Steve's Adventures in South America

I bought a one-way ticket to Venezuela and I'm not coming back until my tube of toothpaste runs out...

The Grey Glacier

Encountered in Torres del Paine National Park this mammoth slab of ice was so spectacular it deserved it's section!

12.0 km in 6 h to Campamento Paso

All In A Morning's Walk!

Up at 09:00 and as well as my usual morning routine I also wash feet and socks in the freezing mountain river. I then walk back to Glacier Los Perros to take some pics as it was too dark for photos last night. I finally leave the campsite at 12:00. Man, my feet hurt. I can do nothing but hobble, nay, limp along. Yesterday I gave it my all - practically jogging along for hours on end. Today I'm drained and exhausted - I have no energy. Every step, uphill, downhill or on a flat takes a huge amount of effort. I am slow, real slow. And today is one of the hardest days on the circuit, up and over the mountain. Still, I take baby steps - lots of them. I figure if I do that, I have to make it eventually! And I'm right, visible progress is slowly made.

John Gardner Pass :: Spot the Walkers in the Middle

I drag myself up and over the John Gardner pass and Wow, Wow, Wow! Look at that! Wow! On the sunny horizon looms snow capped mountains, looking like an idealistic ski-resort. A few steps forward and I see a glacier winding it's way down between them. The next few steps reveal the giant Grey Glacier river flowing along at the foot of the mountains below me. I'm compelled to sit and stare at it right there on the spot. The landscape is stunning. I've never seen anything like it before. As I try to take it all in I realise I'll probably never see anything like ever again either, for I'm viewing the vast glacier from above. Whereas the norm is to view it from below - or even on it. I stagger forward out of the wind and take a lunch break.

Grey Glacier :: LeftGrey Glacier :: MiddleGrey Glacier :: Right
Grey Glacier Through the Trees

Even after lunch I have to stop and stare every few minutes. As the sun sinks it highlights ripples of crevasses set deep in the ice. I'm watching a river literally frozen in time. It's spellbinding. I hit trees again, they obscure the glacier view. Now it's down, down, down. A serious amount of straight down. (Jez, I think your knees would have suffered! Mine did!) The glacier popping out into view every now and again during breaks in the tree line. I stagger into camp for 18:00. The trails for the past few days have been great! Proper wilderness tracks with no people. Not like the front W trail which was a well groomed gravel tracks harbouring a large population.

Breakfast

Today marks my 3 month travelling anniversary. It's a milestone because I always estimated I'd be away for 3 - 6 months. It means I can go back to the UK at anytime and not be seen to be wimping out! More Irish Coffee (+ some neat whiskey) to celebrate.

Hey, not only do I look like a homeless person but I smell like one too! The American and 2 German girls made it here too. One of the German girls spends the night with a Park Ranger in his little lodge on the campsite. When you're camping, there are no secrets! I fall asleep wondering what qualifications I'd need to become a Park Ranger.

10.0 km in 4 h to Camping Grey

Grey Glacier

Up, packed and out by 11:00 - a lot later than I wanted. I still feel drained, have no energy and hobble along. I think I've bruised a few bones in my feet, they kill! I'm pleased I have an easy day today. I reach Campamento Guardas and stop for lunch. It turns into a feeding frenzy! I eat 3 (not 2 but 3!) tortillas with cream cheese, 2 biscuits, some fruit & nut mix (usually reserved for breakfast) and a toffee mint! Gee, I must be starving!

Dodgy Rope Ladders

For the past week I've been wearing a neoprene ankle support on my left ankle and it's worked wonders to settle the pain I'd been feeling. But for the past few days I've been crippled by a different pain on the heel. I decide to take it off... and instant relief! It seems the bruising had been caused by the support seam digging into my heel with the tight boots.

During the past week I've passed a lot of people on the path (well, on the W) and I assess their looks, decide if they're British / American / Native English Speaker (usually rather easy) and greet them with either a "Hello!" or a "Hola!" Now what bugs me is that every single person I've passed greets me with "Hola!" I mean, do I look Spanish? For some reason it's really beginning to grate.

