Thursday, March 10, 2011

Upsala Glacier and Estancia Cristina

It was a very overcast day this morning as we set out by boat to go to the northern end of Lago Argentino. After two hours we arrived at an area just south of the Upsala Glacier, which is about three times the size of the Perito Moreno Glacier! Problem is, the icebergs that calve from this glacier are so huge and so numerous that you can't get very close to the glacier itself. So the boat spent about 20 minutes cruising back and forth among the gigantic and gorgeous blocks of ice, and we were treated to a display of size, luminosity, and vivid blues.

From the icebergs we headed back south a bit to the Estancia Cristina, which should be an absolute must-see for any visitor to the area. This place offers something for everyone, and we chose "trekking" option. This ended up being a rather challenging but memorable 16 km hike that took us a little over 5 hours. Fortunately, the Argentines offer a very clever twist on the rigorous hike option: they take you to the high point of the hike in a 4x4 Dodge Ram pickup, via a journey which takes about 45 minutes over seemingly impossible terrain. At the end you get out and walk up a short hill, and are presented with this magnificent view of the Upsala Glacier from above and from about 2-3 miles' distance. One part of the glacier is barely visible at the upper left of this photo, while the body of the glacier is at the upper right. Below the glaciers is a lake. I think we must have been at an altitude of about 5,000 feet. It was extremely windy and cold, almost cold enough to snow. (Snow fell on the higher elevations last night.)

This next shot is a closeup of a branch of the Upsala Glacier which empties into a lake (which is on the right side of the previous photo). Note that in the upper portion of this photo the glacier extends back literally as far as the eye can see—some 20 or 30 miles. The size of this sea of ice was simply breathtaking. I had no idea you could find a vantage point so far above such a massive ice field. In the far distance is Chile's portion of the ice fields. If I remember correctly, the Patagonian ice/glacier fields rank #3 in the world for size, after Antarctica and Greenland. Glaciers and mountains and peaks and lakes everywhere.

After marveling at the size and scope of these glaciers, we headed east and were greeted by what at first sight struck me as a miniature Matterhorn. As you can see from the picture, we were very close to the same altitude as these impressive and fearsome peaks, which must be 6-8,000 feet high (I think).

We then turned back south and started down, and shortly entered the Valle de los Fosiles (Valley of the Fossils). From jutting alpine peaks to rounded brown rock formations in a matter of minutes! Apparently this part of the Andes is a mish-mash of all sorts of things. I have spent a lot of time hiking in the Sierra Nevadas of California and skiing in Colorado, but I have never seen such a variety of shapes, colors, and rock formations in so small an area. The jumble of colors in this photo was something you would expect to see in Disneyland. Squashed between massive granite formations, we found shale rock with an abundance of primitive fossil creatures, and small alpine lakes filled with brilliant blue waters that contrasted to the milky-white waters of the glacier lakes.

After an hour or so of descent, we came back to the long valley that constitutes the majority of the land administered by the Estancia Cristina. By that time the weather had cleared up and we were treated to a magnificent view of blue sky, peaks, glacier lakes, and canyon walls that are only rivaled by those of Yosemite (in my experience). All of the above in the span of just 9 hours. Unbelievable.


The Smoky Mountain Hiker said...

These are some incredibly beautiful photos you've been posting. In addition to New Zealand and Alaska, Patagonia is high up on my bucket list.

Benjamin Cole said...

What a great place--again, why I am working?

Christian S. Herzeca, Esq. said...

sg, if you booked this trip with a tour operator or similar, perhaps you can post info about them. this is a trip i would like to do myself!

Unknown said...

Great photos. Thanks for sharing. I can also vouch for New Zealand - it's incredible.

Scott Grannis said...

Christian: there is a guy who has planned this trip for us, and I will be posting more details about him soon. He has done a terrific job and deserves to get some publicity. He lives in El Calafate and Tucuman and arranges tours for people all over the country.

McKibbinUSA said...

Very awesome -- your website is suddenly more personal -- well done!