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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 Comments (0)

Chile Patagonia II

Horseback ride Lago Nordenskjöld/ Mt Almirante Nieto; Laguna Amarga stromatolites, Laguna Azul, guanacos, Paine waterfall; Lago Sarmiento thrombolites, Paine Massif

24th Feb Horseback ride Lago Nordenskjöld/ Mt Almirante Nieto

We woke to a beautiful rainbow across the mountain behind us, very pretty and atmospheric. We had already been told that our horse ride to Lago Nordenskjöld had been moved from the afternoon to the morning, so we arrived at the meeting room at 9am. We went to their stables, just a 2 minute walk and found our horses; mine was called Tomato! The kit was similar to ours, apart from the stirrups (much larger and worn lower than we would) and a simpler bridle (you are meant to hold the reins in one hand only and use it to turn left or right; you other hand sat on your hip, saddle, or whatever). The banquerana (a girl) had a typical ‘saddle’ of a folded blanket held on by what can only be described as a belt and two ropes to hold a metal circle for a stirrup.
Baqueanos have a uniform of beret, baggy trousers, neckerchief, sash and all-purpose knife. As we headed along the guide explained about the horses and baqueanos at the lodge. Learn Patagonian cowboy ways with the baqueanos, who lead the Hotel Las Torres rides and look after the horses/ stables of Estancia Cerro Paine. During your time with these local vaqueros (descendants of horsemen who came to work in this remote region over 100 years ago), learn about their clothing, saddles and horse tack, and get a chance to share a mate (herbal tea from yerba mate leaves). Enjoy a typical breakfast of sopapiillas (type of bread) with pebre (Chilean condiment) and chat about Patagonian culture. The baqueanos demonstrate how to saddle and shoe a horse, and ride. If you have riding experience you can join them looking for the tropilla (horse herd). The herd is in 5 groups and each baqueano/a is responsible for 2 groups (2 or 3 baqueanos each group). They can choose 1 personal horse for each of their 2 groups. Towards the end of the 19th century, Torres del Paine started being explored by ‘Baqueanos’ (horsemen from southern Chile, commonly translated as Chilean cowboys). The Baqueanos were based around Punta Arenas and began exploring the region extensively in the 1870s on hunting quests, selling animals skins and feathers to colonials. One of the most famous Baqueanos was Santiago Zamora, known as ‘el baqueano Zamora’. Originally from central Chile, Zamora arrived in Punta Arenas in 1868 and integrated himself with colonists in the region. He spent his life exploring the region north of Punta Arenas, including Torres del Paine, acting as a guide for travellers and explorers. Other notable Baqueanos include Francisco Poivre and Augusto Guillaume (French), Guillermo Greenwood (English) and Avelino Arias, Luis Navarro and Juan Alvarado (Chilean). We rode through the bridleway of the W trail, crossing streams and rivers, past Nordenskjöld lake’s gorgeous north shore and up to a mirador on Monte Almirante Nieto, the glacier and snow-covered mountain that anchors the southeastern extreme of the Paine Massif.
Nordenskjöld Lake at the foot of the Paine Massif is named after Otto Nordenskjöld (1869-1928), a Finnish-Swedish explorer who probed much of the Antarctic, Greenland, Chile and Peru in the early 20th century. We saw quite a number of birds, attracted by the myriad mosquitoes, including a Chilean Swallow (Golondrina Chilena) Tachycineta meyeni. The glossy blue-grey bird had a white underside and forked tail. It’s very common around Patagonia. Another bird we spotted was the Rufous-collared Sparrow (Chincol) Zonotrichia capensis, again a common bird in Central and South America. It was grey & black with red breast and white throat. The last bird was considerably less common despite its name, a Common Diuca Finch (Diuca) Diuca diuca. This small bird lives only in high altitude scrubland. It has a plump grey body, white throat & white tail patch. We took a similar route back, but but diverted through the tussock grass before getting a (short) canter back to the stables in time for lunch. As we untacked the baqueanos were cooking and when I asked what it was they explained about sopapillas (fried bread filled with ground meat) and cooked me one without me even asking. We ate the hot food with a chilli type salsa, very nice. Apparently hardly anyone ever asks them about their lives, so they were surprised we were interested.
Lunch in the bar was lovely and we had the whole afternoon to wander, so we took ourselves off on a trip to see wildlife and generally just enjoy the sunshine. The area around here was mainly Pre-Andean shrubland (also seen on our trip up Ascencio Valley), although we also visited the Magellanic Deciduous Forest (on our horse ride on the 27th), Patagonian Steppe (on our Laguna Azul trip on the 25th) and the Andean Desert (on our Patagon trip on the 26th).

