Torres del Paine - Lago Grey

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October 31st 2019
Published: November 1st 2019
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After a good night's sleep Maia’s back on form - hurray! We have breakfast, pack up our stuff and wait for the kayak van to arrive. It’s an absolutely beautiful, clear, sunny day - the best so far. We are able to enjoy some of the views that have eluded us so far. The Rio Serrano area where we’ve been staying at Nash Lodge for 3 nights is very quiet, with only a few places to stay, but we can imagine that it will soon become developed. Nash is building 20 more rooms and we see workers putting in fence posts elsewhere, getting ready to demarcate the land. We hang out with the cows and a dog outside in the sunshine and have a chat with some of the staff from Nash Lodge - Carolina the manageress and Juan Pablo the waiter, who it turns out used to be a hairdresser in Santiago...bit of a career change.

Bigfoot (kayak company) arrive and Arek(?) gives us our dry suits to get changed into and a briefing about our trip. We can choose a gentle pootle around some icebergs on the Lago Grey or to travel about 15km down the river. We choose icebergs! We say goodbye to Nash Lodge and the staff, including Patti the disco queen who has been preparing all our delicious food. Sorry to be going, but looking forward to today’s adventure. Lovely views on the way out of the Rio Serrano valley.

Grey lake is a stunning location and we stop off at Grey Hotel to use the loos and admire the views of the lake and icebergs, towards the glacier. It’s absolutely gorgeous, especially in the sunshine. We drive down to the lakeside to offload the kayaks and receive final instructions. It’s pretty cold, but the neoprene drysuits and shoes make a great base layer, then we’ve kept a fleece on, plus a waterproof jacket, life vest, helmet and kayak skirt to keep the cockpit water-free and we’re pretty well insulated. Arek leads the way in a single kayak and the rest of us follow in two doubles. We have to follow his exact line at the beginning as there is very little water on the shore and we’re pretty much scraping the bottom as he picks his way across a couple of channels to get us to the main body of water. He’s warned us that we may have to get out and carry our boats if we get grounded, but we don’t. In the main lake we’re among the icebergs and it’s surreal!

It’s a sunny, wind-free day and the lake is calm as we paddle among the icy sculptures. There are different types, depending on where they’ve come from in the glacier. Some are extremely compacted with a smooth surface and appear blue in colour. Some look like crunchy ice all piled up together. The shapes and sizes all vary...they may look like a boat, a spaceship, a lizard, a dolphin or just an abstract statue. Some look pretty precarious depending on how they are melting, with a shelf looking as if it is about to collapse or a large head perched on a diminishing neck. Arek puts things in context by explaining that one cubic metre of ice weighs about one tonne and when that hits the water it releases a lot of we have to keep our distance from the ones that may shed ice at any time. He also reminds us that 90% of each iceberg is hidden underwater, and that as the icebergs are also melting beneath the water as well as above the surface, they can spin and move unexpectedly. We can see some that are obviously lopsided because this has happened. It is a bit nerve wracking because these lumps of ice are huge when you are right alongside them. Some have pools within them and rivulets running off into the lake. It’s very serene moving quietly past these giants.

(Weirdly, as I’m writing this two days later, we’re flying over Grey Lake from Punta Arenas back to Santiago and I’ve just clearly seen where we kayaked from above. It’s identifiable from the very distinct grey colour of the water which is full of sediment from the crushed up rock within the glacier, compared to the neighbouring blue non-glacier lakes, and the ice bergs - cool!)

We paddle around an island/piece of land jutting out into the water, and Arek seems happier for us to approach some of the icebergs, so we touch them and get up really close. We’ve done various bits of kayaking here and there, but this is easily my favourite kayaking experience ever. We spend about an hour floating among icebergs. Then Arek’s relaxed demeanour changes as he prepares us to get back to the shore. We’re not going back the way we came, but crossing a fairly fast-flowing river. He just tells us to follow his exact line and get ready to paddle very hard. I’m with Andrea who is steering the boat. She keeps telling me not to rock the boat so much with my paddling technique, but her steering also leaves a lot to be desired! Anyway, we successfully get back across the river, and right at the end you almost have to paddle upstream to turn the boat into the shore and ground it. The other two are exhausted with the paddle when they arrive, whereas I’m not, so I think poor Andrea must have been doing most of the work...sorry!

It’s been a brilliant experience, but we’re glad to now get back into our normal clothes in the back of the van while Arek, Andrea and the driver load the kayaks onto the trailer. Then we tuck into sandwiches (except David who’s been feeling a bit dodgy since last night). We compare photos and videos - valuable mementos of our time in Grey Lake.

The route back is once again jaw-droppingly beautiful. We see another condor, another hawk or eagle and the most beautiful Mirador looking back across the lake which unfortunately we don’t stop at 😠 so I have to settle for a picture through the van window. We’re back in Puerto Natales at Aquaterra in a couple of hours.

We have a coffee at Holaste recommended by Andrea then get ready for a farewell supper back at Kau Lodge. The food is once again excellent, but David isn’t on form...still, I enjoy myself with a beer, a pisco sour and a glass of red. Early start tomorrow for the bus to Punta Arenas. We don’t see or hear any protest activity today, although it’s all over the Chilean news and a main topic of conversation with guides and drivers. In recent days Piñera has replaced 8 government ministers (but protestors want HIS resignation) and two major global conventions (on trade and climate) have been cancelled.

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