Martial Glacier and setting sail down the Beagle Channel… Antarctica bound!

1 March

Tech issues galore…

After our big day hiking around Laguna Esmerelda and meeting some of our fellow cruise passengers, I had hoped for a good nights sleep. We’d had lots of late nights with travel and the Argentinians love of eating late. I got back to my room and found out that my camera card reader had died since the previous night, so I couldn’t get any of the day’s photos off the camera, nor back them up. My laptop was also having battery issues. It had been fine when I left Canberra but by Sydney it had decided it was not going to stay charged if it wasn’t plugged in – not ideal for 3 weeks of travel and lots of photo editing!

The card reader not working was a major problem and it seems I had left the 1 cable I needed to be able to read directly off the camera, at home. No amount of virtual tech support from Anto was helping and I was too tired to think straight, so decided to leave it until the next day and hope it started working!

As we were boarding the ship the next afternoon and I would have limited internet and no chance of a video chat. I set an alarm for 4am, in 4 hours time, so I could catch up with all the kids before they headed off to school for the day.

2 March – early wake ups….

I was not a fan of that alarm, but I did get to see the kids and they got to see my panda eyes! I of course couldn’t get back to sleep for a very long time afterwards, and eventually fell back asleep for about 20 minutes before my alarm went off. We needed to have our bags out early for pick up to take to the ship, so reluctantly dragged myself out of bed.

The view over the Beagle Channel was again pretty, although there were a few storm clouds brewing. I took my bags down to the drop off point and didn’t see Mum down there. She hadn’t answered my knocks on her door on the way past, so I assumed she was already at breakfast, having not been up half the night trying to get photos of the camera and talk to kids!

She was not in the breakfast room either, so after I’d had a quick coffee I went and searched her out and she finally woke up to my messages and knocking. She’d overslept and had 15 minutes to get her bags packed and downstairs.

Once that was under control we had a more leisurely breakfast and settled on the plan for the day. I was going to do the Martial Glacier hike and Di would stay back at the hotel as her feet were pretty sore from the hike the day before. I was also concerned it was too steep for her and not a good idea when she couldn’t wear hiking boots due to her broken toes. She thought a day in a warm hotel was a better idea than icy hikes with me. Anna and Martin, who I’d met the night before at dinner, and were also travelling on our cruise, were still keen for the same hike. So we made plans to meet up once I’d gotten my day bags into my mum’s room and checked out of my room.

Glacier Martial…..

The Glacier Martial hike takes you up the mountains behind Ushuaia and gives wonderful views over the town and out to the Beagle Channel. It is one of the most popular hikes to do around Ushuaia.

I’d decided to tackle this one today, as although our hotel is not overly convenient to the main part of town, it was very convenient to the glacier hike. The starting point is Refugio de Montana where there is a teahouse (La Cabana). Most people drive or get a taxi to this spot as it’s a long and steep hike up the mountain before the hike even starts. The hotel is only 1.6km from the Teahouse, so we set off just before 9.30am, following the winding road up behind the hotel. The hike is rated at 3-4 hours (from the carpark near the Teahouse) so we had plenty of time to be back before our 3pm pick up from the hotel and transfer to the ship.

The day had cleared beautifully and it looked a great morning to get some amazing views. We even spied our ship (among several others) down at the port and the level of excitement was high!

Anna and Martin are from Melbourne and were a bit over a month into a 5 month trip all over the world, so we had plenty to talk about!

The hike up to the Teahouse was on sealed road and only averaged about 5-7% gradient, making it the easiest bit of the day. The views were already magnificent, the blue skies, sun glistening off the channel and snow on the peaks. We could see the glacier up in front of us, way, way up!

In a bit over 20 minutes we’d made it to the official ‘start point’ of the hike. Obligatory photos done! Martin got a crash course in using my camera so there were actual photos of me and he had a great time getting to play photographer!

As we passed the teahouse the trail up to the glacier got much steeper. It was lovely and wide and just headed straight up, a bit of a workout for the legs!

The path was quite rocky but fairly easy walking except for the gradient which was 15-20% for the majority of this section. I was already glad I’d left Mum back in the hotel, she wouldn’t have enjoyed the steepness. Meanwhile we were rewarded with amazing views behind us back over the port and Beagle Channel.

There were quite a few hikers out on the trail, mostly heading up at this time of the morning. We passed a few that looked like they didn’t have the right sort of shoes and sure enough we saw them turn back as it got higher and rockier.