Torres del Paine has four different types of vegetation:
● Pre-Andean Shrubland - Evergreen shrubs like the edible calafate
● Magellanic Deciduous forest - Deciduous Antarctic Beech trees lining the park’s gorges
● Patagonian Steppe - Desert shrubs and tuft grasses resistant to harsh winds & weather
● Andean Desert - Species tolerant to low temperatures and high precipitation
1. Pre-Andean Scrubland
This type of vegetation is found on river/ lake edges, particularly Sarmiento Lake, Salto Grande and Nordenskjold viewpoint. Plants in pre-Andean scrubland have adapted to save water and survive fierce Patagonian winds.
From our walk on 21st Feb
Chilean Firetree (Notro) Embothrium coccineum pic 1
Small evergreen tree which blooms every spring with deep red flowers. Grows up to 15m tall and 20cm diameter. The bark is famous for its beauty and ease of working.
Box-leaf Barberry (Calafate) Berberis buxifolia pic 2. A typical evergreen found in clearings in forest steppe and Southern Beech trees. It has yellow flowers and edible small bittersweet blue berries, used for jam and liquor. Prickly Heath (Chaura)
Gaultheria mucronata pic 3. An evergreen shrub native to Southern Chile, growing up to 2m near Southern Beech forests. The edible plum-like fruit (varying red to white) is also used ornamentally.
Holly-leaved barberry (Michay) Berberis ilicifolia pic 4 (the annoying prickly one in our garden) Yellowy-orange flowers, dark shiny green leaves, dark purple berries. Dwarf barberry (Calafatlillo)
Berberis empetrifolia pic 5. Yellowy-orange flowers, fleshier lighter leaves and dark purple berries.
Crimson Spire (Siete Camisas) Escalonia rubra pic 6. Evergreen shrub with white & pink flowers and long fruit capsules.
Porcelain Orchid (Orquide Porcelana)
Chloraea magellanica pic 7. Fleshy green stem, white flowers with green veins and fruit in late summer.
Muddy Shrub (Mata Barrosa) Mullinum spinosum. Shrub with hard branches, sharp leaves and clusters of yellow flowers.
It was a pleasant afternoon walk and we arrived back at the hotel in time for a relax before supper which was in the bar (due to a kitchen problem), but luckily we discovered the Danish string quartet were performing, which made for a nice evening.

25th Feb Laguna Amarga stromatolites, Laguna Azul, guanacos, Paine waterfall; Lago Sarmiento thrombolites, Paine Massif

As usual we met in the meeting room for our morning trip, which was to Laguna Azul (trip 8). As we headed out we saw quite a number of birds of prey, including the Andean Condor (Cóndor Andino) Vultur gryphus. With a wingspan of up to 3.2m, it can fly at altitudes over 4,500m at speeds up to 56kph. They nest in high mountain rocks and circle overhead looking for carrion. Females are smaller than males, both are black and males have a red or black crest. The Lesser Horned Owl (Tucúquere) Bubo magellanicus is smaller than the Great Horned Owl, with grey and brown feathers and two ear tufts. The Black-chested Buzzard Eagle (Águila Mora) Geranoaetus melanoleucus has a powerful build, long broad wings, and can live at high altitudes in the mountain ranges. Finally the Austral Pygmy Owl (Chuncho) Glaucidium nanum has a grey and brown body with white patches, short beak and large yellow eyes.
As before we crossed the Black Bridge and arrived at the CONAF offices, but this time we turned left instead of right. After 15 minutes we came to Laguna Amarga where we saw a small of pink Chilean Flamingo (Flamenco Chileno) Phoenicopterus chilensis. These flamingo are different from the two Phoenicoparrus flamingo species found in northern Chile as they have grey legs with pink knees and a largely black beak. Laguna Amarga is interesting in having rare cyano-bacteria causing stromatolite flock formations. The name Amarga means bitter, which is due to the highly concentrated salts (it is Ph 9.1) in the water (a result of high evaporation). No creatures can live there except the bacteria. The shore was salty white sand, which contrasted to the turquoise blue waters.
Continuing on we spotted a flock of Lesser Rhea (Ñandú) Rhea pennata. These are flightless birds, which spread out their wings when running. Those living on the Patagonian Steppe are known as Lesser Rhea. They were happily grazing around a fresh puma kill! After the inevitable photo opp we set off through the highlands and “desert” towards Laguna Azul. Crossing over a pass we several large guanaco herds. Guanaco or Lama guanicoe are friendly camelids native to South America. They migrate throughout the park in large herds except for lone males ousted from the group by a dominant male during breeding season. They are 1.20m in height and 110-120kg in weight and can spit when feeling threatened. Young (chulengos) are born 11 months after breeding season and stay with the herd for one year. We looked hard for the rare South Andean Deer (Huemul) Hippocamelus bisulcus that live in this far eastern part of the park. Possibly we saw one from a distance, but it wasn’t certain. These deer live in small groups in high mountain forests, feeding mainly on herbs and shrubs. They only reach 85cm tall, and 100kg weight. They feature on Chile's national coat of arms and are endangered with just 100 remaining in the park.

