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Chile : Patagonia I

Arrival and walk on the W trail; Torres del Paine + Glaciar Grey. Puente Negro, Nordenskjöld and Sarmiento Lookout, Lake Pehoé, Salto Grande waterfall, Lago Grey, Grey Glacier boat, Southern Patagonia Ice Field.

22nd Feb Transfer to Hosteria Las Torres, Torres del Paine; semi-private with Lunch at Cerro Negro Ranch.
23rd Feb Full Paine + Glaciar Grey. Puente Negro, Nordenskjöld and Sarmiento Lookout, Lake Pehoé, Salto Grande waterfall, Lago Grey, Grey Glacier boat, Southern Patagonia Ice Field.
24th Feb Horseback ride Lago Nordenskjöld/ Mt Almirante Nieto
25th Feb Laguna Amarga stromatolites, Laguna Azul, guanacos, Paine waterfall; Lago Sarmiento thrombolites, Paine Massif
26th Feb Patagón, Aónikenk pictographs.
27th Feb Horse ride in Bosque de Lenga Transfer Torres del Paine to Hotel Chapital, Punta Arenas
28th Feb Punta Arenas- Museo Nao Victoria, seashore, Salesian museum

22nd Feb Transfer to Torres del Paine

We were collected from our hotel at Punta Arenas by the Torres del Paine (pronounced Pie-nay as we were told several times) minibus and as there was only one other couple with us, from Australia, we spread out. We quickly left Tierra del Fuego area and headed into open scrub land, punctuated by small lakes.
There was little sign of habitation, other than a few farm buildings and we began to see a lot more wildlife, both domestic (mainly sheep) and wild (mainly guanaco, rhea, birds and foxes). After a while we passed through a small village and then several hours of nothing until we got to a typical Patagonian ranch, Estancia Cerro Negro (Black Mountain ranch) for lunch. The ‘Black Mt’ it refers to is actually the result of forest fires! Interestingly many ranches in Patagonia span both Chile and Argentina, and at one point we were less than 1 mile from the border. At the ranch, one of the largest in Patagonia, we took a tour of the original farm (which they have recently converted into a museum). The museum was basically formed when the matriarch Amor Eliana died in 2011 and the family, who are VERY influential in Patagonia, decided to change her house into a museum, preserving 1940s ranch life. It was clearly a family home, combined with an area for admin and nothing had been upgraded since the 50s. The old telephone, ledgers and even furniture was most interesting. The guide was happy for us to touch anything- refreshing. After the tour we went next door to the newly built restaurant for an excellent lunch, commencing with pisco reservado (45%) mixed with lime, a salsa starter, lamb main and a volcano pud, all with wine on tap. After lunch we watched a sheep shearing demonstration, impressively he did the whole sheep in 4 1/2 minutes!
The hotel in Las Torres was founded by the Kusanovic family. Antonio Kusanovic Jersic arrived in Chile from Croatia in 1906 aged 15, and purchased the estancia in 1944, breeding his won livestock. His son, Antonio Kusanovic Senkovic, born 1926, bought Cerro Paine ranch (now Las Torres hotel) in the 1970s. In the 1980s, Antonio and his wife Eliana Marusic, hosted trekkers and decided to establish a hotel at Las Torres. They how live in a new house towards the road, which we saw as we drove in. The ranch covers 6000 h of pampas with c3,000 sheep and 300 cows. The sheep are sheared once a year and produce 4.5 kg of wool each! A skilled shearer, like José Luis Emmott who we watched, can shear up to 250 a day! Impressive. The sheepskin is then graded, from fine to top notch. When we rubbed it the natural lanolin oil on our fingers was quite strong.
Then it was back on the minibus to continue through to our hotel. It was a drive through Puerto Natales, a medium sized town and the only town in Patagonia, through another small village and on towards the park entrance.
We began to see larger lakes; passing right alongside Lago Figueroa, until we stopped at Lake Sarmiento viewpoint.
