We all ended up on the same excursion that day, a full day for the Grey Glacier. We all bundled up, I think I had on a thermal cami, a wick long sleeved scoop neck shirt, a wick turtle neck, a fleece vest and a jacket. And that was only the top. On the bottom I had on these base layer pants that are supposed to adjust to keep you warm or cool depending on the circumstances, hiking pants, thick socks and my hiking boots. In my pack I had a hat and gloves, sunscreen (cause there is no ozone layer down here) some water, chap stick and sunglasses.
We piled into a van with our drive Gustave and off we went. Our first stop was the ranger station where you have to register to enter the park. There were also bano's – bano's are your friend and you should use them whenever you see one. We drove for almost two hours, stopping along the way when guanaco's blocked the road or we wanted to take pictures. The baby's are very cute, but aren't all babies?
Gustave told us about the families of guanaco. There is usually one male and many females (did the Mormans make it down here?). They have babies in the spring and they wander all over the park. The herd is the dessert of the puma, so they must always be alert. They use what Gustave called vigilanties, lone young males that take to the high ground surrounding the herd and keep watch for the big cat. If they see one they scream a warning to the rest of the herd and they all scatter. Once you knew this you started to noticed the lone vigilanties up on the hills. This early warning system does not always work as indicated by the number of guanaco bones scattered all over the place.
Finally we made it to the Lago Grey Hotel where we got our first glimpse of the glacier. It was still far off in the distance, but there were big ice pieces that had fallen off and floated down the lake. There was a big beach where they float down to and eventually melt. We had a little lunch and then walked down to the beach. We had to cross a river on a suspension bridge. It had a little sign that only six people at a time should be on it and I think that was a swell plan. The thing swayed like crazy as you walked across it. I'm sure we looked like a bunch of drunken sailers walking across because the other people crossing did.
We go down to a dock where we donned yet another layer, the life vest. While very important I felt that all it would really do was keep you afloat as they pulled your dead body out of the very cold water. How long can one last in ice water? Then we got on a little boat, we were instructed to sit five to a row, my beloved, Chip and I were in the front row and we made room for the now friendly Brazilians. Once the boat was full we were off to a bigger boat that sat a little further in the lake. They made about three trips bringing people back and forth and once the big boat was full they gave us instructions – keep your life vest on – that was the extent of the instructions. There was a sign that said in the event of an emergency keep calm, the crew knows what to do in this type of emergency. I thought, what type of emergency? Are they prepared for everything? I certainly hoped so. And then we were off on a three hour tour. And yes, that song did start playing in my head.
As we got closer and closer to the glacier there was more ice in the water and I did think about the Titanic. Somewhere I heard or read that what is below the ice is three times the size of what is above the ice. This started to make me a little nervous because some of these were very large above the ice and we were getting pretty close to some of them.
At one point a nice young crew member came over to see if we had any questions, wrong person to ask. How much has the glacier melted? What is the black stuff in it? How long does it take for the ice burgs to get to the shore? How long does it take for them to melt? Why is some of it blue? Are the rocks so smooth because of glacier? Where do you come from? How long have you worked here?
Martin was happy to answer all my questions. The glacier used to cover all the mountains we see, the only parts showing were the highest peaks. One hundred years ago the glacier covered that big rock. You see how the it looks like two glaciers coming down to the lake? It is really only one and it has split around that rock. The ice in the middle is older, more dense. You can see the difference if you look at the right side and compare it to the left. The black stuff is I think he said lica, the glacier picks it up as it moves along and deposits it in the lake as it melts. The lake is very deep and the lica (??) makes it very difficult to see thru. Divers have tried, but they cannot see very far. The ice takes anywhere from three to eleven days to reach the shore and then anywhere from three to twelve months to melt depending on the size.
The different colors are an optical illusion. It is really all one color but, what looks blue is older more dense ice, it has no bubbles in it. The ice that looks white is younger ice, full of air bubbles that reflect six times more light and so it looks white.
Yes, the rocks are smooth because the glacier rubs all the hard edges off. He comes from Santiago. He has worked on the boat every season for about five years.
Then he wandered off to impart his wisdom to others.
The day was unbelievable. It was clear and very sunny and the glacier sparkled. We went outside and as we got closer to the glacier you could feel the air getting colder and colder. We put on our hats and gloves and took out our cameras.
Of course the other 50 people on the boat did the same thing. It got a little crowed for a few minutes and the guy who had no idea about personal space as he kept running around and taking picture of his friends is various positions irritated all of us at some point. I did want to rip the backwards baseball cap off his head, toss his expensive camera on the stick into the lake and watch him follow it, but I refrained.
We must have taken close to a thousand pictures between us. We went up one side of the glacier, then over to the other side, around the corner and in closer. When you got really close you could see a thin blue line right above the water line.
We finally turned and headed back to the dock. We had to cross thru an area where there were lots of iceburgs and the boat went very slowly and pushed some of them out of the way as we went.
At one one point the boat stopped and two people got on the little boat with Martin and another crew member and they took them to a campground right on the lake. You can hike into it, but this was much more dramatic way to make and entrance, for sure.
Then we were back on the way to the dock. Right before we got to the dock we saw a condor up on the side of the lake. It was big and spread its white tipped wings to give us a show. The crew got excited, so I don't think condor sighting happen every day.
Gustave was waiting for us back at the van and we rode back to the resort talking about how fantastic it was and singing 80's rock.
All in all, a long and wonderful day.