Monthly Archives: March 2012

A trip to “The Thunderer” (Tronador)

{Yes, we’re back in USA but not quite caught up on Argentina blog posts!}

Towards the end of our stay we were keen to be sure we had seen the main sights of Bariloche area and of course on of the best is the Pampa Linda area of Nahuel Huapi National Park, where you approach the big (extinct) volcano El Tronador quite closely.  So, we had a good day and headed out for a visit.  The road is narrow and so they only allow inbound traffic in the morning and then you need to wait til later in the PM in order to leave.  In any case, we enjoyed spending several hours exploring around, enjoying Ventisquero Negro (the “Black Glacier”) which deposits strikingly striped icebergs in a yellow lake.  Apparently this one has been receding at an alarming rate.  In any case, the waterfalls all around were impressive and once in a while a snow avalanche “thundered” from above (hence the name).   The weather turned for the worse on the way out but we did get a good view of a Martin Pescador (kingfisher) before the rain really came.  Full pics at LINK.

Torres del Paine: Final days – bring on the penguins!

We enjoyed a beautiful sunrise in P Natales and picked up our rental van to head south to Punta Arenas.  We took a side road and enjoyed some great scenery that included lots of geese and an intriguing sculpture in the middle of nowhere that evoked either a giant squid or a baleen whale or something else.  We stopped at the Magellanic penguin colony at Seno Otway and enjoyed the hijinks of the penguins as they sheltered on the beach.  The colony was in the life cycle stage where the young were making their first trips to sea.  So we only saw about 50 penguins of the 10,000 that are reportedly at this colony – the rest were busy chasing fish.  But it was fun (and, of course, windy!).

After a night in gray and semi-depressing P Arenas, we met our guide for the next day who would take us, at our request, to Tierra del Fuego on another penguin quest.  Being Monday, the regular (long) ferry to Tierra del Fuego was not operating so we had to drive east about 2 to to take a shorter ferry across.  After the very windy but short (20 min) crossing, we spent a couple of hours of driving across the pampas (which featured guanaco and rheas and, of course, a large number of sheep.  We stopped for a while to watch a “huaso” (NOT a “gaucho”, those are in ARGENTINA) work with his dogs to move a big herd of sheep into a new pasture.)

Eventually we arrived at our destination:  Bahia Inutil and its very unusual colony of King Penguins.  These gorgeous penguins normally inhabit oceanic islands, being found by the 100’s of thousands on South Georgia Island, the Malvinas (aka “Falklands”), etc.  But, for unknown reasons, some set up shop at this wind-swept beach about 15 years ago.  A small “preserve” was set up (the area is fenced and a guard stays there more or less full-time), creating a new destination for eco-tourism out of P. Arenas.  Unfortunately, our guide didn’t know that the preserve was closed on Mondays!  After some negotiating, the owner was summoned and she was very friendly and eager to meet us (our connections to biology, Science magazine, and National Geographic didn’t hurt, especially the latter).  So, we got a “private tour” and enjoyed the 17 or so penguins who were hanging out (the entire colony is about 75 or so; the rest were out fishing).  The group included a few chicks, being “tended”  (sat on) by males and females alike and peeking out from underneath for an occasional snack. After an hour or so we started the long trip back, highlighted by the tiny (~5 feet?) black and white Commerson’s dolphins that played in the bow wave of the ferry.  One more night of seafood and pisco sours and our time in Chile had ended. But a final thrill awaited:  a view from above of Torres del Paine as we flew out and then, minutes later, a view of spectacular Mt Fitzroy (in Argentina), perhaps enticing us back for another trek?  More pics HERE.

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Torres del Paine: The amazing Torres in their glory!

