Saturday, February 27, 2010

Perito Moreno Glacier - El Calafate, Argentina

Exhausted from five days of hiking but feeling fresher than ever after hot showers and sleeping in a comfy bed we woke up early the next day and left for the Perito Moreno Glacier. Its located 7 hours north of Torres Del Paine in El Calafate, Argentina. I was a little afraid that we were going to be disappointed after already seeing a big glacier in Torres Del Paine, but this one is a little more exciting.

Its one of the only constantly advancing glaciers in the world. It advances or grows by two meters a day! Most other glaciers are doing the exact opposite and retreating due to global warming. Our guide informed us that in the past visitors had to be lucky to witness a big chunk of the glacier falling into the water to create an iceberg. But now because of global warming it happens about every twenty minutes! Yet the iceberg remains stable.

The first picture I took of the iceberg made me laugh when I took it. I call this the "First and Worst" pic. It happens quite frequently. You are approaching something amazing and you see it for the first time. You immediately grab your camera and take a pic. You then realize you are really far away from whatever it is and start walking closer to get a better view (and most likely a better pic).

Ahh, there it is. A closer view and better pic.

I busted out the zoom lens it get a closer look at the nooks and crannies of the glacier.

On the left side of the picture is land and the big glacier is on the right. As I mentioned this glacier advances two meters a day. It eventually reaches land at this point and creates a dam. The water level raises and the pressure builds and builds until finally it breaks through. This happens about every two years and produces a ridiculous explosion of water. Unfortunately we weren't there at this time but I've included a link to a youtube video of it for you to see because its really amazing.

Fast forward to the 2:13 mark to see the massive chunk of ice fall in 2003.

Below is the only little chunk I managed to capture on film. Not quite as impressive!

We were really happy we made the effort to come and see the glacier. Its much more active than the one at Torres Del Paine and we were able to get much closer to it.

We hiked a bit further up the hill and were able to see the top of the ice field better. It extends as far as you can see and up the mountain.

If you're not bored of looking at the glacier yet, check out the pic below. Notice the bright blue tips of the glacier right at its edge? The are the brightest blue color! It caused by snow accumulating and being compressed layer after layer by subsequent snowfalls before it becomes blue ice.

We were at the glacier for about three hours. Our next stop is to head further north to El Chalten were the Fitz Roy Mountain range is! Our time in South America is coming to an end soon!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Patagonia -Torres del Paine, Chile - The W Domination

Our last big adventure in South America was a pretty good one. Patagonia. Patagonia isn´t just one town, its a huge area in southern Argentina and Chile. We wanted to have a month to see everything but because Gemma´s passport took so long to arrive we only had about two and a half weeks to get from Trelew down to southern Chile and back up to Santiago where we fly out on March 8th to New Zealand.

Our first stop was the incredible Torres Del Paine National Park in Puerto Natales, Chile. There are several different routes you can do to see the park but because we were short on time we choose the five day W route. The call it the W because you more or less walk in a W when you look at the route on a map. We would have loved to do the 9 day circuit but considering neither one of us have ever put up our own tent we thought its probably best to stick with the five day route.

This was the chance I´d been waiting for all trip. The time to work on my man skills. Hunting, building shelters, killing dangerous animals. We got to town late at night at checked into a hostel in Puerto Natales. The next day we didn´t get going till around 1 and realized that all the grocery and camping stores were shut until 3pm. We went to a talk at another hostel on the park and hike that was super helpful. It discussed the different routes, what to pack, what to wear and what to expect.

They basically told us that we´re going to be wet, cold and miserable and there is no amount of waterproof gear we can wear to keep us dry. The weather is completely unpredictable and changes every 10 minutes. Ponchos will fly and flap wildly in the wind. The rain cover for you backpack will fly off in the wind. The wind will knock you on your ass at least a few times. It definitely scared us a bit but provided some really really helpful tips. Like packing two sets of clothes, one wet and one dry and to double bag our dry clothes and sleeping bags inside our bag. The wet clothes you´d hike in and wear every single day. Even if they were still wet from the day before.

The talk ended at 5pm and we needed to get all our gear and food and pack and eat dinner. But then they recommened a travel agent near by and we realized since we´re short on time we probably need to fly up to Santiago instead of spending two and a half days on a bus getting there. Chile is ridiculously long (like the length of the US and Canada combined!) We got out of the travel agents' office at 6ish and went to rent our gear.

We rented a tent, sleeping bags, mats, stove, plates and cutlery and rain pants for Gemma. We went and dropped it off at our hotel and had to go back to the travel agent to see what she came up with for us. By this time it was around 9 and she informed us that the shopping market was closed or closing soon. Gemma took off running to the market while I finalized our bus tickets and flight.

