I almost touched a glacier yesterday, but I couldn’t reach it because it’s rained a lot recently, and the river in front of it was too wide to cross without getting swept away and possibly drowning in ice-cold runoff. But I got really close — and by that, I mean 25 meters close. To a glacier.
The glaciers in Torres del Paine National Park are among the most accessible in the world. You can strap on crampons and hike across the top of Glaciar Grey, a 26 kilometer long finger of South Patagonian ice field. Or you can settle into a kayak and paddle up to the ice mass’ base. In a world of rapidly receding glaciers, that’s pretty rare.
Here’s a brief history of the park’s ice: The Earth’s plates shifted in this area about 12,000 years ago, thrusting the once horizontal layers of sedimentary rock out of the ground and into the air. Then it snowed and it snowed, and rather than melting like it’s known to do, the snow compacted into glaciers. The glaciers advanced, mostly during the Pleistocene era, eroding away at the uplifted rock, carving the dramatic formations this park is known for. Several of those same glaciers still remain, but are receding at between four and 10 meters each year. That means I’d better touch, walk on or otherwise experience the glaciers here quickly, before they're gone.
Check out pictures, like the one below of Los Cuernos, from my hike up Valle Frances.