Paradise in Patagonia

27 May

Last Christmas Debs and I had the privilege of spending a few weeks in the Southern Argentinian and Chilean paradise of Patagonia. We experienced an almost-unheard-of run of fine weather for our visits to the Chalten Massif and Torres Del Paine, where we spent every waking moment soaking up one of Earth’s most beautiful landscapes. I would give anything to go back there on a longer climbing trip, but until then I’ll have to survive on memories and photos. Here is a selection of the latter, which I hope can go some way to conveying what a special place Patagonia is.

Stark contrasts on the Perito Moreno glacier as shafts of sunlight illuminate the tottering ice towers

Stark contrasts on the Perito Moreno glacier as shafts of sunlight illuminate the tottering ice towers

 

Immense amounts of precipitation on the Southern Patagonian Icefield feeds the glaciers and pushes them down to low elevations, creating the bizarre juxtaposition of woodland and ice

Immense amounts of precipitation on the Southern Patagonian Icefield feeds the glaciers and pushes them down to low elevations, creating the bizarre juxtaposition of woodland and ice

 

It's BIG! Dappled sunlight reveals the textures and intricacies of the monstrous Perito Moreno glacier

It’s BIG! Dappled sunlight reveals the textures and intricacies of the monstrous Perito Moreno glacier

 

Spontaneous calving events send tonnes of ice crashing into the aquamarine waters of Lago Argentina, the biggest freshwater body in Argentina

Spontaneous calving events send tonnes of ice crashing into the aquamarine waters of Lago Argentina, the biggest freshwater body in Argentina

 

The omnipresent wind sails icebergs from the glacier's snout out into the lake, where they eventually drift into the more sheltered bays to melt

The omnipresent wind sails icebergs from the glacier’s snout out into the lake, where they eventually drift into the more sheltered bays to melt

 

Our first proper view of the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre massifs from out on the Steppe resulted immediately in a quickening of the pulse

Our first proper view of the Fitzroy and Cerro Torre massifs from out on the Steppe – queue immediate excitement!

 

Typically beautiful scenery on the approach to Fitzroy - a riot of colour and contrasts

Typically beautiful scenery on the approach to Fitzroy – a riot of colour and contrasts

 

The snout of Glacier Piedras Blancas hangs above the Rio Blanco valley

The snout of Glacier Piedras Blancas hangs above the Rio Blanco valley on the walk in to Fitzroy

 

Sheer magnificence - the castellated towers and spires of the Fitzroy chain emerge from the wind-whipped clouds

Sheer magnificence – the castellated towers and spires of the Fitzroy chain emerge from the wind-whipped clouds

 

Perfect timing as we arrive at Lago de Los Tres to find the clouds lifting and the hulking mass of Fitzroy revealed. The Goretta Pillar forms the righthand skyline.

Perfect timing as we arrive at Lago de Los Tres to find the clouds lifting and the hulking mass of Fitzroy revealed. The Goretta Pillar forms the righthand skyline

 

Glacial silt suspended in the lake creates the stunning aquamarine colour when the sun's light is reflected from the water

Glacial silt suspended in the lake creates the stunning aquamarine colour when the sun’s light is reflected from the water

 

We heard them long before we spotted them - the giant Magellanic Woodpeckers announced their presence like something out of a cartoon!

We heard them long before we spotted them – the giant Magellanic Woodpeckers announced their presence like something out of a cartoon!

 

The anticipation and excitement builds as the intermittent views of the Torres group get better and better during the walk up the Torres Valley

The anticipation and excitement builds as the intermittent views of the Torres group get better and better during the walk up the Torres Valley

 

Inspiring, humbling and terrifying. Whatever feelings are invoked by Cerro Torre, Torre Egger and Aguja Standhart, their beauty is absolutely unequivocal

Inspiring, humbling and terrifying. Whatever feelings are invoked by Cerro Torre, Torre Egger and Aguja Standhart, their beauty is absolutely unequivocal

 

A serious place even in such perfect weather - serac collapse and rockfalls rumble constantly on the Glacier Grande

A serious place even in such perfect weather – serac collapse and rockfalls rumble constantly on the Glacier Grande

 

Andean majesty - the hanging glaciers, flutings and cornices of the Cerro Adela chain lead to the Col de la Esperanza on the right of the image

Andean majesty – the hanging glaciers, flutings and cornices of the Cerro Adela chain lead to the Col de la Esperanza on the right of the image

 

Messing around and narrowly avoiding a soaking at the waterfall of Chorrillo del Salto

Messing around and narrowly avoiding a soaking at the waterfall of Chorrillo del Salto

 

The famous Los Torres del Paine in all their granitic glory!

The famous Los Torres del Paine in all their granitic glory!

 

The contact between the intrusive granite laccolith of Miocene age and the much older Cretaceous sediments above is dramatic

The contact between the intrusive granite laccolith of Miocene age and the much older Cretaceous sediments above is dramatic

 

The lush woodland, tumbling streams and tranquil pools are home to the elusive Patagonian Fairy, probably

The lush woodland, tumbling streams and tranquil pools are home to the elusive Patagonian Fairy, probably

 

Andean Condors are just like buses...

Andean Condors are just like buses…

 

Alpine meadows rife with flowers carpet the hillsides along the trail

Alpine meadows rife with flowers carpet the hillsides along the trail

 

Glacial erosion has carved the dramatic landscape of the park and often the softer sedimentary rock is only preserved on the very top of the peaks, as seen here on the well-named Los Cuernos

Glacial erosion has carved the dramatic landscape of the park and often the softer sedimentary rock is only preserved on the very top of the peaks, as seen here on the well-named Los Cuernos

 

The spires and slabs of the French Valley looking ominous and moody on one of our only two bad weather days. The famous Patagonian wind absolutely tore down the valley making it feel like a day out in The Cairngorms, nearly

The spires and slabs of the French Valley looking ominous and moody on one of our only two bad weather days. The famous Patagonian wind absolutely tore down the valley making it feel like a day out in The Cairngorms, nearly

 

It's not all mountains and ice you know! A forest of foxgloves on the trail beside Lago Grey

It’s not all mountains and ice you know! A forest of foxgloves on the trail beside Lago Grey

 

A midsummer snowstorm transforms the towers and pinnacles of Cumbre Central into an ethereal wonderland

A midsummer snowstorm transforms the towers and pinnacles of Cumbre Central into an ethereal wonderland

 

A South American Kestrel dives in for the kill in the wetlands near El Calafate

A South American Kestrel dives in for the kill in the wetlands near El Calafate

 

What's that? You want one more of Cerro Torre? Oh go on then!

What’s that? You want one more of Cerro Torre? Oh go on then!

 

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