Did I mention Gemma still didn´t have a waterproof coat at this point either? I met her on the street just before 10pm and she tells me the store was closed when she got there. All she had managed to find at local shops was toilet paper, chocolate and bottled water. Sweet, we are so screwed.

Luckily the travel agent told us about a little local shop a few blocks away were we were able to buy cup o´soups, stuff for sandwiches, pasta and bread and jam. We were saved. We ate dinner at a great little microbrewery with an amazing summer ale. We started packing around 12:30 and didn´t finish until about 3am. As soon as I was done, I zipped up my bag and got the tent seriously stuck in the zipper. I struggled for another half hour before I got it unstuck and passed out.

Day One

7am the next morning the bus picked us up for the two hour drive to the park. The bus dropped us off and we had one hour before we took a catamaran to the starting point of our hike. This was just enough time to hike up and see a waterfall called Salto Grande. After being at Iguazu Falls it wasn´t that exciting but it was still beautiful.

The weather was just fine when we got on the boat. Twenty minutes later when we got off it was pissing down rain, grey and the wind was whipping in our face. I couldn´t help but have a huge smile on my face as I was thinking, ¨HAHA Son of a Bitch, this is gonna be WILD!¨

We immediately went into a shelter where as planned we had our first lunch. Luckily by the time we were done the rain had stopped and it was beautiful outside!

We headed off towards our first campsite, near the largest ice field outside the Antartic, called Glacier Grey. We didn´t weigh our backpacks before we left but on the first day with all our food, camping equipment and clothes it probably weighed close to 30lbs or 14kg. They felt pretty light on our shoulders when we first put them on. After hiking up and down the mountain for six hours they were killing us.

As you´ll notice we were constantly surrounded by stunning mountains and lakes.

After hiking for a few hours we arrived at a lake where Gemma and I saw our first iceberg! Which she named Flora. They fall off this ice field you will see below and float down the lake. Seeing our first iceberg was pretty exciting even if it didnt look like it could bring down the Titanic.

A few hours later we finally saw our first glimpse of the ice field. Its the three white sections that come to meet the lake but below the mountains.
It was right after this that I got us lost for the first time. Well not really lost, we just took an alternative route. There was a worn path so we weren´t the first 1000 people to go this way but it definitately took us down into a ravine and probably added 30 minutes to an already exhausting 6 hour hike.

Finally we arrived at the ice field. We werent able to get much closer than this but it was still pretty amazing to see.

These were the rocks we climbed to get a closer view of the ice field. There was this little tree and puddle/lake on top. The scenery never ceased to amaze us throughout the trip.

We finally made it to the campsite after six hours of hiking on only three and a half hours sleep carrying our bags at their heaviest. Day one was exhausting.

This iceberg looks like a yacht.

So Im not the most outdoorsy person. I might have set up a tent before but I think I mainly would just let my friends do it if possible. I eventually figured it out and the view from our tent was pretty stunning.

Day Two - Six hours of hiking

There were a few times throughout the first couple of days where I just had to stop, put my bag down and be in pure awe of the beauty. Id never seen a landscape so wild and rugged and untouched like this.

We were incredibly lucky with the weather. It was sunny almost the entire time and it barely rained at all. The wind did kick up every now and then but not too bad until the last day.

I am not sure if you can tell by looking at the picture below, but the color of the water was just unreal. It was a milky teal color that I'd also never seen before. Its caused by a milky powder that comes off the glaciers.

Hard not to have cheesy smiles on your face in this place.

The mountain below has these crazy sheer cliff faces that are grey and then little mini mountains on top in black.

Our second campsite was right along a babbling brook. I put the poles in the tent and then stuck the stakes through the holes where the poles where supposed to go. Gemma had to fix it. My tent skills were digressing.
We walked downstream to where the bathrooms were and decided to peak our heads out of the forest and walked down onto the rocks near the stream. This is when we saw one of the most incredible views in the park. To the left of the river was the snowy mountain you see directly behind us below. And to the right of the river (almost in the same frame-you can see the start of the other mountain in the right side of the pic) was the sheer faced mountain.

A better picture of the mountain that was to the right of the stream.

It really just isnt fair that these two mountains are so close and that you could see both of them from the same spot. It was like being in Alaska and Arizona at the same time. Add in the stream, simply stunning.

Day Three - Four hours hiking

I did pick up some camping skills/knowledge along the way. I thought about how to put up the tent for some of the hike and nailed it on the first try this time. Also, the only water we had to wash our pot and dishes was the freezing cold stream water which doesn't cut through dirt and grease. But if you fill the pan with dirt, and break off a tree branch with some leaves on it you can use the leaves as a scrub brush and the dirt breaks through the grease and then the cold water washes the dirt away easily.

