Glaciar Grey, Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Glaciar Grey (also Ventisquero Grey) is a 4 to 7km wide glacier tongue which descends south from the Southern Patagonian Icefield and terminates in Lago Grey. Its lowest section is within the Torres del Paine National Park. In 2004/05 a smaller and a larger island separated three sections of the ice cliff in the lake. Easiest access is by tourist boat from the southern end of the lake, about 25km away. The photos are arranged like a virtual excursion (satellite images to localize features are at the bottom of the page).
East of the national park, the dry grassland can only be used for growing sheep. Travelling from Cerro Castillo to Lago Sarmiento.
On the side of the road we discover a Darwin nandu (Pterocnemia pennata). Adults can reach a weight of 15 to 25kg.
Right after entering the park, 2420 square kilometres in area, we see a condor (Vultur gryphus, wingspan up to 3.2 metres!) and a group of guanacos.
Tertiary sediments in the foothills of the Andes: Layers of conglomerates (thick layer on the top), shales (dark) and sandstones (protruding layers making polygonal shapes).
View across Lago Nordenskjöld towards Cuernos Paine (centre left, up to 2600m) and Monte Almirante Nieto (right, 2668m). Dark shales form the summits, below them are lighter coloured granites.
At the beginning we are hampered by a severe storm. We may only open the car when the vehicle is pointed into the wind, otherwise we would risk that it might be ripped away!
However, the storm hardly seems to impress this female Magellan goose (Chloephaga picta). Near our lodge, Posada Rio Serrano on Lago del Toro.
From the south end of Lago Grey our boat trip to Glaciar Grey (back) is about to start. But there seems to be too much wind! Icebergs from the glacier have stranded near its terminal moraine from the last ice age.
Looking back towards the stranded icebergs, Hosteria Lago Grey, built on the terminal moraine which, since the last ice age, dams the lake.
Double folds in the rock layers (syncline on the left, anticline on the right) are testimony to the forces which have caused the southern Andes to be uplifted.
We are lucky! The more the boat advances against the storm the better the weather gets. Nevertheless: Life vests are mandatory in case anyone drops into the ice-cold water
We shall visit the three ice cliffs from right (East) to left (West). When we shall sail around the larger island (La Isla) Pisco sour will be served, cooled with lumps of ice from the glacier...
Navigation between icebergs in front of the glacier. Here you may get dropped off or picked up at Albergue y Camping Grey.
Approaching the ice front which is 1.5 kilometres wide here. The ice has been flowing down from the south end of the Southern Patagonian Icefield.
Towers and spires of deep blue glacier ice reach a height of up to fifty metres above the lake surface.
In the background La Isla, which carries fores on the top only. Bare rock shows the extent of the ice during the "Little Ice Age" which ended during the middle of the 19th century.
Ice towers in front of the dark mountain Cordon Olguin, the westernmost range of the Torres del Paine.
After passing La Isla we reach the middle ice cliff. Cerro Piramide (1850m) in the background.
Deep blue basal ice. The cave was probably formed by meltwater emerging from below the glacier.
Changing light conditions make for enchanting views of Glaciar Grey.
Unreal tones of blue and turquoise within the deep crevasses which slowly open before the ice towers fall into the lake.
View from the western glacier margin towards the granite towers of Torres del Paine.
Sadly we now have to leave the calving front of the glacier to begin the trip back which will last 1.5 hours.
Back on solid ground: Some plants form cushions as protection against the wind (Mulinum spinosum). Cuernos del Paine in the background.
The spectacular colours of the Notro bush (Embothrium coccineum) can be seen from a great distance.
Protected by other, prickly plants, the delicate blossoms of Cerastium magellanicum withstand the stormy winds.
Guanacos form family groups of about 15 animals. These here seem little disturbed by the obnoxious photographer.
These days about 500'000 Guanacos remain, only about 1% their original number. Nevertheless they are not considered in immediate danger of extinction (Wikipedia).
Tourism is the single most important economic factor for this region. In the first half of 2005, more than 500 Mio. US$ were generated. In 2005 about 2 Mio. visitors were expected (Wikipedia).
The granite towers of Torres del Paine were carved out from an originally much larger mass of rock by the erosional forces of the ice age glaciers.
Leaving Torres del Paine National Park and travelling across the border into Argentina. The dry climate downwind from the Andes causes salt lakes.
On the road again! Driving through the seemingly endless Patagonian Pampas. Next stop: Glaciar Perito Moreno !
Part of satellite image TERRA, MODIS 28.3.2003: Southern Patagonia during rare, almost cloud-free anticyclonic weather.
Enlarged section of previous image. Note the long, twisted fjord connecting Puerto Natales to the Pacific Ocean.
ISS photo (ISS010-E-5811, 4.11.2004), North is on the upper right. Lakes differ in colour depening on the amount of suspended sediment. Clear water is darkest.
Part of ISS photo (ISS004-E-7058, 30.1.2002), North on the top. On the island, and to the left of the glacier tongue, vegetation-free terrain can be seen which was ice-covered during the last glacier advance.
|Photos Jürg Alean, December 2004|