Tag Archives: Snow

The (Glacier) Cherry on the Cake

21st March 2018

The main purpose of visiting El Calafate was as a staging post to see one of Argentina’s most striking sights – the Perito Moreno Glacier. The glacier is named after Francisco Moreno (“perito”means specialist, or expert), a prominent explorer and academic.

The trip is a day’s outing from El Calafate, some 50km to the Perito Moreno national park, and then taking up on various options: a boat trip on the lake to see the glacier from close at hand; a walk along prepared pathways to see the glacier from higher up but further away (but also, importantly, to be able to listen to the sounds it makes); and/or, if you’re young enough, a hike on to the glacier itself. We weren’t booked in to do the last of these options, and the age limit means that we will never now get the chance, which is a shame; a friend tells that it’s a fantastic experience. But that didn’t stop us from enjoying an entirely arresting sight – a glacier 70 metres deep debouching on to Lake Argentina.

Our guide, Jenny, made sure that we took up on all the available options to see the glacier, which is dramatically revealed as you round a corner; at first it’s difficult to understand what you’re seeing, but then the scale of the glacier dramatically becomes clear

Perito Moreno Glacier

and the crowds gathered at the first available viewpoint underline its appeal as a tourist attraction.

The next stage on our day’s outing was to board a catamaran to go to view the glacier from close at hand, which gives you the first impression of its scale and, importantly, the colours in it. The second video in this Instagram set gives you the general idea:

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After the boat trip, the next stop is at the official visitors’ centre, whence prepared footpaths run in various directions to give you different viewpoints of the glacier – the first video was taken from the topmost of these. The footpaths are very well-made, with metal grid surfaces and lots of steps, taking you to several different places from which to view the glacier.

As well as the lovely colours in the glacier (the blue is an illusion caused by refraction through the ice and the air bubbles trapped in it)

Perito Moreno Glacier

there is a striking outlier on the shore opposite one of the faces of the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier

This is caused by a regular occurrence, the last one being in 2016. This glacier is based on bedrock (i.e. none of it is floating on the water) and advances at an indecently hasty speed of 1-2 metres per year. As you can see from the picture above, this makes it inevitable that at some stage it will block the channel, thus preventing water from flowing through. So the lake level builds up and up (on the near side as we look at it), until eventually the tempertature and pressure of the water wins, first creating tunnel through the ice and then blasting its way through the blockage.

I don’t believe that there’s anything in Europe which cacn match the sight and the impression this glacier makes. It’s a superb day out and something of which the Argentinians are justly proud.

Tierra del Fuego – 2: Cowardice (or common sense?) strikes

18th March 2018

The next day saw us beside the Pia Glacier. Well, we had to take the captain’s word for it, as you couldn’t really see anything through the mists and rain, which was followed by sleet and then snow. So we spent the morning, apart from watching an interesting presentation about the five tribes of the Patagonian region (now almost entirely wiped out by a combination of thoughtlessness, disease and genocide), debating whether it was going to be worth taking the proposed expedition to see this alleged glacier. Perhaps the rain would ease, and we’d have a clear run?

It didn’t.

So we decided that discretion was the better part of valour and that the lure of a G&T outweighed that of a close-up of a glacier we’d be lucky to even see, let alone appreciate (besides which, we have other glaciers on our Patagonian itinerary, so making avoiding great discomfort to see this one a defensible choice). We got things about 50% right, in that it continued to rain and snow and be misty for almost all of the time. But it did actually clear for about 30 minutes, and the beauty of the scene became apparent. We took the opportunity to get some photos and video:

Pia Glacier

Above is the overall scene from the ship,  and this is a closer view of the glacier itself.

Pia Glacier

and here you can see some of the hardy folks from the ship on the shore by the glacier. For a few brief moments, the scene was a thing of beauty, before the weather closed in again.

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Were we right to elect to stay in the warmth and comfort of the ship? There’s no knowing, but I hope that we will have better weather for when we see the Perito Morena Glacier in a few days’ time. As ever, stay tuned for that, and to see whether we actually make it to land at Cape Horn itself.

