Patagonia 2006

I travelled to Patagonia at the end of January, 2006, on a two week tour led by GAP Adventures. This page has photos from the trip. I have also written some notes about my trip to Patagonia. [Updated 28 Feb, 2006]

Our trip started in Buenos Aires, but I have no photos from there at present. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice city, but it's not Patagonia.

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate

Our first stop was El Calafate, near Los Glaciares National Park. Patagonia has the world's third largest ice field (after Greenland and Antartica), and Los Glaciares shows them well. The gem of the park is the Perito Moreno glacier comes down from the Southern Ice Field (Campo Hielo del Sur), which straddles the Andes. This ice field receives so much snow that some of the glaciers run all the way down to the sea. The Moreno glacier itself empties into a lake no more than 200 meters above sea level, and is said to be stable (neither advancing nor retreating.) The glacier is named for the Argentinian who explored much of Patagonia, founded the nation's science museum, and started the national park system.

Looking at the glacier it's impossible to get a sense for its true size, because there is nothing to compare it to. The visible ice wall rises 60 meters (the height of a 25 story building), and there is twice as much ice below the lake surface. You really can't tell how big it is unless you see someone walking across it, then you understand that the tiny dot is a person.

When the ice falls, you hear a sharp crack, a little bit like thunder. When people first come to the glacier, and they hear the sound, they quickly look around to see a piece of ice falling, but they never see any that way. By the time the sound reaches you, the ice has hit the water. This is either because the sound itself is only made in reaction to the ice breaking free, or, more likely I think, because the glacier is really much further away than you think, and just as thunder follows lightning, the sound takes a second or two to reach you.

El Chalten

From El Calafate we rode a bus to the north, around Lago Argentina and Lago Viedma to the town of El Chalten, which is the home base for all those who want to climb or just hike amidst the peaks of the park.

These mountains are formed by fingers of granite which rose up into softer sedimentary rock some 16 million years ago. The surrounding rock eroded, leaving only the granite peaks. We had two long dayhikes in the park, one to Laguna de Los Tres, at the foot of Fitz Roy, and one to Laguna Torre, at the base of Cerro Torre.

Fitz Roy, with Cerro Poincenot to the left.

Laguna de Los Tres, at the base of FitzRoy. Note the glacier feeding the lake.

The river pouring from Laguna Torre, with the three peaks of Cerro Torre behind. The contact between the granite and the older rock can be clearly seen. The older rock is the darker rock on the left shoulder of the tallest peak. Metamorphic to the left, granite to the right.

Laguna Torre. Note the distinctive colour of the glacier-fed lake.

Cerro Torre. Left to right: Cerro Torre, Cerro Egger, Standhardt, and Bifida

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile

Our next stop was the Parque Nacional Torres (Towers) del Paine, in Chile. The geology of the park is similar to that of Los Glaciares in Argentina - granite intrusions into sedimentary rock. Approaching the park from the south, one sees first the Cuerno (horns) del Paine. Here, the very top of the mountain is a dark metamorphic rock (Cretaceous) that was baked by the heat of the granite to a greater hardness. The Cuernos are often mistakenly labelled as the Torres del Paine, even on some travel web sites that should know better.

We had three long hikes in this park. The first hike (16 kilometers) took us up to a view of Grey Glacier. Like the Moreno, this comes down from the Campo Hielo del Sur. The second day's hike (24 kilometers) led to the Italian camp, then up the French Valley. The third day we hiked up to the Chilean Camp, then up to the Torres themselves, which are not visible from outside.

Cuernos del Paine.

Grey Glacier, with southern ice field in the distance.

The view back to the south from the French Valley trail. Lago Nordenskjöld is the nearer, Lago Pehoe behind. Lago del Toro in the distance.

A small glacier, descending the west wall of the French Valley.

Same glacier, closer. We saw many avalanches there.

The Shark Fin, near the head of the French Valley

The spade, same general area. Note that the granite is two different colours, on a horizontal line running roughly halfway up the peaks. (It's more obvious in person.)

The trail up the valley to the Torres del Paine
sketchs of the Torres

Torres del Paine. Note the change in colour in the granite about a third of the way up from the base. Photo by Hongchen Qiu

Torres, the lake, and an avalanche. That white patch that you might think is a waterfall is really a huge mass of ice and snow breaking off the glacier and tumbling into the lake. Note the huge splash below. This picture also gives you a sense of the morraine - a very large pile of broken rock torn from the Torres. Photo by Hongchen Qiu

Our group, on the morraine in front of the Torres. Left to right: Miriam, Cory, Ro (our local guide), me, Chrisian, Evan. Note that the avalanche has ended. Photo by Hongchen Qiu

Unfortunately I don't have any photos of the three Torres del Paine. I hope to get some from the people on my trip. Perhaps these sketches will do for now.

Seno Ortway Penguin Colony

After Torres del Paine, we drove south to Punta Areas (Sandy Point), to see the Seno Ortway (Ortway Sound) penguin colony. These are Magellanic Penguins, smaller than the famous Emperor Penguin of Antartica.

Penguin chick with parent.

Penguins coming ashore.