The sunny day was perfect; the iconic towers of rock were reflected in the turquoise blue water while condors and vultures flew above us. Soon after we arrived at the park entrance and took the road to the private part of the park (owned by our hotel). We crossed the Black Bridge on now rugged roads and our view of the mountains was amazing as the weather was wonderful. 10 minutes later we arrived at the front of our hotel. Cerro Paine Ranch is 4000 hectares and the only private property within the National Park. It includes Hotel Las Torres Patagonia, on an strategic point at the start of the trail to the base of the Torres, at the foot of the majestic Nieto mountain creating a beautiful natural landscape. In the early 90s, as more tourists started arriving in Torres del Paine, and motivated by the incredible beauty of the landscape, Antonio with his wife Amor Eliana Marusic, decided to build 9 rooms with a small restaurant. They called this project “Hosteria Las Torres” (nowadays Hotel Las Torres Patagonia). After the death of Antonio in 1997, his wife took over and after her death in 2011 their four children Liliana, Mauricio, Jose Antonio and Vesna, have developed the hotel.
The single floor hotel fitted perfectly into its surroundings and had an amazing view of the Horns of Torres mountain. They were really welcoming and explained how it all worked before giving us the room key. Super room, at the back, great view, unusual birds parading next to our window. 66bb0000-9547-11eb-9d92-95150438e6c7.png
We decided to go for a walk as we had plenty of time before dinner (and we had eaten very well for lunch anyway), so we set off down the famous W trail towards Laguna Inges. Flora and feathered fauna are a highlight of this hike. It starts along part of the “W” Trail before veering off south. Along the way, we saw birds, flowers and shrubs. A brief sojourn on the shore of Laguna Inges gives a good view of Monte Almirante Nieto rising to the north and Lake Nordenksjöld to the south. This excursion is perfect for a short walk of 1.5 - 2 hrs. The entire hike falls within the boundary of the Hotel Las Torres estancia (ranch). A nice walk over several bridges and rivers, before we returned to the hotel, checked our tours for the week and went to the bar for a drink (we decided we HAD to try the Chilean speciality, the terremoto or earthquake. This is sweet white wine, Pipeno or Chicha with pineapple ice cream and grenadine. You are supposed to feel a “tremor”, then order a smaller second one, a “repeat” for the aftershock!.
Then a snack of a pizza (between 2 as they were HUGE).
Roosting Cinerous Harrier

23rd Feb Torres del Paine. Puente Negro, Nordenskjöld, Sarmiento Lookout, Lake Pehoé, Salto Grande waterfall, Lago Grey, Grey Glacier boat, Southern Patagonia Ice Field.
We woke surprisingly early, but not a problem as breakfast started early too. At 8.40 we headed to the meeting room to be collected by our guide for the day. The hotel hires students in the summer with an interest in wildlife or geology and our guide (who was studying zoology in Santiago) was excellent- her knowledge was great. The drivers of the minibuses were also good, acting as wildlife spotters and stopping for photo opps. Today was a whole day trip, called Full Paine and Glacier Grey (1A) and designed to see as many major attractions as possible. We collected our lunch (in a bespoke bag, posh) and set off out of the ranch and down to the Paine River and the Black Bridge (Puente Negro). Originally the only way across the river to the ranch, it is now only suitable for pedestrians and a new car bridge is next to it. It was still a bit misty, so the mountains were less visible, although I was lucky to spot a small nest of rare Yellow-nosed Field Mice (Laucha de nariz amarilla/ Abrothrix xanthorhinus), a long haired mouse brilliantly adapted to the steppe.
