Global warming may have rattled earthlings with scenarios of Armageddon but somewhere deep down in South America is a place still loaded with ice. Lots of them. This is the so-called Patagonian Ice Field, divided into North and South. Of the two, the Southern Patagonian Ice Field is considered the fourth biggest contiguous ice field after the two polar regions and Greenland. The total area is a staggering 16,800 km², with a larger part belonging to Chile and the rest to Argentina. While there's definitely a lot of ice, (just think of all the halo-halo one can make here!) it doesn't mean global warming has not reached this nether region. In fact, this is one good place to see the effects of it.
Within Torres del Paine National Park (TDP) is one of the glaciers fed by the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. Measuring at 270 square kilometers, the Grey Glacier starts from the Patagonian Andes and ends in the waters of Lake Grey. Unfortunately, due to the effects of global warming, Grey Glacier is one of those that is receding rather than advancing. In really simple terms, this means that for every ice that melts, not enough is produced to replace it. Nevertheless, Grey Glacier remains an awesome sight to behold - this while on a three hour boat excursion.
To get here, we were driven for almost two hours from EcoCamp right after breakfast to the other side of the TDP. With me were Canadians Michelle and Cynthia and the British couple Katie and Neil. Rafa accompanied us in the car, managing to spot wildlife for us along the way - something which really deserves a separate story. On winding dirt roads, we followed the whole Paine massif which offered spectacular views of the granite pillars and the numerous lakes, again all worthy of a great story but this is all about ice, right?
We drove to Hosteria Lago Grey where we waited drinking mugs of hot chocolate while Rafa got our boat tickets. As guests of EcoCamp, we didn't have to pay (guidebooks say it's a hefty $85!). We ventured out with our layers of jackets - in my case a fleece, a soft shell and Rafa's windbreaker (since I forgot mine at the camp duh!) - and soon found ourselves walking past a suspension bridge and into a sandy beach where icebergs have drifted close to shore. Life vests were given to us just before boarding a zodiac that will bring us to L/M Lago Grey II, a small red boat anchored offshore. Since there were a good number of visitors, it took two trips for the zodiac before everyone got onboard the little boat.
As soon as the boat moved away, we decided to go up the viewing deck but - whoah! the wind chill was just too much to bear. Even with my windbreaker on and the layers beneath it, the cold air blasted me with such force I really shivered. I stood - along with the others - behind the bridge where it was more bearable. Meanwhile, the views of the Paine massif's western side and the distant view of the glacier really stunned me that I just stood there, gazing without even lifting my camera. But the moment I saw others starting to take pictures, I was suddenly brought back from being spellbound and started firing off.
The boat moved closer and closer, past ice floes and icebergs, into this wall of incredibly blue ice. The skipper slowed the boat down while our heartbeats raced up. This was my very first close-up look at a glacier and I was humbled by this immense natural beauty. Without the wind chill now, we all converge on the view deck, mindful that this view could change in the next few years. A satellite image taken in January 1986 was super-imposed on one that was taken in June 2007 to show that the glacier did in fact recede - and is still receding! For now, we have these photos of glaciers and icebergs in their various shapes of blue splendor to enjoy. Who knows how long they will last?