At the southern tip of the Americas lies magical, mystical Patagonia. She is a vast, remote, and storied region and home to some of our planet’s most sublime mountains—and extreme weather.
Taking in the region’s spires of granite and ice in the flesh sets Patagonian climbing dreams ablaze. Standing among the glaciers, alpine lakes, and green forests at the foot of her unique and tempting peaks, adventure stirs—a tingling mix of fear and excitement.
Patagonia, spanning more than 400,000 square miles across Argentina and Chile, is the real deal. In the same breath, she rattles and inspires. She promises a simpler pace of life, grand adventures, and can’t-make-this-up stories. She’s a moody land of extremes that pushes your buttons and tests your limits. In Patagonia, everything feels bigger, bolder, grander, and, yes, a bit more terrifying. For those who seek to know her walls and summit her peaks, she demands patience, preparation, experience, and time. Lots of time.
What exactly makes Patagonia a climber’s paradise? Climbers in four of the region’s most-storied locations share their thoughts.
It offers variety.
The Andes mountains run the length of Patagonia, providing countless walls begging to be climbed. From Bariloche to El Chaltén in Argentina and Coyhaique to Torres del Paine in Chile, the Patagonian Andes are a treasure trove for climbers seeking peace, solitude, and adventure.
“Wherever you look, you can climb,” says Chilean Nachita Mellado, 15, who climbs near Villa Cerro Castillo, south of Coyhaique. “There’s a wonderful landscape and endless possibilities to enjoy it.”
American Taylor Zehren, 23, who’s been climbing in Bariloche for a year, enjoys the wide range of climbing levels and opportunities for growth Patagonia has to offer.
“As somebody who isn’t a professional climber,” she says, “you have the opportunity to be climbing alongside incredible climbers. You can progress and progress and progress here because there’s such variety in the difficulty of the routes. It drives you to want to climb here more, learn more, and be around the people here that know so much.”
It’s home to unexplored summits.
Patagonia’s size, remote location, and climate curveballs yield quality routes and unconquered summits.
Chilean Javier Reyes Jerez, 27, has spent the past six summers climbing in and near Torres del Paine. He says, “Patagonia is a terrain of adventure with giant walls. Between what’s already been climbed and what remains to be explored, there’s a lot to discover.”
In El Chaltén, Argentine Horacio Gratton, 41, has been exploring the famous peaks that overlook the pueblo since he was 18 years old. “Here, you can still experience the savagery of the mountains,” he says. “There are unexplored valleys and still peaks without ascents. [Opportunities for first ascents are] not abundant in the world anymore. In Patagonia, they are.”
You can climb in solitude.
A distinguishing factor between Patagonia and other climbing meccas is that in Patagonia you can easily find yourself climbing alone.
“I think it gets harder as the outdoor culture expands to find isolation in the wilderness,” Zehren says. “Here, you put very little effort into being in this amazing wilderness completely alone. There are places that get busy, but if you want to be alone in Patagonia, you’re alone.”
It has its challenges.
Patagonia is home to a unique weather system that whips across the southern tip of South America. If you know Patagonia, you know the snow, rain, howling winds, and spots of sunshine are part of the thrill.
“Patagonia is nature in its purest state,” Gratton says. “The wild and hostile environment; the relentless wind; the conjunction of snowy mountains, lakes, and forests that merge into a huge desert to the ocean.”
As weather systems move from west to east, the Andes take the brunt of the beating. Windows for climbing Patagonia’s peaks are unpredictable, challenging, and often short-lived.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
“To know and climb Patagonia requires a lot of patience,” Jerez says. “Patagonia is very difficult to explore, and with the weather, you need a lot of time. One month is normally not enough because of the challenges Patagonia presents.”
Zehren adds that even on a fair-weather day you’re in for a challenge as the mountains themselves dish up some extraordinary terrain.
“Sometimes you go climbing and it makes you feel good about yourself,” she says. “In Patagonia, you come climbing and it makes you feel like you have a lot to learn.”
It won’t disappoint.
Sometimes torturous and always inspiring, Patagonia lives up to her reputation. If it’s possible to sum up the essence of Patagonia in words, Mellado and Gratton do it well.
“We simply have to enjoy Patagonia,” Mellado says. “The conditions are hostile, but that is her charm. Don’t run away from her. The wind, the rain, the snow, the cold, and the sketchiness—a dangerous-but-fun sketchiness—will always be here. You can learn to enjoy every one of these things. There’s nothing like her potential, her beauty, that mysterious magic that surrounds her.”
“For me, Patagonia’s mountains are unrivaled,” Gratton says. “Spires of rock and ice that rise into the sky. If we add to that the general environment—the rich nature, the giant glaciers, the virgin forests, the enormous desert, Patagonia’s coasts with penguins and whales, the people, the tourist towns where there is not robbery or crime, the distance from any politically dangerous place—then this makes Patagonia absolutely great.”
A hiker traverses the rocky landscape of Torres del Paine National Park. Located in southern Chile, the park was named a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve in 1978 and is home to four different ecological environments: Pre-Andean scrubland, deciduous Magellan forests, the Patagonia Steppe, and the Andean desert.