Then back on the bus and out of the ranch into the main park, past the offices and up across the rugged landscape took us past folded mountains, twisted and layered, to Sarmiento Lookout over Sarmiento Lake (named after Spanish explorer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa. The sun came out at this point and illuminated the lake, giving a beautiful view of the white carbonate thrombolites. Another drive took us to Nordenskjöld Lookout (over Lago Nordenskjöld) and Lake Pehoé, and up to the car park for a walk to Salto Grande waterfall. The waterfall connects two lakes, Pehoé with Nordenskjöld via Paine River (and also Skottsberg Lake). The water change from green at Nordenskjöld, become aerated and are blue by the time they reach Pehoé. We could see the catamaran crossing Pehoé. Behind us we could see the Valle del Francés, in the heart of Torres del Paine. To access it you board the catamaran Hielos Patagónicos near Pudeto Ranger Station and cruise across Lake Pehoé to Paine Grande.
Lake Sarmiento, Lakes Nordenskjold and Pehoé, Salto Grande Falls
Vallé Francés has a steep trail through lenga woods and a rocky path above the treeline. Roughly 2.5 km up is French Glacier coming down from Mount Paine Grande, with the Cuernos peaks rising behind. We walked across the obvious lava field to a high rocky outcrop over the river. The mists swirled around the Torres (Towers) and Cuernos (Horns), giving glimpses of Vallé Frances and several glaciers. As we walked back we heard a bang and saw a huge avalanche down French Valley. French Valley is a natural basin ringed by the black slate “horns” of the Cuernos del Paine.
This area of the park is called Pudeto and has see two devastating forest fires, both started by irresponsible campers. In 2005 a Czech camper’s stove got knocked over in the wind in a non- camping zone and the surrounding area quickly caught on fire. The blaze went on for weeks and only stopped because of heavy rainfall, after destroying 160 km2 of the park. The tourist was made to pay a small fine and the Czech government have been donating money to the park ever since. In 2011 a second devastating fire was caused by an Israeli tourist’s irresponsible behaviour, when he tried to burn toilet paper and it escaped his hands, starting what became one of the greatest disasters to hit Torres del Paine Park. The fire affected 40,000 acres, just over 7% of the park, inc French Valley, Lake Pehoé and Salto Grande It raged for 9 days before the fire brigade, military and CONAF brought it under control. The greatest impact was the loss of native vegetation. It grows very slowly, taking up to 200 years for some species to reach maturity. Replanting is not an easy job, as they have to be protected from harsh conditions, mainly colds winter, dry summers and strong winds, and also from guanacos that enjoy a meal of Lenga or other native tree or bush while these are young. As the region mainly lives off tourism, the closure of the park meant a loss of an estimated US$2 million if not more. We drove back down to Lake Pehoé (toilets), and back up to enjoy the lake and the famous Horns reflected in it from a vantage point, and even the luxury hotel on an island (with an access bridge). A fossil of an ammonite revealed that this was once a seabed. On the bluff overlooking the lake we found a Calafate bush. The Box-leaf Barberry (Calafate) Berberis buxifolia is a typical evergreen shrub found in clearings in forest steppe and Southern Beech (Nothofagus) trees. It has yellow flowers and edible fruit that are small bittersweet blueberries, used for making jam and liqueur. It is the symbol of Patagonia, with legends stating that those who eat Calafate return to Patagonia at some point in their life. Then we drove to Pehoé campsite for our al fresco gourmet lunch with wine.
As we were waiting a Dwarf Armadillo (Piche patagónico) Zaedyus pichiy came bustling past us. This small dark brown armadillo has strong claws and a thick shell, measuring 30cm long with a 120mm tail.
A small flock (and flocks can reach 1000) of Upland Geese (Cauquén común) Chloephaga picta grazed nearby. These wild Magellanic geese nest near water and sleep in lakes safe from predators. The males are white, the females brown. Apparently the males die if their partner dies, but the female finds a new mate.