After packing up we hiked up to get a closer look at the snowy mountain. It was near noon and the sun was causing mini avalanches. We ate lunch and watched and listened to avalanches falling about every fifteen minutes. The pic below shows an avalanche but its hard to spot. You might notice some movement in the middle of the pic.

Below is Gemma attempting to move a tree branch out of the way for me for a panoramic pic. Pesky tree branch was in the way. Every decent photographer needs a good assistant. Or as Gemma likes to say every strong man has a stronger woman behind him.

Day three was a light hiking day because day four was supposed to be an eight hour hike!

One of the best parts of hiking the W was that the scenery and landscape was constantly changing. It never got old and there were surprises around most every corner. Like when we came upon this rocky beach.

Gemmas poles were the cause of much frustration on her part and much hilarity to me. She was constantly getting them stuck in the mud, tree branches or in between rocks. She cursed them almost constantly yet I did see them practically save her life a few times.

Our campsite on night four was near a lake. We had dinner at the refugio that night but it wasnt much better than we had been cooking all along. We cooked all our other meals on a little gas burner. After dinner I took advantage of the dusk sky and snapped these pics below.

The sky in Patagonia at dusk was stunning. Often I was just in the wrong place, on a bus or without my camera when we saw the most stunning purples and reds unfortunately. But this night wasnt bad.

Who brings a red lacy bra on a hiking trip?

Day Four - February 25th - My (and my dads) Birthday! - 16km hike took six hours

First picture of me 28 years young. I´m aging like a fine wine I´d say. Id rather have not woken up on the hard ground on my birthday, but all things considered, it was a pretty great place to be.

My dad was definitely hiking along with us today. There was a shortcut we were told about that if we missed would have added another hour or so onto an already ambitous 16km hike. We were supposed to look out of a left turn when we saw the lake. Wed been hiking all week with a couple of asian american med school students and an aussie couple. We constantly passed each other as we all stopped in different spots along the way for breaks.

We all spoke of the upcoming shortcut and how to spot it. Gemma and I fell into third place (not that we were racing but I was keeping track) and were left to find the shortcut without their help.

Well there are lakes all over the place here and wed been walking alongside a giant one for a few hours. I lost track if wed made it all the way past it when we came upon a worn path off to the left. There was a lake there in front of us, but was it the big one or the small one we were looking for? Well I knew we needed to go left eventually so this left couldnt lead us too far out of the way could it? With my dad guiding us along, we found a shortcut to the shortcut!

Sure enough after wading through some bogs we came upon the small lake and saw the other four on the other side of the lake ten minutes or so behind us!

With the shortcut to the shortcut and our packs feeling a bit lighter with three days less food in them, we arrived to the first checkpoint way ahead of time. The supposed eight hour hike ended up only taking us six hours.

The stream water was so clear and blue and luckily drinkable. Its so nice getting amazingly fresh water straight out of the stream with water from glaciers.

Filling up our water bottles in the stream.

My birthday dinner, mashed potatoes and four cheese sauce.

Day Five

We had to wake up at 5am on day five to start the roughly our hour accent to the top of a very steep mountain to where wed get the best glimpse of the famous Torres del Paine, the namesake towers of the park.

The climb was Machu Picchu-esqe especially as we needed our headlamps for the first twenty minutes to see the path. When we arrived at the top the towers were grey and dreadful. Dark clouds surrounded them and they looked a bit evil.

Then the sun broke over the mountain behind us and cast a pinkish hue over them and the sky broke blue at the same time completely changing the scene.

We carried our sleeping bags and stove up to the top so we could be warm and have a cup of soup for breakfast up at the top. It was freezing up there and we werent about to climb all the way up there and then run back down because we were cold or hungry.

One last pic before we head down to camp and back up for our last hike to the exit of the park.

People on horses kept passing us with big smiles on their faces. Rich people who were too lazy to do the trek themselves. I almost said too old, but we saw a couple in their 70s hiking the trail without packs so it really just must be that they are too lazy.

Just after passing this smug group of gallopers we encountered some of the strongest wind wed had the entire hike. It was so powerful you had to stop and brace yourself and grab onto something or risk being swept over the cliff. It was when we were walking back on the path below when it hit us. You can see how steep it drops down to the stream. This is where we were when it blasted into us knocking Gemma down. Luckily shes a tough chick and got back up and kept on trekking.

Well that wraps it up. It was about four hours back to the exit where we changed clothes in a super expensive hotel where all the horse riders stay. We splurged on $16 cheeseburgers at the bar before the bus picked us up and took us back into town. It was five days of stunning scenery. We were incredibly lucky that we didnt get rained on the entire time. Its practically unheard of to have five days of weather in a row like we did.

Our next stop is to head up to El Calafate to see another ice field that is supposed to be a little more spectacular than the one we saw here. Post soon to come!