The trail follows a river on the right hand side. The hotel staff had told us there was an alternate trail that follows the river path, we had intended to take this in one direction but never found the starting point. Not to worry, the trail we took was plenty scenic enough. We soon hit the first of our snow and ice covered bridges – again we were glad for hiking boots!

Despite the steep gradients and ice, the sun was out and it was warm enough to take jumpers off as we slogged up the hill.

The weather was definitely very random during the morning, we had beanies, gloves and coats on for sections and then all off again 5 minutes later. It was only about 4 degrees when we left the hotel but made it to almost 9 degrees at one point. Except when the cloud came over and the icy wind came up and it was back to a wind chill below zero!

As we kept going up we could see the glacier getting closer. The name of Glacier Martial comes from an explorer by the name of Luis Fernando Martial. He was the head of a French scientific expedition that arrived around Ushuaia in 1883.

We were now approaching the snow line, it might have been only 2 days since Summer officially ended in Argentina, but there was still plenty of snow around these parts!

Sections of the trail became very rocky and slippery. The trails were generally quite well marked and we quickly learnt which of the markers indicated the least steep trail. There were plenty of people picking their way up the winding tracks and all but the mountain goats were trying to pick the least steep routes. Every time we thought we were getting closer to the glacier we’d spy another line of people-ants in the distance and think ‘uh oh we are going up that!’.

The snow and ice was becoming more frequent and the majority of the final 2km was scree, much of which was icy. The average gradient was over 22% but we hit an impressive 32% at one point!

Being it a group of 3 definitely paid off as we made sure no-one slipped over and made a human chain for some sections. With hiking poles it would have been a little easier but it was definitely manageable as long as we took it carefully. I was slightly concerned about how much I was going to be sliding down on my bottom on the return trip but for now the views were simply stunning.

After an hour and 45 minutes we were on the final, very steep stretch. We were now at 840m above sea level and on exposed rock face so it was rather cold!

At the top we were right at the mouth of the glacier and it was time for a little rest and to take in the views. A few people were venturing up onto the glacier but without ice hiking gear it wasn’t recommended. We were happy to enjoy the view from here….

Our awaiting ship was now just a tiny speck in the distance! Two beautiful Patagonian hikes in 2 days and I was a bit sad I wasn’t going to get time for any more, but I think I picked 2 of the best. Very different scenery from each other but both stunning.

I’m fairly sure the weather in Patagonia takes lessons from that of Melbourne, 4 seasons in one day, or even an hour! The clouds started rolling in and we thought we’d better head back down.

We made good time on the return journey, despite the wind picking up and getting snowed on for periods. We even made it down the the steep sections with no-one ending up on their bottom!

By the time we made it back down the the Teahouse we had all our layers back on and we could barely see the glacier behind us, the fog and snow had rolled in. We had definitely had the best of the weather for the day! Anna and Martin were fabulous walking companions and we had a great morning adventure, one which could only be beaten by the Antarctic adventure we were about the embark on….

Anna and Martin decided to stop at the Teahouse for some lunch. I bid them a temporary farewell so I could get back to the hotel and figure out if I could solve my camera card reading issue. I had all these amazing photos from the last 2 days and no way of getting them off the camera!

I made it back to the hotel just on 1pm, having covered exactly 10km and 625m elevation.

Irish coffees and empanadas…..

By the time I got back to the hotel I was cold and a little bit hungry, and quickly found Di had taken up residence in the lounge, along with many of the other Ocean Endeavour passengers. It was now past check out time, so the lounge and restaurant were filling up with excited guests waiting for our 3pm pick up.

Di had established the bar made a decent Irish coffee and she figured I needed one and some empanadas to warm me up. I didn’t bother arguing and definitely felt better once I’d eaten something.

I confirmed Di would not have enjoyed that hike, given it’s steepness and her broken toes and lack of hiking boots. I’d left her with a task to try and find out a way for me to fix my tech issues and she had successfully determined there was a camera shop in town that likely had the right equipment.

On a mission…..

With directions and enough words translated, I got the hotel to order me a taxi, changed some more US dollars for Argentinian peso and high-tailed it into town. My taxi driver as usual spoke no English but with my bits of paper with translated directions, a few sentences of bad Spanish and plenty of hand signals he got me to the camera shop and agreed to wait for me to return.

I was lucky enough to find an employee who spoke flawless English so I could explain properly what I needed. Things were looking up as he thought he had the correct reader or at least cables, but after searching could not find them. He did offer to call another store in town that was opening later in the day (it was currently siesta time) or order one in, but neither option was going to work as it was only an hour before boarding time. Oh well, at least I’d tried. Back to my taxi and the kind driver had even paused the meter while I was in the store, which I hadn’t at all expected. He promptly got me back up the mountain and I was more than happy to give him a tip for his kindness.

