Patagonia
February 2005
After flying into Buenos Aires, we departed the next day for Bariloche, Argentina, on the northern edge of Patagonia. A short hike up Cerro Campenario gave us our first taste of the kinds of scenery we'd be seeing for the next few days.
Martin, Ernst, and Marianne, the "Swiss Contingent" of our group, on the trail down from Cerro Lopez.
The entire group took a cable car up Cerro Catedral, also not far from Bariloche, and spent the rest of the day hiking down from the summit. The horizon is dotted with Andean peaks, many of them volcanic in origin.
The trail around the summit of Cerro Catedral is a very rocky affair.
The valley leading to Refugio Frey, and the promise of lunch.
Rather than cross the Andes entirely by bus, two of us signed up for the Cruce de Lagos, a crossing involving a series of buses and small boats across a string of high mountain lakes. This is the Tronador volcano, near the Argentina/Chile border.
A rowboat in a reed-choked lake near Puella, Chile, in the Chilean Lake District.
The Osorno volcano looming above the Rio Petrohue, outside Puerto Varas, Chile.
Scared Heart of Jesus, Puerto Varas, Chile.
Sunset on the Osorno volcano, seen from Lago Llanquihue, Puerto Varas, Chile.
A Magellanes penguin in the Otway penguin colony, not far from Punta Arenas, Chile.
The Otway penguin colony sits on a bay not far from the Strait of Magellan, and presents a typical Patagonian scene, with windswept, chilly waters, snow-capped coastal peaks in the distance, and the customary forbidding clouds of this climatically unstable area. Storms routinely sweep in from the Pacific, often blowing out again just as quickly as they arrived.
Morning on Last Hope Sound in Puerto Natales, Chile, the jumping-off point for one day of sea kayaking, followed by five days of hiking and camping in the Torres del Paine National Park.
On our way to the park, we stopped for a short hike to get a close look at the Serrano Glacier, just one of the countless glaciers in Patagonia.
Transferring to Zodiacs, we headed up the Rio Serrano. As we approached the park, it was time for a short portage, since the falls on the river aren't exactly jumpable!
Above the falls on the Rio Serrano, we got our first look at the Torres del Paine park. From the left, Paine Grande, French Valley, the Cuernos del Paine, and just visible to the right of center, in the background, one of the towers from which the park gets its name.
The Cuernos del Paine (the "horns"). The green color of the lake comes from glacial runoff.
We spent the next day on a 30 km, all-day hike up, then down, French Valley, with a total elevation gain and loss of over 600 meters. About halfway up, we crossed this stream at the Campamento Italiano, with Paine Grande in the background.
Further up French Valley, we got a better look at Paine Grande, and the French Glacier that dominates its eastern flank. The glacier is a noisy one - it creaks, groans, and booms as it drops chunks of ice down the valley.
Dawn on the Cuernos del Paine, seen from our campground.
Gluttons for punishment, on the day after our 30 km hike up French Valley, we hiked 11 km along the shores of Lago Grey, a typical glacial lake, with numerous icebergs floating on sediment-choked waters.
From a wind-swept (as in, difficult even to stand up!) promontory, we got our first look at the Grey Glacier. Our next campsite was to the right of the glacier, and the next day, we went for a hike on the far left tongue of the glacier.
Not even our local hiking guide, Kerri, was immune to the punishment of long treks, and had to grab a "bergy bit" to ice a sore ankle.
Outfitted with crampons and ice axes, several members of our group check out a crevasse on the glacier
Geoff and Kerri on the Grey Glacier, reconnoitering.
Morning at our campsite on the shore of Lago Grey.
A sunny moment on the leading edge of the Grey Glacier.
Sunny moments are often short-lived in Patagonia.
