First, I would like to announce a print sale! Between now and July 5th, all images on my site will get a 15% discount – just enter the code “BUSHPLANES” on checkout!
The proceeds from this sale will go towards paying a bush pilot to bring Aubrey and I to a remote spot in Alaska’s Brooks Range this summer. I will, of course, post stories of our adventure upon our return!
Because of this trip, among others, and our move to southern California this fall, I will not be able to fulfill print orders made after mid July until early November. So this is your last chance for a while (all orders made up through July 5th will ship by the 15th)!
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After spending a week in the Fitz Roy area of Argentina, Marc and I made the long drive through the featureless snow blown high desert to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Crossing the border into Chile was a new kind of experience for me. Rather than the typical kind of enforced passport control I was used to, this was more of a self-serve process. You get out of the car, walk to the Argentinian office, tell them you’re going to Chile, and they stamp your passport. Then you drive over to the Chileans, and they make you fill out a little piece of paper, confiscate all your Argentinian sausages, and then you go on your way. You could easily drive through both checkpoints without getting the appropriate paperwork filled out, but I have it on good authority that you’d be in big trouble when the time comes for you to go home!
Click any image for larger view!
I was asleep in the car when we arrived in the park around midnight, and Marc woke me up to see the moon setting over Cuernos del Paine. The swirling mist, evolving lenticular clouds, and dim moonlight created a surreal moment. Even more so by my still groggy state of mind. It was hard to tell how close, and how large, the mountains were. Marc assured me that they were indeed quite large.. and as I found out the following morning, he was right. The gravel road network that provides incredibly easy access to the park is just a few hundred feet above sea level, and less than two miles away the peaks rise over 10,000 feet.
Contrary to the typical windy summer weather, most of our days were calm, allowing delicate ice structures to form on the lake edges overnight. And out of the 13 sunrises and sunsets we had, 11 of them were beautiful – there was no shortage of spectacular atmosphere and light! Despite the good weather, we saw very few people. The guanacos, however, were everywhere (the guanaco is a member of the Lama genus, closely related to the llama, but not of course, the Dalai Lama). In general, the wildlife was either very tame, or very naive. Finches, caracaras, woodpeckers, and even a small pygmy owl came to within just a few feet of us, curious, and probably hungry too.
One of the primary attractions in the park is Salto Grande, which, as the name would suggest, is a large waterfall. Unfortunately the ideal viewpoint for these falls was made inaccessible thanks to the washing out of a bridge many years ago (the pieces are still there, though). Now, it requires a little more effort and creativity to get there, but the view is well worth it. What initially appeared to be a crystal clear morning, turned into an exceptionally colorful sunrise, and we couldn’t have asked for a better place to experience it!
Half way through our trip we made an exploratory, aimless, drive through the park to Lago Grey. From the road we could see enormous, impossibly blue, icebergs, and immediately knew what our next trip would be. For the next three days we focused on exploring and photographing these icebergs from a variety of perspectives. Our first afternoon we were “treated” to a real Patagonian wind storm, though the gusts “only” made it to 50 mph or so (they can easily reach 80 mph at times). Still, this was more than enough wind to kick up big waves on the lake, sending icebergs the size of buses sailing towards us from the glacier on the far end of the lake.
That evening the storm subsided and the sun broke through, bringing a glimpse of warmth to the icy landscape. As in all of these images, the scale is difficult to convey, but the large iceberg on the left of the above image was the size of a two-story house. And that’s just the part above water. Since typically only about 10% of an iceberg is above the surface, That means that there is another 20 story skyscraper of ice hiding in the water!
The following morning the winds subsided enough to safely see some of the ‘bergs at water level. Monsters of strangely sculpted arches and spires floated by. I was most intrigued by an “ice cube” we found that was as clear as a flawless gemstone the size of a truck (with another 10 trucks of ice below it, of course).
Our final morning was wet, gray, and cold. A perfect time to begin the journey home. Aside from almost getting our tiny rental car stuck in a foot of snow while attempting to take a shortcut back to civilization, the drive back to El Calafate was uneventful. After drying out all the gear, it was time to pack up.
The flight schedules to and from El Calafate necessitate a 24 hour layover in Buenos Aires, so I took the opportunity to explore the city. Here, the patagonian clouds were replaced with sunshine, the eight hour days of quiet nature with eight hour nights of partying, the mountains with huge monuments, the trails with 16 lane city streets, and the guanacos with pictures of Lionel Messi. I’m hoping we get to see if Messi’s dribbling is a match for van Persie’s flying.
This was part 2 of my trip to Patagonia, if you missed part 1, read about it here: Fitz Roy in winter.