Time for Plan B……

With no immediate way to solve my photo problems, I went to plan B. My mum had also found another photographer in the hotel, who just happened to also have a Mac laptop and had the correct card reader. Katie, was a travel writer for Chimu Adventures and was heading to Antarctica with us. She was happy to lend me her card reader to quickly grab off my last couple of days shots so I could back them up, and borrow it on the ship if I needed to. I was hoping with a bunch of photographers on the ship also doing the photography program there would someone with the right card reader to get me through, so I was feeling better about things!

I quickly sent out some goodbye messages to the kids and Anto as the buses were pulling up to the hotel. With no data I was about to lose Wifi. I planned to purchase some internet on the ship but knew we wouldn’t be able to talk much for the next 11 days.

The adventure begins

At 3pm exactly all of the Ocean Endeavour guests from our hotel (half were also staying at another hotel slightly further down the mountain) were bundled onto our awaiting coaches with our day bags. The excitement was very real but we all knew there was a lot of waiting ahead…..

It was a quick 10 minute drive down to town….. yes another winding trip down the mountain, but this one in a coach of excited chatting passengers.

As we’d established when watching the ships in port for the day, from up the mountain, the Ocean Endeavour was the smallest of the cruise ships currently in port. At only 195 passengers, it definitely wasn’t a big ship but it still took plenty of time to get us all sorted. Room cards handed out and instructions for embarkation given, we were off the bus and out into the cold to board. There was a slight hiccup with Di not being able to find her passport to hand over but she was desperately hoping she’d just put it in her luggage rather than her day bag.

An hour and a half after leaving the hotel, we’d made it the 7km from the hotel to the ship and were actually boarding!

We were escorted to our cabins where our luggage was waiting and we were indeed in cabins next to each other, both on the 4th floor. Mum had originally booked this cruise 5 years earlier and had gotten a single cabin in a special deal. With all the covid interruptions I had decided I’d like to tag along too and was lucky enough to get them to give me the same deal, so we both had single cabins. Albeit, the windowless cheap ones! I wasn’t fussed, I planned to spend little time in my room and when covid delays meant another couple of years wait for the trip, I didn’t really care where I ended up on the ship.

That said, I was pretty happy with the size of the cabin for 1 person. A whole extra bed to shove my camera gear on, and a bathroom small enough you can brace yourself against walls when rocking and rolling!

With a quick unpack before our Muster drills, Di located her passport (phew!), she’d thrown it in the wrong bag when in a panic to get out in a hurry after her accidental sleep in.

We checked our program for the evening and headed for an explore of the ship……

Farewell Ushuaia…..

After we completed our compulsory muster drills we headed up to the outside decks for the sailing out. As we excitedly chatted to other passengers and crew, we started to move, albeit slowly!

I spied Martial Glacier way up the mountain in the distance, it was only that morning I’d hiked up there but it felt like much longer. We were now moving into the main event of this trip!

Ushuaia put on some dramatic clouds and light for our sailing out. I was hoping to get a little more time to explore on our return, but for now we set sail down the Beagle Channel with a few seabirds circling overhead.

All the things to come…..

The crew delayed our daily briefing so we can hang around on deck and watch the mountains slip past us. Soon it was time to head to the lounge for the nightly ritual of the daily briefing, accompanied by a few drinks. There was plenty of ground to cover on the first night with meting all the crew and learning all the protocols and procedures. The excitement of all the things that we would be doing during our Antarctic adventures was building as they talked about the places were going to visit.

Finally it was off to dinner. The restaurant is big enough to hold all the crew and passengers at once, but they normally split the dinner sittings by half an hour to give the poor staff a chance to catch up. We ended up in the second group for the night and were now rather hungry, that empanada was along time ago!

Our first of many buffets we sat with Karolina, an Ushuaia travel agent, who was great to talk to. We caught up alot during our days at sea. This was her third trip to Antarctica, all on different ships, reviewing them for different clients.

After dinner Di had to go and attempt to swap her puffer jacket that didn’t fit well, luckily mine was fine and then our first night in the Drake Passage awaited. 

At the daily briefing the crew had said the forecast for the Drake Passage crossing was looking fairly favourable. We were all crossing our fingers for Drake Lake!

As the sunset on our first night at sea I had one last visit to the deck to see the sunset over Ushuaia. It was going to be awhile before we saw land again. Our 2 days in Patagonia had been beautiful but the best was definitely still to come…..

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