Our merry band, taking a break. From left, standing, Martin (Switzerland), local hiking guides Andrea (Chile) and Kerri (England). Sitting, Geoff (USA), Jill (Australia), Kelly (Australia), Katrina (Canada), Jasen (Australia), and group leader Martin (Argentina/Canada). Sprawled in front, Marianne (Switzerland). Missing, Ernst (Switzerland), and me.
The park is home to a large number of guanacos.
A challenging bridge in the park.
On our last day in the park, we were scheduled to hike to the towers for which the park is named, but a careless camper had started a forest fire, and that section of the park was being evacuated. Paine Grande is just visible through the smokey haze.
Making the best of the situation, we found a relatively smoke-free section of the park, and climbed to a spot overlooking Lago Toro.
The foxes in the park are only marginally wild.
A group of gauchos at a rodeo in El Calafate, Argentina, our next stop.
The gauchos start training young.
A bronco tries to rid himself of his gaucho.
The leading tongue of the Perito Moreno Glacier. This tongue periodically separates the southern part of the lake from the northern. The water level then rises in the southern part of the lake, sometimes as much as 25 meters, until the lake once again breaks through, and the southern part of the lake pours its excess water into the northern part.
The north face of the Perito Moreno Glacier. More of the typical Patagonian weather - full sun on the glacier, threatening storm clouds beyond.
The tongue and part of the south face of the Perito Moreno Glacier.
The tongue of the Perito Moreno Glacier drops a house-sized block of ice into the lake (that seemingly tiny splash, dead center).
From the tiny, dusty town of El Chalten, Argentina (pop. 700), we took a day hike up to Laguna Torre, the glacier-fed lagoon at the base of the rocky spires of Cerro Torre. We hiked through howling winds, blowing dust, and stinging raindrops, in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the fabled towers. Not today, it would appear. Our group leader confessed that, despite multiple trips up this valley, he's never seen the towers!
The next day dawned gray, windy, and rainy, but began to clear by mid-morning. Strapping on our boots, we headed up the trail towards the other primary attraction of the area, Cerro Fitz Roy. About halfway up from the town, and overlooking the Rio Fitz Roy, the weather improved markedly, and our hopes began to rise.
Our first glimpse of the peaks of Cerro Fitz Roy above the trees told us that our weather luck was returning.
Cerro Fitz Roy (3400 meters), spoiled only by the presence of a grubby tourist.
Cerro Fitz Roy with a nice stream, instead of the grubby tourist.
Flying south from El Calafate, we reached Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world (just shy of 55° S latitude), the jumping off place for trips to Antarctica. Maybe next time.
A male sea lion guards his harem on a rocky island in the Beagle Channel.
More sea lions in the Beagle Channel, with Ushuaia visible in the background.
A typical Beagle Channel scene: sea lions, snow-capped peaks, choppy seas, and, on the left, a mid-sized cruise ship.
The hulk of the tug Saint Christopher, a fixture on the Ushuaia waterfront.
A spooky forest in Tierra del Fuego National Park.
Patagonia's changeable weather strikes again. The night before we left Ushuaia, the temperature dropped close to the freezing mark, and snow covered the slopes above the city.
Back in the warmth of Buenos Aires, I took a day trip to Tigre, a suburb of the city. This is a home owned by the mid-19th Century President of Argentina, Domingo Sarmiento, on the Rio Sarmiento. It's been encased in glass to preserve it.
A vacation retreat along the Rio Sarmiento. The bird bath at the right seems superfluous.
The constant fluctuations in the height of the Rio Sarmiento, caused by changes in the prevailing winds, take their toll on the real estate.
Puerto Madero, the old port of Buenos Aires, now too small for modern ships. The Presidente Sarmiento, formerly a training frigate for the Argentine navy, has been berthed here, and the dockside warehouses are now home to restaurants, condos, and offices. Some of the cranes that were formerly used to unload cargo have been left in place.
The Argentine government house in Buenos Aires, known as the Pink House, for obvious reasons.
The 18th-Century Cabildo on the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, formerly housing the Spanish colonial offices.