangunic in the (austral) summer of 63-64 – their 37-day-long traverse was not complete though, since they exited the ice by the flank of Cerro Arenales. The first complete traverse from San Rafael to Steffen Glacier (N-S) was done by a French team led by Ilario Previtali. The team also climbed Mt. San Valentin on the way, completing the feat in only 26 days in March 1993.

In the winter of 2006 Pablo Besser (leader), Nicolás Von Graevenitz and Francisco Urzua) completed the traverse of the Northern Patagonia Ice Cap. Pablo claims this has been the first complete crossing of the Northern Ice Cap achieved in winter - a double success for Besser, since he was also on the team that first crossed the (larger) Southern Ice Cap back in 98/99.

Related links:

Patagonia Ice Cap wrap-up: Spectacular views

ExWeb interview with Bill Hanlon, highlighting the health needs of remote communities

ExWeb interview with Mike O'Shea, “The nature of the NP trip will require us to deal with whatever is thrown”

ExWeb interview with Clare O'Leary: flying the female flag among 15 men

Bengt Rotmo and team at the South Pole

Ousland, Rotmo, Nøkleby Patagonia photos on Flickr

This expedition (and other expeditions with RSS feeds) can be followed in the live Dispatch stream at the Pythom App for iPhone and on Android as well as at ExplorersWeb.

ExplorersWeb Expedition List


Bengt Rotmo, Børge Ousland and Thorleif Nøkleby crossing the North Patagonian Ice Cap November 2009.
Image by Borge Ousland courtesy Borge Ousland, SOURCE
2009 expedition.
courtesy Borge Ousland
Bengt Rotmo 2009 on the Ice Cap.
Image by Borge Ousland courtesy Borge Ousland, SOURCE