The total mass of the Northern and Southern Patagonia Ice Fields is huge; around 20,000 km2; yet, this enormous area is only a tiny fragment (about 4%) of the original Patagonia Ice Sheet, which covered all of the South of Chile and parts of Argentina during the most recent Llanquihue Glaciation, which peaked between 17,500 to 18,000 years ago. During your visit to Caleta Tortel, you will be within a few hours of both of the Patagonia Ice Fields; it is a unique opportunity to visit these amazing vestiges of an ancient world.
The Northern Patagonia Ice Fields and the Steffen Glacier
This huge mass of continental ice is located within the Laguna San Rafael National Park, home to several glaciers, including Steffen, Exploradores, Nef, Leones, Solar, San Rafael, and also the highest peak in the southern Andes, Monte San Valentin (4,058 m). From Caleta Tortel, you can visit the southernmost sector of this expanse of ice: Steffen Valley and Glacier, named for the German explorer and geographer, Hans Steffen, who was one of the first to explore the Region, around 1900.
The 35 Km round-trip boat tour takes around 10 hours, depending on the style of boat. You’ll leave from the docks in Caleta Tortel and wind your way through the southern fjords, passing islands with beautiful waterfalls and forests and abundant bird and marine mammal life. On your approach to the glacier’s bay, you will be surrounded by thousands of icebergs that now fill the waterway. These provide your first indications of a unique world, receding from the ice after tens of thousands of years. Once inside the bay, you’ll have views of the Huemules River and the forests that are forming with more and more force as the glacier continues its retreat. Keep alert for huemules that frequent the beaches and cliff area, and enjoy the beautiful contrasts between the ice and the park’s ever-growing lands. After a break for photos and a snack, you’ll begin your way back to Caleta Tortel through the beautiful waters of the fjords.
The Southern Patagonia Ice Field and the Jorge Montt Glacier
As you travel through the southern reaches of the Baker - O’Higgins Area, you’ll have the chance to visit the Southern Patagonia Ice Fields, the third largest extension of continental ice in the world, surpassed only by Antarctica and Greenland. The Southern Patagonia Ice Fields have a total area of 16,800 km² and 49 glaciers that descend from the mass, including Perito Moreno (Argentina), Gray, Pius XI, O’Higgins, and the Jorge Montt Glacier, which is accessed via maritime navigation, from Caleta Tortel.
The Jorge Montt Glacier is one of the fastest-receding glaciers in the world, documented to lose approximately one kilometer of mass each year. The retreat of the ice produces an overwhelming number of icebergs floating in the waters, and is revealing new fjord mass with depths in excess of 390 m. To visit, you’ll travel 3 to 4 hours by boat from Caleta Tortel, accompanied by a variety of marine bird life and sea mammals, like dolphins and sea lions. As you approach the bay, you will be accompanied by an ever greater number of crystal blue icebergs until you feel as if you are navigating through a surreal icy maze. The glacier tongue snakes down from the Ice Fields at the far end of the bay. After time in the bay and a short walk onto the ice (if it’s safe), you’ll start the return navigation to Tortel, with a few hours more to disconnect and immerse yourself in the surreal landscapes.