Saturday, November 12, 2011

2011, October 12th - 19th: Coyhaique & Glacier Exploradores, Chile

2011, October 12 - 19th:
Coyhaique & Glacier Exploradores, Chile.

Main Events: Climbing Cordon Cerro (El Fraile) & Ice Trekking on Glaciar Exploradores

A full set of photos can be found in my Flickr account by following this link:

Climbing Cordon Cerro (El Fraile) - 13th October

A great day covering a number of peaks of Cordon Cerro linked by ridges, with a descent through a beautiful forest and some footprints in the snow of a ´Lion of the Andes´ (a puma).

The mountains are close to Coyhaique (Chile) and I trekked with two local guides (Cristian and Manuel). The weather was perfect and provided great views and photo opportunities.

Manuel Climbing Icy Snow Below the Summit of Cordon Cerro (El Fraile), Near Coyhaique Chile

Cristian & Manuel at the (Very Windy) Summit of Cordon Cerro (El Fraile)

A Kitchen with Manificent Views

Footprints of a "Lion of the Andes" (a Puma)

Descent to Coyhaique Through a Forest
(Note the Ubiquitous "Man´s Beard" Growing on All the Trees)

Ice Trekking on Glaciar Exploradores - 16th October

The journey to the glacier required a pre-dawn start, which presented some wonderful colours. We drove past a ´dead wood´ (bosque muerto) which was caused by a the ash fall from the erruption of Volcan Hudson in 1991.

Bosque Muerto Resulting from Ash Fallout from Vulcan Hudson

The Glacier Exploradores is one of the many glaciers (28 in all) that branch off the Northern Patagonian Ice Field. This ice field is the third largest ice mass outside of the polar regions (the largest being in Greenland and the second largest being the Southern Patagonian Ice Field). The ice field is (I believe) 120km (75miles) long (north-south) by 80km (50 miles) wide (east-west). The Glaciar Exploradores is a´small offshoot´ in the north east corner of the ice field.

Access to the glacier is preceded by a tricky traverse of the morraine. The moraine is a vast expanse of boulders, gravel, melt pools and ice that is left behind by the glacier as it retreats. One can view the ´high tide´ mark showing the furthest point reached by the glacier during it´s years of advance. The huge power of the glacier is evident from the vast trench ripped through the landscape by the advancing ice. In fact there were two walls of rock caused by two separate glacial advances.

Moraine of Glaciar Exploradores

Once on the glacier (having donned crampons), we were presented by an ´other-worldly´ lanscape of undulating ice with blue-green drain holes and pools. The royal blue hues created by the light penetrating the ice and water in the pools were wonderful.

Tim on Glaciar Exploradores

We were fortunate enough to find an old drain hole which previously had melt water flowing through it. We climbed inside and marvelled at the sculptured shapes left by the spiralling water and the mix of blues, greens and whites of the ice.

A (Disused) Melt Water Drain Hole in Glaciar Exploradores

A little quirk of the glacier are the mini holes created by stones and rocks. The stones absorb much more of the sun´s heat than the ice around them (which reflect much of it back). This causes the stones to heat up more than the surrounding ice and the rocks sink into the ice that they melt - causing the rocks to descend into the ice.

A ´Sinking Stone´ on Glaciar Exploradores

Journey - Puerto Ibanez (Chile) to El Chalten (Argentina): 17th - 19th October, 2011

More tricky travelling in Southern Patagonia. Puerto Ibanez, Chile, is on the northern shore of Lago General Carrera (the Argentines refer to it as Lago Buenos Aires) and is a point to catch the ferry across the lake to Chile Chico. I was stuck in Puerto Ibanez for a day while waiting for a ferry. Then a night in Chile Chico (Chile) before crossing the border to Los Antiguos (Argentina).

Ideally at this point I would have taken a bus directly south on Routa 40 to El Chlaten, but there are no such buses until mid November. Follow a rather roundabout route via the Atlantic coast via Pico Truncado, Rio Gallegos and then westwards to El Calafate and finally El Chalten. This meant a journey that would have been 714 km (446 miles) and one coach ended up being 1557 km (973 miles) and three coaches. So just zoned out and watched the Patagonian steppe go by. I saw that in the plains around the towns of Pico Truncado and Fitz Roy there was oil production, so countless nodding donkeys in action.

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