Further on a Southern Crested Caracara (Caracara plancus) was strutting his stuff! This is a colourful bird of prey in the Falcon family. A friendly cinclodes came to see us as did a zorzal, and we even spotted the iconic Patagonian sierra finch in the bushes (pic 1). The Patagonian Sierra Finch (Cometocino Patagónico) Phrygilus patagonicus is a bright yellow and grey bird who nests in thorny Calafate bushes in forest areas to protect their offspring from predators. The Blackish cinclodes (Cinclodes antarcticus, pic 2) is a passerine bird belonging to the ovenbird family Furnariidae. It is native to the southern tip of South America (aka tussock-bird). It is very tame and will approach humans. The sexes are similar and their plumage is almost entirely dark brown. The throat is slightly paler with some buff speckling, there is a hint of a pale stripe over the eye and there is a faint reddish-brown bar on the wing. The bill is quite long, stout and slightly down curved with a pale yellow spot at the base. The song and calls are loud and high-pitched. The trilling song may be uttered from a perch or in flight. A Zorzal or Magellan austral thrush (Turdus falcklandii magellanicus pic 3) is a medium-sized thrush limited to southern South America, similar to the European blackbird, also of the genus Turdus, with a yellow bill and feet, and streaked throats. In Chile the austral thrush lives in a variety of habitats from Nothofagus forests to agricultural lands.

We collected everything up and started the drive to Lago Grey, past Estancia Lazo ranch (aka Hostería Mirador del Paine), through lush lenga forest along the shore of Laguna Verde (Green Lagoon) and Laguna Honda (Deep Lagoon) before veering somewhat south for a 360° view of the Paine Massif (north), Lago Toro (biggest lake) and the Patagonian pampas (southwest). Once at Lake Grey we parked outside the hotel to wait for our catamaran trip. The hotel windows and balcony gave a great view of the Cerro Paine Mountains, Lago Grey, the catamaran and a few stray icebergs. After a half hour wait it was our group’s turn to walk down to the landing stage, collect our life jackets and board the RIB. This took us to a sandy spit where we embarked on the catamaran (100 person capacity). Once we were all on board we sped off towards Glacier Grey, part of the massive Southern Patagonia Ice Field. As we went we passed more and more, bigger and bigger icebergs before collecting a second set of people. As the cliffs grew higher, more impressive waterfalls thundered down until we arrived at the first section of glacier. Very blue, very beautiful. As we were in a specially strengthened boat we were able to push through the ice field and get remarkably close. We slowly sailed along all three tongues of the glacier, punctuated by rock outcrops. The journey was narrated, but as most of us were on deck, we didn’t hear that much. Still, the beauty spoke for itself! Having seen all three ‘tongues’ of the glacier, punctuated by outcrops of fossilised mud, folding into wave upon wave of stone, we stopped briefly for the crew to collect some small icebergs to furnish the ice in our drinks! After an hour around the glacier we began our journey back in the cabin and settled down to the free pisco sour. The whole trip took a surprising 3 hours!
The Southern Patagonian Ice Field, located at the Southern Patagonian Andes between Chile and Argentina, is the world’s second largest extra-polar ice field. It is the bigger of 2 remnant parts of the Patagonian Ice Sheet, which covered southern Chile during the last glacial period, called the Llanquihue Glaciation in South America. The Southern Patagonia Ice Field extends from 48° 15' S to 51° 30' S for approx 350 km, and has an area of 12,363 km2, 9,700 km2 in Chile and 2,500 km2 in Argentina. The ice mass feeds dozens of glaciers, including Upsala (765 km2), Viedma (978km2)in Argentina, andPío XI/ Bruggen Glacier (1,265km 2), the largest and longest outside Antarctica), O’Higgins (820 km2), Grey (270 km2) and Tyndall (331 km2) in Chile. The glaciers going to the west flow into the Patagonian fjords to the Pacific, those going east flow into the Patagonian lakes and the Atlantic. There are two known volcanoes under the ice field; Lautaro and Viedma. Due to their inaccessibility they are among the least researched volcanoes in Chile and Argentina. Fifty km of the Chile/ Argentina border, between Mount Fitzroy and Cerro Murallon, remain undefined on the ice field. This Southern Patagonian Ice Field section of the border is the last remaining border issue between Chile and Argentina. In 1998, both governments agreed that the line would run along the high peaks and watershed northward from Cerro Murallon to a point on a line of latitude due west of "Point B" a few km southwest of Mt. Fitzroy. However, they also agreed that final demarcation and exact location there would wait until completion of a detailed 1:50,000 scale map. In 2006 the Argentine Instituto Geográfico Militar edited a map, drawing Argentine claims to the official borderline. After Chilean diplomatic protests the Argentine government withdrew the map and urged Chile to expedite the demarcation of the international border. However, many in Chile consider the border to have been established by the "Laudo of 1902", an agreement signed "in perpetuity" by both countries under British tutelage. The map published by the British Crown, as part of the documentation of the "Laudo of 1902", illustrates a clear demarcation line (from Fitz Roy to Stokes) to the east of Campo de Hielo Sur leaving most of the territory in question in the Chilean side. This is the cartography used by many international map publishers.

