Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Mystery Photo 12: Cuernos del Paine in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile, South America

     My husband took this mystery photo number 12 during a trip to South America a few years ago. This was the trip that ended up in Antarctica. But second to Antarctica and also perhaps Iguasu Falls, this national park in Chile was very impressive. We hired two young people to guide us privately rather than take the bus tour that the cruise ship offered. We just thought that we would leave earlier and perhaps be able to get back a little later as long as we caught the ship's sailing. And we thought we could define our tour of this highland country better, skip what we were not interested in and get on to the areas that did interest us. We thought that we would save time and see more by not having to all board a bus after each stop. Indeed it did work out that way for us. Read More in order to hear about this section of our South America/Antarctica trip and to see more gorgeous photos.
     The young couple who guided us were brother and sister in law tour guides in a small tour company that does primarily adventure touring in Torres del Paine. That would include backpacking, hiking, trekng, kayaking, mountain climbing, white water rafting, fishing, and other types of touring that we at our age were not going to do. Therefore, for them our tour was a different kind of challenge. They had to be careful to not get us into a situation that would be too physical for us and yet try to make sure that we could view many of the great vistas and wildlife available in this wild corner of the Patagonian mountains. The young man took charge of me and the young woman of my husband. There were a couple of occasions where my husband wanted to hike further to get a better shot with his camera, and I was pooped and decided to stop. This split us up and each was required to make individual decisions about where and how to guide us. You will see one example of this in the photos where I will explain.
     Torres del Paine National Park is in the extreme south of Chile, nestled between the heel of Argentina in the southern Andes Mountains, in an area that has long been known as Patagonia. It is located 70 miles from Puerto Natales where our cruise ship stopped. The park area was first written about in 1880 by Lady Florence Dixie. It was quite remote and did not become a national park until 1959 when it was called Grey Lake National Park. Its present name was bequeathed in 1970 and in 1978 it became a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. Torres del Paine is a combination name where Torres means towers in Spanish, and Paine is an aboriginal word meaning blue.  The park encompasses the Paine massif, a large hunk of mountainous granite which was created by geological forces when magma pushed up into the most fantastic rugged sharp peaks in the world, about 12 million years ago. Some of the peaks such as the Cuernos (Horns) del Paine are capped by darker sedimentary rock from an ancient sea in the area providing striking light and dark rock bands that are identifying characteristics of this massif. Also included in the park are glaciers, and many lakes. In one case the Grey Glacier flows into Grey Lake at the base of the Paine massif, near the Cuernos del Paine. There are several lakes, tumultuous waterfalls, and exciting animals and birds. You will see some photos below that are representative of this fauna. The lovely exception of this park is that you can view all these magnificent mountainous views and glacier views without risk of altitude sickness. The high rugged peaks of the mountain tips here are between 6500 and 9000 feet -- Towers 8 - 9 thousand feet high, the horns are 7 - 8 thousand feet high . The hiking and viewing is done from about 150 to 800 feet elevations. Some of the trails may reach 1500 feet but we did not see those areas. These mountains are similar to the Grand Tetons and perhaps even Mount McKinley in Alaska where they rise about 5000 to 8000 feet from a relatively level or rolling plain around their base. This is what provides for the gorgeous views.
     Several hiking trails encircle and perforate this area. Since it is a World UNESCO reserve, you are not allowed to hike off the trails. We did not do any of these hikes but younger people would enjoy them immensely. There is a circuitous route that takes about 7 or 8 days to complete. There is a W shaped route which takes 5 or 6 days and then there are day trips from various sites within the park. The long trail hikes are unique because there are refugios positioned at places along the trail that allow a days hike and then a place to spend the night.
     Some of these refuges have buildings, and facilities, as well as on duty cooks. Others are more primitive and are just campsites. We felt that our guides gave us some very nice views by driving the roads of the park and stopping to get some good views. See what you think by looking at the photos below.

We left early. This is sunrise striking the Paine massif in the distance.

Approaching the Paine massif, with the Torres del Pain, being the three towers to the right.
Here's our carriage of the day -- a Land Rover with my charge person.

Guanacos are common here in certain parts of the park. They are cousins to llamas and alpacas, but unlike their cousins, they were never really domesticated. However, they are not frightened of people and usually just look curiously at us and then go on with their grazing. The next three photos show these cute animals and their gorgeous surroundings in Patagonia. 

The broad Paine massif with one of its surrounding lakes.

The above two photos show the Cuernos del Paine -- Horns of Blue. They show a slightly different angle of view and also what a little change in the light can do, all within a matter of minutes.

These two photos show the Great Falls of the Paine River which runs through a half dozen lakes and completely surround the Paine massif. There are also multiple small lagoons created by glacier melt water and run off. This makes multiple bodies of water but unfortunately they are icy cold and not so good for many water sports.

Wild horses galloping across the Pampas.

Grey Lake with icebergs from Grey Glacier, and Cuernos del Paine up above.
Grey Glacier with its foot in Grey Lake. Her the water if milky grey due to suspended rock particles.

     At Grey Lake, we took a walk with our guides. We had to walk around a peninsula of land and out across a rocky shore in order to get a view of Grey Glacier. All of us started the walk, but the wind was blowing fiercely, coming down off that glacier and then across the water. Sometimes even on sunny days in this location and also others in the park, the wind can reach 70 miles per hour. I don't think it was quite that strong when we were there, but it was certainly not just a slight breeze. It was difficult to walk. I said I wasn't going any further. I would sacrifice the view of the foot of Grey Glacier. But my husband was stubborn and so he and the young woman guide took off across the gravel. At one point he had to sit down, he became so fatigued but he got his photo of Grey Glacier with its foot in Grey Lake.
The Chilean flamingo, a special species found mostly in these lakes.
Here is the famous Andean condor, a bird with a wingspread of 10 ft, second only to the Wandering Albatross.

Here the water is a neon turquoise also due to suspended rock particles. The glaciers grind up the granite into dust which when refracting light produces these brilliant lakes.

1 comment:

  1. Wow great photos the water was an impossible blue and so clear that you could see the sandy bottom as if you were doing nothing more than looking through a pane of glass. The vegetation was so green and luscious that it was easy to imagine you'd stepped out of reality. The scenery was breathtaking.

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