"It's emotional" – why have hikers been banned from this popular Patagonia glacier?

solo backpacking: glacier hike
The glacier has been permanently closed to hikers citing safety concerns (Image credit: Getty)

A Patagonian glacier that has been popular with adventure-seeking trekkers for the past 20 years has been permanently shut to hikers following safety concerns. The Exploradores Glacier in Chile's Laguna San Rafael National Park can only be reached by boat, but many visitors don winter hiking boots and trek across it, which takes around four hours.

Exploradores is considered one of the most exciting glaciers to watch because of the huge chunks of ice that regularly fall, or calve, off. However, government officials are now concerned the glacier's dynamism is on the verge of becoming dangerous for glacier hiking and have banned the activity. 

The move by Chile’s National Forestry Corporation comes on the heels of a two-week study by government hydrologists which found that the glacier is reaching a dangerously unstable “inflection point” due to global warming.

In an email dated October 31, the department which oversees Chile's National Parks wrote of “evident risks and uncertainty" regarding the behavior of the glacier.

“Conditions are not safe for ecotourism activities on the Explorers Glacier,” it read.

The study was prompted after a huge chunk of ice calved off the glacier on October 6, a warning sign to scientists of impending instability that may become more frequent, and risky.

types of crampon: glacier hiking

Exploradores is considered one of the most exciting glaciers to watch because of the huge chunks of ice that regularly fall, or calve, off (Image credit: Getty)

Exploradores is over 12 miles long and covers an area of 37 square miles. According to the study, it has thinned by 1.5 feet (0.5 meters) per year since 2020 and the quantity of meltwater sitting on top of the glacier has doubled, which means the remaining ice will melt more quickly. The report states that these changes have all occurred in recent years following almost a century of stability.

The decision has troubling economic implications for local guides, who charge anywhere from $185 to nearly $300 for a guided trek, according to our research.

“For us the closing is not only an economic blow but also an emotional one,” says guide Bianca Miranda in an interview with the Seattle Times.

“We have been working in this place for more than 10 years and it has become our second home.”

This isn't the first time areas popular with adventurers have been closed due to global warming fears – last year, conditions in the French Alps got so bad that mountain guiding associations stopped leading groups up Mont Blanc’s most popular Goûter route for several weeks during peak season. In September 2022, we reported on hikers there narrowly dodging an enormous rock slide thought to be a result of warming temperatures.

Visitors to San Rafael National Park will still be able to enter the park and travel to the glacier via tour boat or kayak.

Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.