Icebergs, Glaciars and Patagonian Wind


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South America » Chile » Magallanes » Torres del Paine
November 7th 2019
Published: February 16th 2020
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R: Today was a day of multiple walks. The weather was only slightly better than yesterday and was still cold and windy. We were heading to Lago Grey today, so after much the same breakfast as yesterday, we boarded the bus and were on our way. It was about 40 minutes to get to Grey ranger station where there is also a visitor centre. The group had been split today as many people who were not used to hiking had decided to go for the easy walk option around the lake. Me? Well, no. I went in the advanced party of 4 who went to tackle the Ferrier lookout. We were promised amazing views over numerous lakes, and a very steep climb! We set off from the visitors centre with our guide Mauricio, Sergio (the Swiss guy), myself and the other male Brit, plus Shani, from New Zealand who fancied trying something more challenging.

The hike started easy, but boggy - it had been raining a lot. We had to stop at one point as the path had become a river, and Mauricio removed a tool from his backpack to cut a drainage channel to send the water off down the hillside. As we were walking and it got steadily more steep, a ranger (complete with brown uniform and gun!) went running past us. She spoke briefly with Mauricio who said she had been sent to find out how the path was looking further up. The path got steeper and we were getting battered by the wind. The view was starting to open up but there was some quite low cloud limiting the view just a bit. The climb got steeper and the number of breaks became more frequent. The rain / sleet was now coming at us sideways on and off as well. The most important thing for hiking in Patagonia is to be prepared - I had everything I needed for this - so with the views unfolding around us, I was more than happy to carry on - it was pretty refreshing actually!

We got to the snow line and the ranger was blocking the path. We could see most of the view by this point, so we didn't argue (she had a gun, remember!). The view took in the Lago (lake) Grey, with the Grey Glaciar snaking in from the left hand side. Bits of the glaciar were cleaving off and floating down the lake as icebergs which is where we would be heading next - apparently it took a couple of weeks for them to reach the beach that we would be looking at them from - the lake is pretty long! Its also called Lago Grey because it is... grey, due to all the glacial sediment in the water. All of the lakes in Chilean Patagonia are different colours due to different things in the water - green ones with algae, as well as sparkling blue ones. You could also see bright blue Lago Pehoé (where we were camping) from up here, as well as Nordernsköld Lake. So we headed back down - even the steep bits of the route had become quite wet and sticky now due to all the rain.

Once at the bottom, we went across the car park and through the forest and down onto the beach where you can walk on the grey sand and get really close to the icebergs that have floated down from the Grey Glacier. The wind was biting here, but it was quite exhilarating to be so close to the icebergs which were bright blue. After a bit of photo taking, we headed back up as it was pretty cold now and met the others. There was a visitors centre here which did hot food which several people had camped out in - it also sold souvenirs including gin made with Calafate berries - which was bright purple. The legend goes that if you eat Calafate berries, you will come back to Patagonia one day. This could only be a good thing, so I picked up a bottle for Cate. (Check back in a few years to see if we have returned!). We had lunch shivering in the truck (unless you paid for the hot food upgrade) and then headed on.

After lunch, it was back to Pehoé, and another hike. This time to the "Condor lookout". This is a short, steep walk, that offers incredible views in 360°. Again, we were split into an advanced group and a normal group. This time, fellow Brit, Emma joined the advanced team and Mauricio, our guide, set off at pace. Emma quickly dropped back to the other group not being happy with the pace, and even I was struggling. It turns out, when we got to the top that Mauricio was timing us! As we got near the top we got onto a saddle where the wind whipped through - this time it was so strong (the forecast said 100kph) that you could lean into it and not fall down. We struggled up onto the top and the hail stones started! It was totally worth it - the cloud was quite high now so we got great views across Pehoé, and back towards Lago Grey and all the surrounding mountain ranges! Stunning. We lingered for a bit - just long enough to get a photo, then headed down through what looked like a charred forest - they actually have problems with forest fires in Patagonia due to carelessness in the summer. The area we had been walking through had been on fire last year and it had destroyed all the forest - petty eerie.

This would be our last night in Chile before we headed around to Argentina. We had brought plenty of red wine and beer to enjoy with the dinners and campsite and because the walks had been a bit earlier today, people were a bit more in the mood than previous nights. We sat near the campsite and shared stories of trips we had been on. During the day Mauricio, who was indigenous to the region, had promised to give a bit of a talk about the indigenous people of the area. We did notice however, that before he started his talk he had emptied nearly the whole contents of a bottle of wine. What followed was a truly harrowing account of how the white people came to the area and took it from the indigenous people, charging them to occupy space on land that they had lived on for generations, re-routed the rivers and restricted their use of water (to charge them for it) and removed all but their basic rights. Apparently, in Chile, doctors have to certify on the birth certificate if they are indigenous or not, and this mark can reduce the rights you have as a citizen. Mauricio was in tears by the end of his account and most of us were stunned into silence. It really was important to hear this from a member of that community and people did have many questions for him once he had recovered a bit. It was a poignant reminder that countries around the world still struggle with the hangovers of colonialism.

After we finished the beers and red wine*, I treated myself to another hot shower (after finishing the red wine of course) and then headed to bed. The wind had dropped so I was hoping for a quieter night. Tomorrow we were heading round to the Argentinean side - where the weather was much better!

*On previous nights, I had also been restricting my fluid intake so as not to have to leave the tent in the middle of the night. It was cold, and dark, and raining a lot of the time. There was also various wildlife on the campsite including large birds the size of chickens (that mainly wanted to steal food), south american grey foxes and at worst... a Puma.


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