Patagonia 2017: Glaciar Grey - Día Once – 2/18/17 – 13 km
Wake up with an urge to pee. Squinty eyes, step into the hallway for the long walk down multiple hallways to the communal bathroom. Find light switch in bathroom, wash hands, turn off light, step back into the hallway. Profound and utter dark. The hallway safety lights have clicked off. Headlamp is at the foot of the bed in the room a hundred miles away. Rooms have names, not numbers, but can’t read them anyway. How many turns down how many hallways? Welcome to your Stephen King nightmare. Wait - do you hear a clown walking behind you?
A leisurely wakeup beep from someone’s phone at 7:30 a.m. Today will be less mileage and no hurry. Buffet breakfast in the big dining room, sunshine streaming in.
Still, we don’t dally, anticipating a simple hike to Glaciar Grey and its namesake refugio. The trail leads no-nonsense-no-switchbacks up the valley, past Laguna Los Patos, and then follows the cliffs above Lago Grey – big views coming up!
From a high spot viewpoint, looking back at Lago Pehoe
Grooves in the granite
The trail skirts the edge of Laguna Los Patos (Duck Lake), which looks like a water droplet on the map compared to the big lakes, but quite beautiful on a sunny day. The wind was whipping up the surface a bit and the deep blue color of the water is unlike the milky opaque blues and greens and grays of the large lakes.
Paine Grande looming large
Cathy says come on, Lago Grey is up ahead!
Lago Grey – chunks of ice floating close to the shoreline
First look at the snout of Glacier Grey, the literal tip of the iceberg. She's 30 km tall, 6 km wide and 28 km long (that's 17 miles, y'all)
At Mirador Glaciar Grey, a perpetual gale so powerful that it was a challenge for Cathy and me to stand still, just a quick shot to remember we were there!
Glacier blue ice in the lower left
Taking a break - Carol says why stand when you can sit, why sit when you can lie down?
Reminder of recent fires
From the ashes, foxgloves rise and thrive, first one, then thousands blooming on the hillsides in pink, purple and white. In the Blue Ridge Mountains back home, wildflowers are profuse but tiny. When Patagonia decides to make wildflowers, they make ‘em BIG. Too many photos? Nonsense.
Lago Grey, ferry boat heading to the dock near Refugio Grey
Crossing Río Olguín on a bridge. The river has cut an impressively deep, narrow canyon to the lakeshore
Refugio Grey is low key, blending into the landscape of its location more than the other refugios we’ve stayed at. It doesn’t try to command a viewpoint perch above the lake. The common spaces inside feel laid back. The bunk rooms are as simple as can be, just the right size for our group of four, with towels and soap provided. The communal bathrooms are very clean, spacious, without the chaos of the unforgettable Refugio Los Cuernos.
With several hours free for exploring, Cathy and Carol and I took the 20-minute walk to get up close to Glaciar Grey. The trail passed through the camping area (a tad more inviting than other ones we’ve seen, but I was still happy with my bunk). The obvious path ended at an enormous granite outcropping, which we scrambled up and across to get the best vantage point. The glacier was farther away from us than Perito Moreno Glacier was, but it stands stately and solid, its flow divided by La Isla O Nunatak (the glacier used to completely surround the big black rock). What was missing was the masses of humanity – in fact, no one else was there.
We explored the rocky outcropping, noticing the grooves and cuts in the granite. We sat for a spell watching the glacier, listening and looking for calving. Didn’t see any icebergs fall, but we could hear them breaking apart and occasionally we’d see a splash. Wow. Mother Nature knows what she’s doing. So sad that humans interfere with her work with little concern for the consequences.
Flash forward: In November 2017, an iceberg measuring about 1,150 feet by 1,250 feet (and 90 feet high) broke from the glacier face that we sat contemplating on this day in February 2017. In that nine months, the glacier receded enough to release that chunk of ice and set it free to float in Lago Grey. Repeat: in that nine months the glacier melted that much, like gums receding around a tooth (web photo).
Retracing our steps down off the outcrop was sketchy – this looks steep now, how did we do this? – but we managed our way back to the water’s edge of a cove for an up-close inspection of baby icebergs.
On the short walk back to the refugio we made the quick diversion down to the beach and ferry dock. Glacier walk excursions and kayaking trips operate from here, although no action going on today (too windy).
After a rejuvenating shower and semi-clean hut clothes (yes, I’d been wearing them all week) there was still time to kill before dinner, which means Cerveza Austral and a few hands of cards. Looking out the window from our dinner table, we watched two caracara birds commute between the porch railing and a nearby tree. Tending a nest?
Supper, although featuring the same ingredients, tasted the best yet: rice, chicken, zucchini and bell pepper strips, veggie soup. Maybe it was the dessert, a peanut buttery mousse with a frozen chocolate topping. Or maybe it was the (second bottle of) red wine.
The once-serene lounging space and dining area is now a hotbed of conversation. No one looks tired! From the corner of my eye I watched two Chilean guides mixing a beverage in Nalgene bottles. When I asked what it was, they explained that it was for hydration purposes, that they would drink one bottle that night and have another one ready for in the morning. Their recipe was a can of Coke and a generous amount of Fernet Branca, an Italian liquor similar to an amaro and packing 39% alcohol. Pablo encouraged us to try a shot of Fernet Branca from the bottle cap – bitter! Dear Lord!