Torres del Paine – scenery by the bucketload

14th March 2018

First, a word about the weather. We were based very near Puerto Natales, a small town which is about as far south of the equator as my home town in Surrey is north of it. However, there’s no gulf stream to temper the weather, so it’s pretty extreme, with temperatures varying from -15°C in Winter through to over 20°C in Summer, and strong winds driving very changeable conditions. By the end of the day, I have to say I was pretty pissed off with the ceaseless gale-force winds. But they did mean that the grey, misty, wet weather, such as we saw at the start of the day

Patagonia Autumn Weather

was eventually blown away and replaced by sunnier and less rainy conditions. But the wind didn’t let up for an instant.

Puerto Natales is a great place to use as a base for exploring a major tourist attraction, but also a significant conservation effort – the Torres del Paine National Park, a “paradise of 227,298 hectares and exceptional geography of imposing massifs, virgin forests and turquoise lakes.”

At this point, I think a word is in order about the roads. I would rate driving in the national park as something best left to experts, as the roads don’t have a tarmac surface – they are rough, rutted and pot-holed. Apart from possibily damaging tyres and/or suspension by driving yourself around, you’ll end up having to wipe the windows clean very frequently to get the mud off them.

“Torres” means towers, and Paine is the name of the principal river that is fed by the run off from the snow and ice that is a permanent feature of the towering rocks. “Paine”, by the way, is an aboriginal word meaning “blue”, and you’ll see how appropriate that is later on in this post.

However, this central massif is not the only attraction of the area. En route to the southern park entrance (yes, you have to pay to get in), you can visit the Mylodon Cave, a “natural monument” which is geologically very interesting, spanning 20,000 years of eolution of rock formations and native animals.

The animal that the caves are named after is, you guessed it, the Mylodon, a species of giant, ground-based sloth which went extinct some 5,000 years ago. At a viewpoint in the cave, the organisers obligingly have placed a life-sized model:

Mylodon life-size model

The cave is a substantial hole gouged out by glacial and water activity.

Inside the Mylodon Cave

Once having entered the Park, our next stop was the Grey Lake (so-called because of the colour of the sediment it carries), which debouches from the Grey Glacier.

The first hurdle on the walk to the shore of the lake is a suspension bridge, which is quite fun, albeit slightly alarming, to cross.

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And then it’s a short walk to the shore of the lake. We were in luck, as near the shore there was an actual, real and beautifully blue iceberg which had broken off from the glacier.

Glacier in the Grey Lake

Glacier in the Grey Lake
From there, we moved on to the main course of the feast. Well, lunch, actually, but its situation, by the shores of Lake Pehoe (pronounced “pay-o-way”, meaning “hidden” in the aboriginal language), gave us the first taste of the magnificence of the central massif, the Torres del Paine.

Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine

The blue colour of the water is what lends the name “Paine” to the region. You were paying attention earlier, weren’t you?

The rest of the day was spent being blown away by the magnificent views in other parts of the national park and blown away by the ceaseless winds, which was quite wearisome by the end of the day. Unsurprisingly many of the views featured the central massif from various angles

Scenery in Torres del Paine National Park

but also of other areas. A friend of mine, Sue Foster, remarked once, about a visit she paid to the highlands of Scotland, that it was a “Wild And Lonely Place”. Sue invented the WALP Factor and so many areas of the national park are definitely WALP Factor 8!

A wild and lonely place

As well as dead wildlife such as the Mylodon mentioned earlier, there was a good selection of local fauna which were very much alive:

Guanaco

Guanaco – this one a young one standing sentinel to look out for predators such as puma or fox,

Rhea

Rhea (this is a rhea view of one),

Eagles (this is a black-chested eagle), and

Souther Crested Caracara

a Southern Crested Caracara (there are other varieties).

All in all the Torres del Paine is an excellent place to visit. I have friends who have hiked around the central massif, a process which takes several days, and so I suppose we only scratched the surface of what’s available. But we were lucky with the weather and it was a day well spent.