Room With A View

I literally stumble into the Camping Grey campsite. Despite my huge lunch (compared to other days) I have no energy. I set up home and grab a hot shower (well, a hot dribble!) and exit reborn! I no longer smell like a homeless person! This campsite is back on the tourist W trail so stuff is open. I pitch up in a cool spot - on the edge of a dirt beach overlooking the lake and gigantic floating glacier chunks. It was cool until some Americans decide to pitch up right in front of me, stealing my view. Yeah, cheers.

I stick to my original plan which is to go on a glacier ice hike tomorrow and book myself in with Big Foot Adventures for $135 US. My plan also allows me to eat an evening meal at the refugio to give me energy for the ice hike. I wanted to be self sufficient for the circuit and as there's only a 3½ hour walk left (which I could stagger right now if I had to prove myself), I've practically completed my original goal.

Start of the Grey Glacier

Booking so late (17:44) I was lucky to be fitted into a second 20:00 dinner seating. Dinner (compared to my usual dried noodles) was pea soup, pork chop and cream potatoes and salad with tinned apricots for dessert. Lovely. Washed down with a couple of beers of course! I got talking to Liz and Claire who (forgive my sweeping first impressions again) appeared to be a couple of middle aged lesbians. Liz had been working at a research station in Antarctica for the past 18 months, stabilising the stilt legs on which all the buildings sit on. Previously working as a chippie in the UK she said she found the job advertised in the paper! They both should be joining me on the Grey Glacier tomorrow.

3 Words :: Vertical Glacier Ice-Climb

Piggy Backing a Ride From Vessel Grey II

Everyone assembles in the hut behind my tent for 09:15 and are given a waterproof day bag (Black Diamond) containing a cup, harness and crampons. Cool! The food and rest from last night seem to have worked, I practically walked out of my tent without limping! There's a boat which does a mini tourist cruise twice a day, departing from much further down the lake. We use this to hitch a lift over to the Grey Glacier in the morning and back to land again in the evening. The firm has a rib which they use to ferry us Ice Hikers on and off the Grey II vessel. Boarding it I felt like a pirate. Rape, pillage, rampage! Or just sit there and admire the pretty floating ice-burgs!

It's This Big!

We land on a rock and are given our ice-axes... cool! A bit further and we don our harness and crampons... cooler! With 12 huge spikes protruding out from my feet (especially the 2 that stick straight out the front) I feel all set for a game of football! Once we're suited and booted we're led out onto the ice for a few Mickey Mouse lessons on safety walking for any would be American tourists. There's no self arresting on the glacier because if you don't stop within 2 seconds, it's too late. Instead they assume you're going to slide all the way to the bottom of a crevasse and it's a rescue mission from there on in. Hence we all wear a harness.

Deep CrevasseGrey Glacier Up CloseRalf Comes Out to Play

Far from the flat ice-rink I was expecting the glacier is full of hills, bumps and deep crevasses. The surface isn't smooth but pitted, uneven and crunchy like a meringue. The Grey Glacier as a whole is literally a river suspended in time and the part we were on was less jagged and more undulating. Apparently the reason being, we were behind a large rocky island and walking on the still, calm, eddie that forms downstream of it - just like what you get on a river! We were taken to some different formations like deep crevasses and waterfalls before we saw and went inside some ice caves and tunnels! It was awesome! There are rivers and streams constantly flowing in and through the glacier. And the blue hues and colours are mind boggling. Apparently the glacier looks blue because that's the only colour that has enough energy to escape the ice (blue being the highest visible frequency).

Don't Fall In!Mmm, This Hole Looks Rude!"Chilly, Isn't It?"Climbing the Glacier
Ecstatic I Made It!

Then it was time for the Coup de Grace. We were led to the bottom of a 3 story crevasse whilst the guys got busy chiseling and anchoring belays on the top. Time for a vertical ice climb up the glacier! What a treat! Ice-axes were the weapon of choice. Minimal instruction - just get up there and give it go. Brilliant! T-Bone, get jealous!

I blagged dinner at the Refugio again and ate with the lesbians. Only one of them, I swear, kept rubbing my leg with her foot! Unfortunately for her, she was tired from the days activity and had to retire to bed early. I wandered back to my tent a bottle of wine later, unzipped the front and... Crack... Donk! One of the poles snapped in half, crumpling the front of the tent. Great! At least it wasn't windy and the elastic held the two halves together. Pleased it was to be my last night camping I left it as it was, crawled inside and passed out cold as usual.