On our way back the sun came out (apparently only the 3rd time that SEASON- as it turned out it was unusually pleasant and clear the whole time we were there, giving unusually spectacular views). Our guide decided on an unscheduled stop at Lake Pehoé Lookout so we could see it in the sun. The lake is spectacularly turquoise and the striped Horns of Paine were reflected in it. Although the national park is named for the tallest granite spires, the iconic Lake Pehoé vista isn’t actually of the Torres del Paine, but of the equally majestic Cuernos del Paine, the “Horns of Paine.” Seen from Lake Pehoé, the sharp contact between the two rock types angles upward from right to left because the metamorphic rocks arch over the top of a granite body (aka a laccolith). Finally it was back towards home.
On the way back the driver suddenly stopped as he’d spotted the rare Patagonian Skunk (Chingue) Conepatus humboldtii, and gave us a chance to watch/photo it. It is a solitary, usually nocturnal animal, with extended snout and strong nails. Like all skunks, is famous for the odour it emits when feeling threatened. It measures around 60cm and weighs 2kg. We finally arrived at the hotel at 7.30, so it was lucky we’d booked our dinnertime for 8pm. Great service and nice food (so glad we were no all-inc as their menu was not half as exciting).
Lake Pehoé, Lake Pehoé with Cuernos del Toro, Cerro (mount) Paine Grande from Lago Grey
Glacier Grey, Southern Patagonian Ice field- showing the three ‘tongues’ descending from the glacier into Lake Grey

The landscape and geography make the Cordillera del Paine an emblematic feature of the area. Located at the transition between the Andes and Patagonian steppes, it dominates its surroundings. The Cordillera del Paine stands at the gate of the Southern Patagonian ice field, the third largest ice cap in the world. Archaeological finds show that this remote region was inhabited by indigenous tribes as far back as the sixth millennium BC, although Europeans only explored the Cordillera del Paine from the 1870s. Since then, Swiss, German and British (Welsh) colonists have occupied the region, founding large sheep and cattle farms. Because of the rough climate, farming had considerably impacted the fragile, wild ecosystem. Chile’s government became increasingly aware of the area’s unique value and created Torres del Paine National Park in 1959 (World Reserve of Biosphere by UNESCO in 1978).
Cuernos del Paine. NB ‘frozen’ sinking dark blocks of Cretaceous sediments from the upper contact of the laccolith (white).

