As I’ve got a busy few days ahead, today was packing day and here it is, pretty much packed for the adventure, with only last minute things to do on Wednesday when I get on the plane.

Of course there was last minute agonising over what lens to take, whether to take a flash or not and discovering my external hard drive was nearly out of space, which required a quick dash to the shops for a spanking new 1TB drive.

In the end I’ve opted for my Canon 6D with a 17-40mm and 100-400mm lens as the primary system plus flash; a back up system of the Fuji XE-1 with a 18-55mm and a 55-200mm lens; the Fuji X-100 in a dry bag to play with when in the kayak and the GoPro to take video with. Regarding the latter I’m still trying to decide whether to use a head mount or a chest harness, but will play it by ear and see what comes up trumps. The new Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head are coming too and should help with getting sharp photos and panoramas.

Now all that’s left is getting on all the various planes that are going to take me to Longyearbyen. Showtime!

Aarn Featherlite Freedom review

Back in October 2012 I blogged that I had bought the Aarn Featherlite Freedom backpack, but until November 2013 I didn’t really have an opportunity to take it out into the field. A good friend of mine emailed me today asking whether I had used the new pack on my Patagonia trip and that made me realise that whilst I had written about the walks themselves, I had not specifically written about the pack, so I thought I’d do that in a post now.

Previously I’ve always used my very trusty Macpac Torre pack on overnight and multiple day hikes. I bought that years ago and it seems to be indestructible. But it is also heavy and I’ve been looking for ways to lighten the load I carry and for how I carry it. The Aarn Featherlite Freedom seemed to be the answer and so in November last year the first thing was figuring out how to pack it with everything that I was going to need for the trip.

When you pack at home for a trip, you think you’ve got the configuration worked out on how everything goes into the pack, but then you get to the location, buy your gas canisters, your food and bingo, you have a new equation to work with. With the Torre I had so much space that I never really needed to give too much serious thought on what to take and often ended up bringing too much. No such luxury with the Aarn. The volume is significantly less than what I had with the Torre, so it takes thought and planning on what to take and how to pack it. Add to that adapting to new locations for water bottles, camera, snacks, sunscreen and sunglasses and it takes a few goes before you have it right. So it was good that I started out hiking in Los Glaciares on my own, which gave me the opportunity to get the hang of the pack, find the best places for all the equipment and the perfect configuration of everything.

I used two one-litre water bladders that slide neatly in the mesh pockets of the front pockets and are very easy to get out and back in. Most of the food went into the right front pocket, with first aid and camera going into the left front pocket. I particularly loved having the camera so easily accessible and not bothering me around my waist as previously. It also helped that I ditched the DSLR and opted for a Fuji X-E1. At about half the weight it was a joy to carry around and I found myself using it much more than I would have an DSLR. I found that having the drinking bladders and snacks in the front made stops really easy. Often I wouldn’t even take the pack off.

One other thing that I had to adjust to a little was the easiest way to put the pack on. There are a lot of straps and buckles and you have to find your own way around those. I would put the pack on while putting my arms through the straps, but then tuck the forearms back underneath the front pockets to secure the hip buckle, then take them out i front of the pockets to click them into place. Sounds complicated, but it wasn’t once I figured out my sequence.

After Los Glaciares I joined the group around Torres del Paine and that is when I had to figure out how to accommodate more food, given that we all had to carry substantial amounts for the 9-day trek. I solved that by putting the heavier food in the front pockets and the lighter stuff in the main compartment in the back. That initially left no space for my tent, but I had brought a dry bag for that purpose and slid the tent in there and clipped it to the top of the pack. Once we started getting through the food supplies, the tent could go back into the backpack. So that all worked fine too.

The pack stood up well in the weather conditions and everything stayed beautifully dry in it. Although I carried the same quantity of things as my fellow hikers, my pack looked smaller and felt lighter (also because a lot of my equipment is super lightweight). It also moves with the body much better and I was pleased to see that not once I did a ‘upside turtle’, which I have been known to do with the Macpac. I was also much more sure footed, which made river crossings so much easier that I was usually the first or second one across (do I hear gasps of surprise from my usual bushwalking buddies?!).

I did get a few funny looks and comments, but once people tried the pack on or saw me walk completely upright with it, they were quickly intrigued by it and asking where it was from, who manufactured it.

So to wrap this up: for me the pack receives a big tick of approval and I would only really use the Macpac again if I had to take much more than what would reasonably fit into the Aarn. I probably would try to avoid that at any cost. I better start planning another trip…

Glaciers, mountains, tempests and strikes


Just back in El Calafate from Fitzroy and arrived in the midst of drama: the wind is howling at close to 100kms per hour cancelling all flights in and out of the place. To add insult to injury, the Chilean border guards have decided to go on strike and are not letting people through, except very piecemeal. So Agustina at La Estepa had bad news for me when I arrived this afternoon, that the bus tomorrow is cancelled, putting at risk the whole Torres del Paine part of my trip. An hour later we found out they will go, but don’t expect to cross the border until 5pm tomorrow, so it is going to be a long day and will be a case of embracing the unexpected. If I still don’t make it in time for the trek, I will take that as a sign from some higher power that I am not to do this trek. Twice unlucky in one year?!