We drove down from here to Laguna Azul, which was very windy today. A herd of guanaco had just arrived to join a herd already there and we watched the two lead males have a fight. We walked along the lake shore, with the view of Torres behind. Gazing from the east, the perspective of famous 3 towers is different from elsewhere in the Park, and more awe inspiring. The towers were originally called “Cleopatra’s Needles” because they resembled the obelisks of ancient Egypt. In fact the wind was so strong the poor Spectacled Ducks (pic 1) were flying backwards! Spectacled or Bronze-wing (Pato Anteojillo) Anas specularis is a Dabbling duck with bronze speculum feathers. The lake had lots of bird life, especially some beautiful Buff-necked ibis (Bandurria) Theristicus caudatus (pic 2). Given their name for the buff coloured neck, they have black feathers, a white patch on the wing and a red bill and legs. We spotted a pair of Black-necked Swans (Cisne de cuello negro) Cygnus melanocoryphus, a pair of Patagonian Crested Ducks (pic 3), which at first I thought were geese, and several South American Snipe (Becasina) Gallinago paraguaiae (pic 4). These small wading birds were hiding from the wind in the rushes. They breed in South America and migrate north for winter. They have long straight bills, short legs and buff coloured feathers. Also in the rushes were Pintails, Coots, and a solitary Grebe.
The sole member of genus Speculanas, a Yellow-billed Pintail (Pato jergón) Anas georgica has a brown head, long yellow bill, light brown body and dark brown outer feather; a subspecie Chilean Pintail also exists. The Red-gartered Coot (Tagua común) Fulica armillata is a large species of coot, 55cm long, black with a red garter separating a yellow beak and yellow forehead shield. The Great Grebe (Huala) Podiceps major is the biggest grebe, reaching up to 80cm long and 2kg in weight, with a red neck, grey face, black back and white underside. After our walk we went back up (while a 3rd guanaco herd was coming down to join the others) towards the Paine River, with views of the Paine Massif. We ended at the spectacular Paine Waterfall thundering around a central rock. The Cuernos shone in the sunshine behind as a beautiful backdrop. Paine River connects most of the lakes and rivers inside the park. The river begins at Dickson Lake and travels 9 km to Paine Lake, where it keeps its name and through Paine Waterfall another 15 km to lake Nordenskjold. From Salto Grande it goes to Lake Pehoé and from here through another fall, Salto Chico, and 6 km more to finish in Toro Lake. The other main river of the park, Serrano River, begins at Toro Lake and flows to Ultima Esperanza gulf. It is the principal fluvial network and natural border of Torres del Paine National Park. Its 38 km long allow and ideal for walking or bird watching.
Laguna Azul (Blue Lagoon) with Steve and with guanaco herd Paine Waterfall
3. Patagonian steppe
The flora in the more rugged steppe (or pampas) area includes desert shrubs and tuft grasses (Coirón) resistant to harsh winds and weather, accompanied by bent-over bushes in pastureland. The steppe is mainly in the Eastern sector of the park in areas where there are no trees due to the poor humidity and harsh winds. Coirón (festuca gracillima rothm) grasses were heavily used by the indigenous people to weave baskets and to help insulate their tents. This tufted or tussock-forming grass (pic next page) is related to rye, and can also cause ergot poisoning.
Characteristic plants of the pampas include:
A. Hotel B. Laguna Amarga C. Laguna Azul
D. Paine Waterfall E. Black Bridge
Black Shrub (Mata Negra) Junellia Tridens pic 1
Forms dense communities in wet areas in the steppe. Petals are white- pink and fruit is capsular.
Fachine (Mata Verde) Chiliotrichum diffusum pic 2. Daisy family. White petals with yellow centre. Flowers were used medicinally by the Patagonian natives due to their antiseptic properties.
Guanaco Bush (Neneo Macho) Anarthrophyllum Desideratum pic 3 Cushion-like shrub in rocky soils in the steppe with red-orange flowers. Streaked Maiden (Campanilla) Olsynium Biflorum pic 4. Herb with flowering stems and white flowers with small yellow fruit capsule.
Lady’s slipper (Capachito) Calceolaria biflora pic 5. Herb with leaves in rosette and distinctive yellow slipper-shaped flowers.
Paramela (Paramela) Adesmia boronioides. Shrub with bright yellow flowers growing in arid and exposed areas of the steppe. Has antipyretic properties.
Purple-spored Puffball (Hongo de polvera)
Calvatia Ciathiformis. Fleshy texture and cracked surface. Edible when young, smooth and purple, but matures to become pear shaped and darker in colour.
The third picture, taken on our way back shows some classic (and often unique) endemic flora including:- (front) Philippiella patagonica, Xerodraba (unique to Patagonia, white flowers), Eriachaenium magellicum (centre) and Duseniella patagonica (yellow flowers). Both Eriachaenium and Duseniella are in the daisy family and are the only ones of their species. All these low growing plants (similar to alpine flowers), are flowering plants producing small-tiny flowers for brief periods when conditions are perfect.
Typical steppe scene by Laguna Azul showing low bushes, tussock type plants and shingle shoreline
Paine Falls; Torres del Paine (Towers of Paine)

