Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Torres del Paine. Lago Toro and Lago Grey.

Chunks of glacial ice floating on Lago Grey.

From Cueva del Milodón, we continued our journey towards Torres del Paine National Park, a place that has long been on my travel bucket list and lived up to every bit of the high bar that I had set for it. 

Before we reached the park, we made a quick photo stop at Lago Toro.   What a stunning view!! Incredibly, Gustavo told us that the lake is situated within the borders of privately owned land.  In the photo below, you can see the fence demarcating the boundary between public and private land.

As closely as I could look, I did not see a single man made structure around the lake.  If this was private land in the US, the chances would be high that there would be some sort of development around it - most likely a hotel or resort.   Someone would be trying to capitalize on the view.  The nature lover in me really appreciated the fact that there was no such thing here.  We could just simply enjoy the pristine scenery.




Moving on, we arrived at the Visitors Center for the park.

Incredibly, the national parks in Chile are not managed by the government but rather but the National Forest Corporation or CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal), a private, non-profit organization that is overseen and funded by the Ministry of Agriculture of Chile.  The entry fees to the park are not expensive and to me, it's worth the cost as in my opinion, CONAF does a remarkably good job. 


As I sent Bro in to get our entry tickets (which does require a bit of formality - you have to fill in and sign some forms),  I walked a short distance to get the view in the photo below.  The mountains in the background  are the four mountains that form Paine Grande, one of the three clusters that form the Torres del Paine massif.  What a beautiful view!



The name, Torres del Paine, translates into *Towers of Blue*. Torres is Spanish word for "towers"  and paine means "blue" in the native Tehuelche language and is pronounced PIE-nay. The name refers to three immense rock towers (Towers of  Paine) situated in the park.

If you are planning a trip to the park, these resources are especially useful.  The Visitors Center does provide maps in English.

http://www.torresdelpaine.com/en/
http://www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl/en/
http://www.parquetorresdelpaine.cl/en/mapa-oficial

As we made our way into the park, we drove past the entire Torres del Paine massif.  Even though the peaks were shrouded in the clouds, I could make out the formations. Each was clearly identified on the photo in the park brochure.



Our first stop inside the park was at Lago Grey.  From the parking lot, we walked down a wooded trail to a small suspension bridge that took us over the Rio Pingo.  The sign clearly indicated that only six people could cross over at any one time but everyone seemed to ignore those instructions.  The good thing was that people did do the courteous and let all the people go in one direction first so you didn't have people coming and going over the bridge at the same time - it does sway!


With as many people as there were who were waiting to cross the bridge, there wasn't much opportunity to stop and take photos so I just quickly snapped a couple of the raging waters flowing in both directions.

Looking down stream

Looking upstream.

On the other side, the trail continued through the woods.



Between the trees, I caught glimpses of the water and brilliant blue blobs floating in it.  At first I thought the blobs were an art installation of some sort but quickly it dawned on me those were blobs of glacial ice.

Earlier, Gustavo had explained to us that regular ice appears to be white because of air bubbles trapped between the water molecules. In glaciers, pressure causes the air bubbles to be squeezed out increasing the density of the ice.  The denser the ice, the more it absorbs other colors more efficiently than blue. Therefore, a large piece of compressed ice i.e., glacier appears blue in color.  That's a bit counter intuitive explanation but I guess it's correct??  Whatever the case, glacial ice is incredibly beautiful to look at.

The trail led down hill to massive gravel beach.  I imagined that at one point in time, this was all covered by glacial ice that has since retreated due to climate change.  Gustavo set us free to explore the beach area.


Distance is deceiving.  The gravel beach was so large it took quite a bit of time to get anywhere near the water.  As I walked, I noticed the gap in the mountains.  Presumably that is the gap that the Pingo glacier still flows over, albeit much further back than it used to.

The dark brown line, in the center of the photo, is a land ridge. The lake is situate just beyond that.




When I was planning our trip, I discovered there is a hotel here (very popular for obvious scenery reasons) and even though it was very pricey (over , I would have sprung for one night here had there been a vacancy.  Sadly, there was not. 

It was incredibly sad thinking about the loss of the glacier.  I can only imagine what the view of a  massive,  solid block of that blue ice would have looked like.

Looking back towards the trail that we took to get here.


Knowing how long it took me to get down to the water's edge, I set aside enough time to make it back up to the trail.  I was among the first to arrive at the meeting point.  Thankfully, Bro is wearing a bright red jacket so it was very easy for me to spot him and keep an eye on him.  Soon,  he had joined me.   Once every one in the group was back, Gustavo led us back the same way we came - back across the Pingo Bridge and then to our awaiting driver and van.


As amazing as the views had been so far, the best was still yet to come!  Lago Pehoé!