Meanwhile, Fitzroy and El Chalten where magnificent and an absolute delight. I was blessed with medium to excellent weather; the day I arrived was windy and spitted a bit, but nothing too bad. First night was at Campamento De Agostini, near Cerro Torre, for me one of the most beautiful mountains in the world and I was keen to see it, but it had been shrouded in cloud on the walk in. After setting up my tent I had a wee rest, despite the fact that the walk wasn’t hard, but hey, it’s a holiday too! My new pack needed a few adjustments, but otherwise all good and the new sleeping mat is a dream – I was out for the count. Woke up at around 6pm from my snooze and decided to meander down to the lake to see how things were from a visibility point of view and was rewarded for braving the furious wind that howled off the lake in which floated various large chunks of blue ice, because the clouds were slowly unveiling Cerro Torre. I spent quite a bit of time in the hope she would reveal all, but she kept her summit covered, but I was still grateful for the view I had and the moody pictures it enabled me to take. Returned to my tent a happy camper. Dinner, sadly, wasn’t much chop. The freeze dried meals I had bought in São Paulo where not very nice or tasty, but I didn’t have much choice. Sleep on the other hand came fast again.


The next morning the wind was strong and shaking the tent. After breakfast – can’t go wrong with porridge – I packed up and headed out to Poincenot campsite via the Laguna Madre y Hija trail. It spitted a bit more than the previous day, but it was still fine to walk in. Strong winds though. The lagunas were very pretty and would have been a nice place to stop if it hadn’t been for the wind. I reached Poincenot campsite in about 3 hours, found myself a good spot and set up the tent and, yes, retired again for a nanna nap. At 5pm I realised that the winds had died down quite a bit, the spitting rain had stopped and when I stuck my head out of the tent I found that the clouds had cleared and showed Mt Fitzroy clear and visible. I decided there and then to tackle the 500 vertical metres uphill to Laguna de las Tres while the mountain was free of clouds. Who knew what tomorrow would bring? I think I almost ran the first third, but after that slowed considerably because it is a very steep trail. Laboured up and encountered only people descending, so when I finally came to the frozen shores of Laguna de las Tres I had the place to myself. It was almost eerie sitting there, taking it all in and trying to capture it in photos. It is truly magnificent and yes, the Laguna was frozen and snowed over, so I was glad to have taken my down jacket. I ambled down towards the lake to skirt around and reach the point where I could see down into Laguna Sucia, which is not dirty, quite the contrary a piercing turquoise and not frozen and looks pretty inaccessible. Back down at camp at around 8pm I ate another tasteless freeze-dried meal and felt I had earned my sleep.

The next morning was beautiful, with blue skies and Fitzroy was cloud free and magnificent. My original plan was to do Piedras Blancas today and chill out with a book! but then I figured with the weather so good I should do Piedras Blancas and try to push on to Valle Electrico. The trail to Piedras went along the riverbed of the Rio Blanco and was not too bad, but had a few ankle twisting rocks in there. I arrived at the Piedras at the same time as a couple from Buenos Aires and we tried to find the way to the lake. At first it was ok, but then it got more and more difficult climbing over great boulders and shortly before the lake I knew I had gone as far as I could manage and turned around. Sense had to prevail, particularly on your own. Even so had difficulty locating my pack again, lost my protective wraps for my camera and a bit of my confidence by the time I had relocated my pack and myself again. Had a bit of lunch to get a grip on things again and then started looking for the river crossing and then realised my best option was to return to Poincenot. The crossing was too high (for me anyway, and I can see friends’ heads nodding in agreement) and well, it just didn’t feel right. So I returned and found my spot again for my tent, but also found I had new neighbours who turned out to be a bit of a nightmare. Still can’t figure out where they were from, but they were a bunch of selfish shits, with no respect for others in that campsite. That night after retiring to bed, they arrived back from a walk, proceeded to occupy the logs in my little patch of camp and yabbered and smoked away. When I got up to go to the toilet I literally found them sitting facing my tent about 1.5 metres away from where I was trying to sleep blowing cigarette smoke my way. I looked at them and said “well, if you are really going to sit here at least you could do the courtesy of not smoking; you are really bothering me”. They looked sheepish and shortly afterwards retired to their own tents, but then continued to talk and giggle for hours. At least I had ear plugs, but by 5am someone in the campsite obviously had enough, told them to stop it and when they didn’t take that seriously proceeded to kick them through the tent, which finally shut them up. I must say I harboured my own violent thoughts towards them, so can’t really blame the guy, but geez, what a night!

Walked back to El Chalten the next morning, which was quite a way downhill, but a lovely walk for me (maybe not so much for those labouring uphill). Found a warm and welcoming hostel. Probably could have gone for something more upmarket, but it was cosy and welcoming and it rather grew on me during my two days there. Did some washing, read my book and booked for a trip to the Viedma Glacier the next day, which was very nice. Was pleased that two Americans picked me as an Aussie for my accent; given my mix of languages that doesn’t happen very often. That night I probably had the best Waldorf salad ever in Pangea; highly recommended.


This morning it was an 8am bus back to El Calafate in ferocious winds. I had just enough time for a quick lunch before taking the bus to Perito Moreno, which was enormous compared to Viedma and calved off a few pieces of ice while I was there. The colours of these glaciers are really remarkable. They go from the lightest blue to periwinkle to indigo. I hope my photos have captured it to some extent, but nothing is as good as seeing it.


Just finished a massive bife de chorizo at Don Pinchon and still polishing off a bottle of Malbec from Rutini wines. Life is good. We’ll see what tomorrow brings and whether I make it to the Torres del Paine. If there is a long hiatus between posts, I will have made it, if not, you’ll hear more tales from me sooner wherever I may end up.