Geology: Sea, Magma and Ice The Cordillera del Paine is divided into several mountain groups. The westernmost, Paine Grande is the highest of the range at 2,884m. The most prominent peaks are those of the Cuernos del Paine (Horns of Paine), separated from Paine Grande by the deep glacial Vallé Francés (French Valley). Nestling in the heart of the range, the gigantic natural Torres (Towers) del Paine are the most famous part of the massif. A striking feature of the Horns is the two-toned colour of the mountains. A prominent white band is sandwiched between dark rocks, the contact between them extremely sharp, as if cut with a knife. The dark rocks are Cretaceous turbidites and layered sandstones with local conglomerates deposited in the Magallanes Basin. The white rocks are the result of a widespread (20km3 and 2000m thick) magma intrusion of the Upper Miocene (12.5 Ma=million years ago), injected between the two sedimentary layers of the Cerro Toro Formation, forming a sill. Heat from the granite “cooked” the adjacent mudstone and sandstone, converting them into the dark brown metamorphic rock that crowns the Cuernos, a metamorphic contact aureole. Although the intrusion looks homogeneous, it consists of a suite of igneous (granitic) materials resulting from successive magma pulses of magic to folic composition. A smaller (8 km3) pod of granite was injected below the first one soon thereafter, and finally a third, much larger one (54 km3) completed the laccolith 100,000 years later. The dominant magma body is a granite laccolith (a sub-horizontal intrusion with uplifted overburden). The Torres del Paine intrusion is one of a number of granite intrusions in Patagonia, the most famous of which is the dramatic Fitz Roy-Cerro Torre Peaks in Argentina. The laccolith is clearly visible at the Cuernos del Paine, where both the bottom (lower contact) and roof (upper contact) of the laccolith are perfectly exposed. In the cliffs observe ‘frozen’ falling dark blocks of the laccolith roof embedded in the white granite. The thickness of the laccolith means that the sedimentary host rock has been heated and metamorphosed, so the primary sedimentary layering is no longer visible in the vicinity of the intrusion.
Icebergs on Lago Grey below Paine Grande.
The laccolith is adjacent to the modern Patagonian Ice Cap, and the top stands just over 3,000m elevation, high enough to spawn massive glaciers during the Pleistocene ice ages. Those glaciers quarried the modern peaks out of the laccolith. The glaciers stripped the contact aureole’s relatively less resistant metamorphic rock off the top of the laccolith but left a few scraps on the Cuernos. Geologists call these isolated bits of metamorphic rock on top of a granite intrusion roof pendants, and the Cuernos are among the world’s most majestic examples. However, these amazing geo-logical features would have never been exposed without the combined contribution of Andean tectonics and glacial erosion. Originally deposited at the bottom of the sea, the sediments now crown nearly 3,000m-high peaks, the associated uplift being the result of the Andean orogeny. Evidence of the orogeny is prominent in the landscape, including stunning folds and faults. Finally, during the last glaciations, glacial erosion carved deep valleys that bisect the Paine laccolith. The retreat of the glaciers offers this unique heritage. In 2014, the current glacial retreat uncovered a dinosaur graveyard in Cretaceous sediments, with 46 nearly complete skeletons of ichthyosaurs. The sandstone at Glacier Grey is part of the 92-million-year-old Punta Barossa Formation, whose sediments were produced by erosion of the mountains being built along the active Andean sub-duction zone to the west. The subduction zone trench lies west of the Chilean coast, but a period of very active mountain-building loaded the edge of the South American Plate on the opposite (east) side of the Andes from the trench creating a deep marine basin in the Torres del Paine region. Submarine landslides delivered sand and mud to the basin, gradually depositing a series of repeating layers collectively called turbidites. The sand settled out of the turbid water first, followed by the mud. The resulting orange (sandstone) and grey (mudstone) stripes in the Punta Barossa Formation outcrops at Lake Grey provide a textbook example of turbidites, recording deposition by one such submarine slide after another.
Cretaceous turbidites, Cerro Toro Formation.
Another spasm of plate compression began c75 million years ago, causing the Andean thrust front to migrate eastward, and creating a new thrust fault near Lake Grey. This fault squashed the local Punta Barossa Formation turbidites into tight folds. These contorted turbidites are on display next to the Lake Grey parking at the start of the hike up to the Ferrier Lookout point.
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Posted by PetersF 13:08 Archived in Chile Tagged animals birds glacier chile patagonia lago iceberg grey paine torres pehoe cuernos sarmiento

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