Patagonia Blog

Patagonia Preparations

Patagonia Preparations

Looking apprehensive on the first leg of the journey,

Looking apprehensive on the first leg of the journey,

It took me two days to reach the Patagonian town of El Chalten, 14 hours transatlantic flight, a three-hour connecting flight, 4 hours on buses, trains and a taxi, plus a 22-hour layover sitting in Buenos Aires airport waiting for my connection. I could have spent that time in a hotel but with a flight at 7.00am, I didn’t want to risk sleeping late and missing my connection. Plus who wants to rely on a 5.00am taxi in a strange city.

Arriving in El Chalten with 49kg of luggage and no taxis to get from bus station to hotel required some careful baggage selection. My trusty Samsonite wheeled suitcase was invaluable as has been my somewhat unusual choice of backpack.

It's unusual but it works

It’s a little unusual but it works well for me

Screen Shot 2015-07-28 at 15.58.16

Highly adaptable with snowshoes, ice axes and tripod

The camera is secure in the barrel

The camera is secure in the barrel

As seems to be the case so often with me the first days of a trip tend to provide the best conditions, so much so that you tend to find yourself taking them for granted and assuming each and every day will be the same. So you perhaps squander that time until day three brings rain, winds and cloudy skies leaving you wishing you’d been wiser with your time. Unfortunately, I had little option but to spend my first days sorting out somewhere safe to leave my equipment.

On day two I managed to put down a deposit on a small house that I’ll rent from April 4th until November 1st. The plan is to spend as little time as possible in the house, but I need some sort of a base. Despite unfavorable weather conditions I’ve still managed to get out in the park. Each day I’ve re-hiked the old trails and also discovered some new areas that I’d previously overlooked during my 2011 and 2012 trips.

The town itself has undergone little change, there’s a new gas station, which I’m told, has yet to run out of fuel. There’s now a bank, which is a great relief particularly to the businesses in town. It’s also helpful to know that the ATM is less likely to run out of cash, as was the previously the case. Currently, the black market rate for the U.S dollar stands around 11-12 pesos to the dollar whereas the official rate is nearer to 8 pesos on the dollar. With a basic meal costing around 200 pesos, it’s a good thing to bring out U.S dollars as the savings soon mount up.

Wi-Fi here in El Chalten is particularly bad, to the point where it’s only possible to get a connection at a few times a day and even then it can, and often does drop out mid-email. Sending data other than email is all but impossible; with hope, it should improve in the winter when fewer people are around to use it.

For now, I’m unable to add any photographs despite having several ‘almost’ shots. I’ve seen more rainbows the last few days than in the last three years combined, sadly none with the mountain visible.

I’ll keep working on it.

A few weeks to Departure Patagonia 2015

Patagonia a few weeks to departure

2015 will see me embark on one of my most ambitious photographic expeditions. On February 24th I will fly to Buenos Aires and shortly later travel down to El Chalten in Patagonia. It’s here I’ll be based for the majority of the year and I intend to photograph extensively throughout the fall, winter and spring.

El Chalten has very slow wifi so I’ll struggle to upload many images, however, I will try to do my best to keep this blog and upload images as and when possible.

I’ve been making numerous last minute preparations for my Patagonia adventure. 10 days on the coast of Northern Ireland gave me a taste of gale force winds and another similar stretch in Germany and Austria let me have a taste of snow conditions. It was however much closer to home that I had a real wake up call to the risks associated with using my Pacraft. For those who haven’t followed me on Facebook I’ll be taking a small inflatable raft with me to Patagonia which should allow me to access some otherwise inaccessible locations.


Flat calm conditions in Glacier N.P Montana

With plenty of time on my hands I decided to get some practise using the raft. Previously every time I’ve used it the conditions have been completely flat calm. If there’s one thing I can be sure of, it won’t be flat calm in Patagonia. So with a forecast showing over 50 knot gales I thought I’d get out on my local canal system and do an overnight paddle. England has a large network of canals, built during the industrial revolution they were our transport network prior to the automobile.

Dont-throw-(1)    A screen grab showing the wind speed in knots that morning.

The closest canal the Leeds – Liverpool provided a good testing ground. Never having paddled the thing for more than a couple of miles at any one time I was pleasantly surprised that having gone through ‘the burn’ I was able to paddle quite efficiently for upwards of 3 hours. I spent that first evening camped in a tiny one man bivvy tent, with the fabric stretched as tight as a drum I heard every raindrop falling inches from my face.

It was evident the moment I woke that the weather forecast was accurate. A howling gale whistled through the trees threatening to let fly anything not held securely at hand. Fortunately the wind was blowing from the west, I knew I should soon be flying along. Managing to get into the water without incident I was soon slipping through the water at a mind blowing 4 or 5 knots. Stopping to put my gloves on I let the paddle rest at my knees, no sooner had I taken my hands from the paddle before the wind took it from me and dumped it in the water. I’d previously told myself I would need to tie the paddle to the raft but hadn’t deemed it necessary for such a basic trip. My immediate reaction was to grab for the paddle but in doing so I tipped myself straight into the water.

At that moment the raft, backpack, paddle and myself all parted company. The backpack floated away, and the raft took off like a funfair balloon. Thankfully I grasped the paddle before it sank. Once on the bank I took off after my pack which was still floating downstream. Sealed in a trash bag the pack had little chance of sinking and I soon retrieved it from the water.

At this point I was on the wrong side of the bank, I had no path in which to follow, only a marshy quagmire. I made the decision to leave my pack and swim back across the canal whilst holding the paddle. As a kid I’d swam very close to here and it’s no big deal, barely 50′ across but with such a strong wind I was pushed downstream and consequently kept in the frigid waters for longer than I would have liked. Once upon the opposite bank I took off jogging in the hope of catching up with my raft. My waterproof pants now sopping wet and weighed down with stinky canal water wouldn’t stay around my waist. My fingers were too numb with cold to fix the waist buckle so I had to run holding the paddle in one hand and the waistband of my pants with the other. Thankfully there were no early morning dog walkers to witness the spectacle.

Some half a mile further on I found the raft caught up in reeds resting on my side of the bank. I remember looking at it as I approached convinced it would take off again before I could retrieve it. I’d half expected to find it caught in a barbed wire fence so I was immensely grateful to get it back in one piece.

At this point I still had to carry the raft back against the wind in order to retrieve my backpack.

Once I had everything retrieved I carried on paddling to the nearest city before boarding the train home. I’ve taken this a as a serious reminder just what I am thinking of undertaking in Patagonia.