The past week in southern Chile and Argentina have been nothing short of amazing. Before I’d come down here, I was expecting the weather to be marginal at best. Patagonia is known for it’s unpredictable and constantly changing conditions, but I did’t expect unpredictable to include nothing but blue skies, and perfect temperatures without a single raindrop! We’d talked to friends who had done this area in previous years, and they spent days waiting for a break in the clouds to photograph some of the mountains. We never had to wait for more than 10 minutes for a perfectly clear view!
After getting off the ice, a group of seven of us rented a couple of jeeps and headed down the road to Torres del Paine national park. The roads were a mixture of both dirt and tarmac, both of which were in pretty good condition. We were making pretty good time, except for the wildlife along the road. There were all sorts of new birds that we hadn’t seen before including some amazing hawks perched on fences on the side of the road, and some wild niandus, which were what we’d call rheas in English. They were wild, and we’d see them in groups of two or three wandering around the landscape grazing on the grasses. By far though, the best animal we saw were the guanacos. These are fairly shy llama looking animals that we’d see at all times of the day, but the biggest herds by far were out in the early mornings.
When we got to the park, we split off into a couple of different groups I’d have loved to have done the most popular trek which was a four or five day hike around the highlights of the park. We were on a pretty tight schedule though, so I had to be content with just doing the best trail in the park which was the 11.2 mile trek up to the towers lookout. The hike wasn’t that bad, but for legs that hadn’t been doing any distance hikes for a while it was tough going in parts. It started out with a steep uphill leg for about an hour, and then smoothed out for the next 45 minutes to a refugio and rest stop. The group caught up with each other here, and then we headed out again. The next couple of hours were really nice with great views of the towers and some glacial lakes. Eventually the trail steepened up and we had to clamber up a rocky area for the last half hour. This was probably the hardest section, but when I got to the top the view was simply amazing! The three granite towers that the park is named after were right in front of us, separated only by a deep glacial lake colored the most amazing shade of green. Everyone from our group, and we spent about three hours up there eating lunch and enjoying the view. The downhill trek wasn’t bad, but our legs were getting pretty rubbery by the end of the steep downhills.
After sleeping like the dead we decided to give our legs a break and work out our arms on a two day kayak trip on the Serrano river. (more details later)
We stopped overnight at a town called El Calafete to see the Puerto Mereno glacier. This particular piece of ice is one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen. The face of the glacier stretched nearly three kilometers, and is one of the few glaciers in the world still advancing. It’s moving forward at a rate of about seven centimeters a day which is like an Indy car for a glacier! The whole thing is constantly creaking and groaning, and it is always dropping small pieces of ice in the lakes on either side of it. Every once in a while a house sized piece of ice would break off and drop into the lakes with a huge roar, causing massive waves to spread down on the lake. The glacier was so big that it was hard to really get a true feeling for its size until we spotted a tour boat cruising around by the base on the lake. The boats looked so insignificant that it was hard to believe that there were people inside!
Our final destination was the northern side of Los Glacerios park near the town of El Chalten. We spent a couple of days hiking around here to see some of the most difficult rock climbing in the world. The first day was a fairly easy 12 mile hike to see the Fitz Roy formations, and then the next day we took horses out on a six hour trek to see a formation called Cerro Torre. The pain in my legs from the first day of hiking was nothing compared to the pain in my butt from the horses on the second day!
After a slight mishap with the vehicles on the way back, we finally arrived back in Puenta Arenas, and had one last dinner together before some of our group headed for home. There are still five of us left, and we’ll be heading to Easter Island. It’ll be great!