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Andinilse: the first woman to set foot on the Southern Patagonian Icefield

Ilse von Rentzell was born in a German family that emigrated to Argentina at the end of the First World War. She established herself as a writer, specialist in plant geography at the Darwinian Botanical Institute of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, in Buenos Aires, as well as a painter, photographer, mountaineer, and explorer. She was the author of the book on the Argentine Autochthonous Flora, “Maravillas de nuestras plantas indígenas” (Wonders of our indigenous plants), about the flora of the Argentine Chaco.

Her memory is preserved by the "Ilse Tower" on Mount Tronador, the "Mount Ilse" in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, which she herself individualized and a Mount "false Ilse", which is attributed to a cartographic transcription error of the former and that we were lucky to achieve the first ascent in 2008.


Ilse von Rentzell

In October 1928, during a meeting of friends, Ilse von Rentzell met Federico Reichert,

Ilse von Rentzell with Federico Reichert

a scientist who is considered the father of Argentine mountaineering. About the beginning of their friendship he remembers: The common inclination to the scientific observation of nature, the tendency to take this observation to the great mountains and once there, demonstrating its usefulness and its value through forays, climbs, and trips. Exploration created, first the germ, then the segment that should take root, and finally, the flowering of our sincere friendship. This is how "Frau Ilse" became one more member of the Andean family and became Reichert's companion on expeditions and ascents. He later nicknamed her "Andinilse".


She participated in several expeditions to the Andes, including the adventurous weeks on the Southern Patagonian Icefield in the summer of 1933, becoming the first woman to set foot on it. During the exploration of the Lake San Martín - O’Higgins region, they came across various chains of mountains branching out to the north of Cerro Pirámide and they decided to call them "GAEA" after the Argentine Society of Geographical Studies, which had sponsored the expedition. To the south of this range, they discovered a second chain of mountains, where the mountain "Falso Ilse" is located. Of that expedition, Ilse commented: "We saw to the Northwest, for the first time, in all its extension, a chain of mountains that still did not appear on the maps. Among this new mountain range, which presented the typical forms of pointy summits, runs the main glacier with a width of 40 or 45 kilometers ". Hugo Corbella, together with Jose Marticorena, Pablo Schiffini, and Marcelo Costa in 1959 made a notable expedition connecting O’Higgins lake with Eyre fjord and Viedma Lake. During these explorations, they named after her the refined summit of the range she described, a summit to remember the first woman to enter into the Patagonian Icefields.


Map Marticorena-Corbella , 1960.



Mount Ilse, has been coveted for decades, however, it remained unclimbed until April 9, 2021, when together with Camilo Rada, we reached the summit. We achieved this long-awaited ascent on the only good day that the Patagonian Icefield offered us in the two weeks that we were there chasing that summit. It is difficult to define which of all these peaks is Mount Ilse, we went by the highest, which is also approximately located where Corbella’s maps place it. We approached from the West and ascended its South face on skis until we connected with the Southeast Ridge, which ended with a 15-meter climb over a voluminous mushroom of rime ice. Our GPS gave us an altitude of 2506 meters above sea level. This beautiful summit is one among a dozen beautiful mountains that make up this remote mountain range, right there, in the very heart of the Southern Patagonian Icefield.




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