The North Tower (left of photo) is 2,260m was first climbed by Guido Monzino (1957), the Central Tower (2,460m) by Chris Bonington (1963) and the tallest (though it doesn’t look it!) South Tower, 2,500m, by Armando Aste in 1954. Our guide said she thought the Salto Grande trip we’d booked for the afternoon would repeat a lot of what we’d already seen, so when we got back we asked if we could change. As it turned out, the other people who’d booked had already cancelled, so it was no problem. We asked if we could go to Lake Sarmiento instead and as we had a snack lunch in the bar, he confirmed that this was fine. So, after a bibulous lunch we met our (reticent) guide and drove to the drop off point for the hike to the lake. Now, to say our guide was a man of few words would be pushing it. He maybe said 10 sentences in the whole trip and boy he took no prisoners. He marched straight off across the steppe and down quite a steep slope to the first lake. It wasn’t that we couldn’t keep up, because we could, it’s just maybe 1 or 2 photos would have been nice. Geology and flora are the focus of this 2.5 hr trek around the Park’s largest lake, named after Spanish explorer Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa (1532–92), author of The History of the Incas, a detailed description of Inca history, culture, religion. Gamboa was the first to attempt to colonise the Magallanes region at the tip of Tierra del Fuego (at Hunger Port, now one of the most tragic stories of Patagonia). Start with a 40-min drive to a trailhead, then hike down a steep valley with small flowering bushes. At the lake are thrombolites, calcium carbonate formations whose coral-like shapes are ancient fossils formed 7000 years ago by bacteria growing in saline lakes. Thrombolites were microbial communities and the first photosynthesizers on earth- Lago Sarmiento is one of the few places in the world they are found. The glacial lake of Sarmiento is surrounded by hills of turbidites from the 80-million-year-old Cerro Toro Formation. The white ring which surrounds the lake consists of nodular limestone which is secreted by lake-dwelling microbial thrombolites. At Lake Amarga (which we also visited), the white ring is even clearer, but these microbial communities secrete stromatolites. Thrombolites and stromatolites both formed extensively early in Earth’s history. The cyanobacteria which created thrombolites and stromatolites also injected the first oxygen into Earth’s atmosphere billions of years ago; allowing animals to evolve, although the animals kindly paid them back by eating them! The specific conditions required for thrombolite formation are rare today, so they are only found in only a few places worldwide. Thrombolite formation requires an abundance of calcium and carbonate ions in the water and here the weathering of surrounding marine turbidites fulfils that requirement. A series of glacial moraines cut Lake Sarmiento, Armarga and 5 smaller lakes off from the regional drainage network which ensured they were hydrologically isolated, preventing ion dilution. Finally, the rate of evaporation exceeds precipitation into the lake; this leads to sufficient ion concentration to trigger microbially mediated limestone precipitation. Lake Sarmiento and the others are in the rain shadow of the Andes. Oxygen isotope ratio analysis of Sarmiento’s thrombolites since glacial retreat 20,000 years ago, proves an average lake temperature 1,200 years ago of 9.3° C. In the Little Ice Age of 183 years ago (proving it wasn’t just in Europea) it cooled to 7.7° C.
Stromatolites are Earth's oldest fossils (except for some nucleic acid sequences and possible molecular fossils) and show biological activity spanning thousands of years. They are fossil evidence of the prokaryotic life that even today dominates the biomass; maintaining the homeostasis of the earth, and rendering the biosphere habitable as they maintain/ recycle oxygen, nitrogen and carbon. Humans are basically water, proteins and prokaryotic bacteria (the ration of bacteria to cells 10:1). Eukaryotic animals, evolved from a prokaryotic world, have retained in their mitochondria the cellular machinery to power cells (endosymbiosis) from prokaryotes.
