12-Day Beginner Mountaineering in Patagonia, Chile

In the minds of climbers, Patagonia summons up legendary mystery and challenge. This vast region, encompassing the entire southern cone of South America, is a study in contrasts. From the fantastic forms of the Patagonia Andes to the endless flat grassland of the Pampa; from the world’s third largest ice cap to the untouched temperate rain forests; and from the cloud-draped saltwater fjords to the arid desert-like steppes, this land will surprise and delight. Located entirely within the countries of Argentina and Chile, this region enjoys contemporary development and technology while being very sparsely populated.

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This course is ideal for motivated and fit beginners and for those climbers who wish to review or enhance their skills. Our Patagonia classroom offers some of the finest mountaineering training ground available. Learning, practice and climbing time are maximized as we take advantage of the unique location of the Patagonia Frontiers base and its direct approaches and exclusive access into the mountains and onto the glaciers and peaks. We provide in-depth training in all phases of mountaineering and expedition travel. There are ample opportunities to put your skills to use on these magnificent and varied peaks in the heart of Chilean Patagonia. Learning and ascent opportunities are plentiful and we’ll match your skill level to the most appropriate training, summits and climbing goals. 

This course is specifically designed to increase the participant’s technical knowledge and skills in all aspects of snow, glacier and alpine mountaineering, and to establish mountain and expedition living skills that will serve as a solid base for future mountain endeavors. The course will develop educated, self-reliant climbers with the ability to evaluate, mitigate and manage subjective and objective mountain hazards, develop technical mountaineering skills and experience base, teach and practice Leave No Trace practices, leadership and communication techniques, risk analysis and judgment.

Day by Day at a Glance:

  • Day 1: Depart country of origin on international flight to Santiago, Chile (SCL).

  • Day 2: Arrive Santiago. Domestic flight to Balmaceda Regional Airport (BBA). Private transfer to Puerto Bertrand. Boat shuttle to Patagonia Frontiers Main Ranch. Overnight camp at Patagonia Frontiers, Main Ranch.

  • Day 3: Preparation and orientation day at Patagonia Frontiers Wilderness Ranch.

  • Day 4: Approach ascent to Contreras Valley. Overnight camp in Contreras Valley.

  • Day 5: Contreras Valley, Mountaineering skills review. Overnight camp in Contreras Valley.

  • Day 6: Contreras Valley, Mountaineering skills review. Overnight camp in Contreras Valley.

  • Day 7: Valley Zero, Mountaineering skills review and practice. Overnight camp in Valley Zero.

  • Day 8: Valley Zero, Mountaineering skills review and practice. Overnight camp in Valley Zero.

  • Day 9: Possible peak ascents throughout the program. Summits range from 2200m to 2600m (Hidden Peak, Contreras Peak, Rampart, Cerro Campamento, etc.) covering all mediums (rock, snow, ice, glacier and mixed) and a wide range of difficulty levels.

  • Day 10: Descend to Patagonia Frontiers Wilderness Ranch. Celebratory dinner, Overnight at ranch.

  • Day 11: Private transfer to Balmaceda Regional Airport. Domestic flight to Santiago. Begin international flight.

  • Day 12: Arrive final destination.

About this Course:

This location was hand-picked by John Hauf, founder and 14-year long director of NOLS Patagonia, an international outdoor leadership and mountaineering school located in the heart of Patagonia. After many years of mountaineering, exploring and teaching in the area, John purchased the ranch for its unique and privileged access to the countless surrounding mountains. These ranges contain a broad array of mountaineering opportunities, objectives whose level of challenge ranges from beginner to expert. Think of a private ranch embraced on all sides by peaks varying in similarity from the North Cascades Mountains in the Pacific Northwest to the giants of the Alaska Range and you’ll have an idea of Patagonia Frontiers mountaineering. Additionally, the reverse seasons between northern and southern hemispheres means that you’ll have access to glacial mountaineering when North American opportunities are extremely limited. The courses are excellent preparation for an Aconcagua or Denali climb, Elbrus or other Northern Hemisphere climbs the very next season.

From Santiago, Chile you’ll fly south to the Balmaceda airport near the town of Coyhaique, the regional capital and a growing town of 50,000. From here, you and your instructors continue south by vehicle along the Southern Longitudinal Highway to the picturesque village of Puerto Bertrand (pop. 227). There is a ten-mile boat ride to the base at Patagonia Frontiers wilderness ranch during which time you’ll have ample opportunity to view the snow-capped and glaciated peaks of the Cordón Soler, the Cordón Contreras, and the Northern Patagonia Icefield. Your team will finish final preparations at the ranch and depart for the mountains the next morning.

Approaches to the peaks are steep, but short, as our aim is to maximize climbing time. The expedition team will take the time necessary for an initial skills review and personalized curriculum and ascent plan. Then it’s time to enjoy the mountains and base camp where you’ll spend the rest of the expedition choosing your summits, honing your skills, and developing your experience. Depending upon the area that your instructor chooses as best suited to your goals and experience, you may receive horse or boat support for a portion of the approach or descent. The final night of your expedition is spent at the ranch house, sharing stories and enjoying a traditional Chilean barbeque, or asado.


Cordón Soler. This mountain range forms the southern border along the Patagonia Frontiers Wilderness Ranch. The range rises sharply from 200m/650ft in the valley to numerous summits ranging between 1800m/5904ft and 2200m/7216ft. Here, too is the Paulina Icefield, more modest in scope than the enormous Northern Patagonia Icefield, in view just up valley, but an excellent mountaineering classroom and scattered with enticing summit objectives. 

Cordón Contreras. These mountains form the northern border along the Patagonia Frontiers Wilderness Ranch. The Chilko River basin drains a series of six glacial cirques before flowing into Lago Plomo directly next to the Patagonia Frontiers base. It is our private road into the Contreras range and onto its many glaciers and peaks. Summits range from 1800m/5904ft to 2500m/8200ft and many of the peaks, Cerro Campamento, Cerro Contreras, and Cerro Horquetas for example, are visible from the ranch. This range is also home to Hidden Basin, a secret glacial bowl ringed with 360 degrees of mountains and offering unbounded opportunity to climb and to learn.

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