Walks in ice tunnels

A new option in Esquel, Chubut.

Bonnie Tucker / FST
The ice tunnels that form in dales between mountains in the Andes in southern Argentina come spring have launched a new, uncommon type of excursion in Esquel, Chubut. Hikers are taken as close as possible to the tunnel site in an overlanding vehicle, and cover the remaining distance on foot.

The prize, after several hours of walking, is to be able to stand in a great icy natural structure that by nature is ephemeral and will be seen by few people before its collapse beneath the onslaught of the temperature.
A tunnel forms when a thick mantle of snow that was compacted by its own weight in the winter is undercut by an icemelt stream in the spring.
The ice tunnel season in the area of the Los Alerces National Park can extend from November to March. It depends on how much snow accumulated during the winter. If it snowed a lot, the tunnels can reach a height of 7 or 8 meters and last for as long as 4 months.

This was not the case during the past two years because snowfall was scarce; hikers had to bend over to look in, and the tunnels lasted little more than a month.Three active tourism outfitters in Esquel offer this full day excursion. The difficulty of each tunnel depends on the hours of hiking necessary to reach it. In general terms, the ones that are closer to the city are the least difficult. In two hours the group leaves Esquel, drives up Mount La Torta on a dirt road with a few ravines (photo), and reaches a scenic lookout point just inside the tree line

From there they begin a hike up to the ice tunnel that will take another 2 or 3 hours round trip, depending on the fitness of all participants.
The excursion treats the traveler to a fascinating series of ecosystems in one of the most beautiful places in the Andes.
For more information on this excursion and multi-adventure weeks in the area, visit www.quehumanque.com.ar.

PHOTO CREDITS: Entrance to and interior of an ice tunnel in autumn 2007, and a sport utility vehicle on a difficult road, courtesy of Quehumanque