The definition of stromatolites is still tenuous, but they are basically laminated rock formed from the growth of cyanobacteria (aka blue-green algae). Cyanobacteria’s metabolic byproduct, oxygen, pumped enormous amounts of poisonous (to them) oxygen into the atmosphere, paving the way for aerobic-based life eukaryotic to evolve. Stromatolites, thrombolites and oncoids (algal biscuits/ Girvanella) form microbial mats in limestone environments by trapping communities of bacteria and algae. Stromatolite-building communities include the oldest fossils, dating back 3.5 billion years; we assume a more diverse range of species with differing metabolic needs. Competition for the limited resources (and varying degrees of motility) led to the creation of intricate structures. Stromatolites are the only fossils from the first 7/8th of earth’s history, some 4 billion years of geological time, once occupying every environment, but becoming rare in the Archaean Era.
Archaea, Eubacteria, and Eukaryotes appeared in the Archaean Era, and microbial mats contained representatives of all three. Just how and when the split into these 3 main branches happened is uncertain; of the prokaryotes, Archaeans and Eubacteria it’s unclear which evolved first, but they did exchange genes, which makes it even harder to decide. While formation by colonies of cyanobacteria is the primary mechanism for modern stromatolite formation, in the ancient Archaean and early Proterozoic, it is unlikely to have been the only one. All prokaryotes, Eubacteria and Archaeans, reproduce by cell division and are extremely slow to evolve. Some microfossils suggest primitive Eukaryotic microorganisms possibly appeared prior to 3.5 billion years ago, and by the end of the Archaean, 2.5 Ba, all three domains of life (Eubacteria, Archaea, Eukaryotes) co-existed and were already quite diverse. Ascribing all stromatolite formation in the Archaean and Proterozoic to cyanobacteria, is probably incorrect. Molecular fossil traces suggests that micro-organisms with nuclei appeared before 3.8 Ba. Bacteria, Archaea, Eukarya Stromatolites may hold the key to determining how and when the tree of life branched into 3 domains; Bacteria, Archaea and Eukarya. It is very unclear as to when micro-organisms with advanced photo-synthesis first appeared, or when the eukaryotic nuclear genome became a chimera with contributions from both Archaea and Bacteria. Certainly photosynthetic cyanobacteria became very common in the Archaean, as shown by the rusting of the earth and oxygenation of the atmosphere. Stromatolitic structures can be explained by both biogenic and abiotic processes. Regardless of when cyano-bacteria appeared, they comprised the predominant form of life on earth for 2 billion years, consuming CO2 and releasing O2 by photosynthetic metabolism. Creation of the modern atmosphere powered the Cambrian Explosion and evolution of aerobic life. During Precambrian times, bacterial mats formed large platforms, depleting CO2 in the surrounding water and precipitating calcium carbonate into sediment trapped within sticky layers of mucilage that cyano-bacteria form as a film as protection from ultraviolet radiation. These layers grew one above the other, with the living bacterial colony on the top. The resulting layers assume a variety of shapes growing upward toward the sunlight. Cyanobacteria are prokaryotic bacteria (domain Eubacteria). Eukaryotic algae did not appear until 1.5 Ba, 2 billion years after stromatolites, so stromatolite formation by algae was insignificant until the Phanerozoic or Late Proterozoic. Environments where modern stromatolites are found are often have hypersaline, high alkalinity, low nutrients, high or low temperatures, and strong wave actions; mainly areas that are undesirable or intolerable.
Grasses and Sarmiento Chico in the eastern corner of the park
We only have a sketchy understanding of the paleoenvironments in which stromatolites formed in Precambrian time.
It was sunny, but windy as we walked along the lake edge, and very beautiful with bright blue water, white shining crystal shores and red cliffs. The wind was strong enough to whip up water devils high in the sky. We then hiked back through marsh land to the bus and back to the hotel. The evening meal was a bit of a disaster as they had overbooked, and after waiting +30 minutes for our order to be taken we found a waiter. As it happened they were taking a survey in the restaurant that night and we mentioned the issue (and how good the guides and drivers were) and were promptly given drinks vouchers. We got to the bar in time for the quintet.

Posted by PetersF 13:22 Archived in Chile Tagged mountains animals birds chile patagonia torres_del_paine Comments (0)

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