Well, 4 AM came awfully quickly and five of us staggered out of the refugio in full darkness, our headlamps lighting the way.  Matt and I went ahead to be sure we made it to the mirador in time for the sunrise, glancing overhead and thrilled to see the Southern Cross shining through the mostly clear skies.  After arriving at the Chilleno campsite after a bit more than an hour, the route takes a hard left and straight uphill across a big screen field.  High above us we could see the lights of others on the dawn pilgrimage, snaking up the mountain.  After less than an hour we reached the overlook of the lake and the Torres (towers), seeing them faintly through the darkness.  6:10 AM or thereabouts.  I took some long exposure pictures with the tripod and after a little while the others joined Matt and I at our viewing point.  As the sun rose, clouds spread from the base of the towers, making for amazing changes in perspective and color.  After a little while the towers were orange, on fire with the sunrise.  Unbelieveable!  We were thrilled by the show for about an hour and then the clouds got serious and shut the whole thing down.  We headed back to the refugio, amazed by our good luck to have seen the spectacle.  We arrived ca. 8:30 AM, in time for the end of breakfast! Monica was glad to see us but had also enjoyed the sunrise on the tips of the Torres from below (plus an extra hour of sleep).

We relaxed for a while by the stream, had lunch, and packed it all up to head down the hill to Hosteria Torres to be met by our faithful driver Eduardo.  He drove us through the park to Puerto Natales, an amazing drive with Mutual of Omaha wildlife everywhere (guanacos, rheas, grey fox, etc) and stromatolite-inhabited lakes.  We arrived to beautiful P Natales and the nifty Hotel IF, which we shared with only one other group – about 30 boisterous Japanese tourists!  A seafood dinner capped off our final day , with much toasting over pisco sours.

We did it.  The W.  Or, should I say: the !W!, to indicate the excitement of the trip and the actual path of our entire trip, from the boat launch at Laguna Grey to the endpoint at Hosteria Torres.  Go to this link to see the map on Everytrail: LINK.  Full pics HERE.

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Torres del Paine: French Valley then to Chilleno (days 4-5)

We woke up a bit sore from the previous day’s trek (especially Monica, whose feet were in bad condition), enjoyed a fabulous sunrise on the Cuernos, and then five us headed out to the Valle Frances (French Valley), backtracking a bit to Campomiento Italiano.  Up from there (the middle point of the “W”) the trail followed a spectacular stream with the snow avalanches continuing above and to the west.  We stopped for lunch before reaching an astonishing overlook and then continued a bit further until the day grew late, the wind picked up, and a bit of snow (!) began to fall.  We snapped some “hero shots” on some big boulders and then scampered back to Cuernos for an over-priced bottle of Malbec.

We packed it all up the next AM (after another gratuitously gorgeous sunrise) and headed east.  The weather was fabulous but we could easily tell from the vegetation that 1.  this was indeed the dry side of the park; and 2. even so, the plants were really drought-stressed (hence the fire of the previous month).  After a disheartening uphill grind and downhill slog to Refugio Chilleno,  we rested by two streams,  one of water and one of people returning to the Hosteria Torres way down below.  The peaks of the famous “Torres” peeked at us from above the ridge, saying:  “Why don’t you get up at 4 AM tomorrow and watch the sunrise?”  So, we headed off to bed.

Full pics HERE.

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Torres Del Paine: A day by the glacier, and then through the burn zone (days 2-3)

We spent our second day in the area around Glacier Grey with five us taking a day hike up the trail the passes the side of the glacier (Monica stayed behind to rest her recuperating but sprained ankle).  The weather was pretty good and we had a great time working our way up the valley.  We especially enjoyed the exciting mountaineering ladders that were in place to exit the deeper gullies.  After an enjoyable dinner at the refugio and a restful night, we woke a bit early to head out for the long hike to Refugio Cuernos.  This day would be long because the recent fire closed Refugio Paine Grande where we would otherwise have stayed.  The day started with light rain and low clouds and we spent the morning hiking along the north side of Laguna Grey.  It was spectacular to look back to the glacier and the lake but also a bit depressing to walk through the fire zone.  We reached R Paine Grande at lunch time and it was clear that they were lucky that the refugio did not burn down in the fire.  After another hour of hiking through the burn area but with clearing weather and the spectacular “cuernos” (horns) in front of us, we reached Campiomento Italiano, beyond the burn zone.  A spectacular surprise was the glaciers and icefields on the northeastern face of Cerro Paine Grande which constantly pushed thundering snow avalanches far above us.  After some rest at C Italiano, we headed down to Refugio Cuernos on the shores of the oddly named Lago Nordenskjold.  Monica especially was glad to reach the refugio –  11 hours of walking with her sore ankle had led her to bruise her big toes and they were really sore.  But we all made it through the hardest leg of the trip.  Felicitaciones a todos!

Full pictures here.

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