Our day of rest yesterday paid off – we woke at Grey campsite feeling rested and ready for another day trekking through the unknown. And PUMPED! I mean, after conquering the monster that was the mountain pass, we felt ready to take on the world. Give me trail and give me LIFE.
Our morning started with a quick little 10 minute walk to a viewpoint of the front of the glacier, which we wanted to see before we headed off. We almost skipped it, giving how incredible our sights had been two days ago after John Gardner Pass. But on a whim, we thought it would be cool to see a different perspective and maybe some icebergs. SOOO glad we did this – not only were we right next to the icebergs, but also the perspective looking directly at Grey Glacier from the front was awesome. It’s a bit of an optical illusion because it’s hard to tell if it’s just inclining straight back or if it’s just a giant wall in front of you. Your mind would play tricks on you a bit as you looked!
Another amazing thing I want to mention is the COLORS of the icebergs. They are just all over the place! White icebergs, silvery grey icebergs, soft blue icebergs, bright blue icebergs, icebergs as clear as crystal that looked like blown glass sculptures, green icebergs… and the most unfathomably deep blues that take you breath away. Blues that I didn’t know could exist, blues that put human-made paint or markers to shame.
Blue diamonds of the glacial type, I’d say.
The more vibrant blue hues in glaciers come from compacted ice and trapped air bubbles. The stronger the blue, the denser the ice as the air bubbles become smushed tinier and tinier. This just means the light can penetrate the ice more deeply because the air in the bubbles is so small that it isn’t scattering the light nearly as much. It’s all very fascinating.
Sadly, the vast majority of the Southern Ice Field has been retreating in the past 30 years. This includes Grey Glacier, a big component of it.
For a good long while, we just sat quietly and enjoyed our Friend, Glacier Grey, and the icebergs. Every once in a while, we’d hear the sound of a splash and would quickly scan the waters to see where a piece of iceberg had broken off. It was up there with one of the most zen activities I can recall doing, listening to and observing icebergs (you’d think it would get boring but it DIDN’T!). We think we could’ve sat there a lot longer had it not been for the need to get on our way.
They are singularly captivating works of art. My mind was stilled and satisfied in these moments’ simplicity.
A good start to our day. We headed back to camp, packed up, and pressed on.
Grey refugio is the start of the W trek, which the O merges with, on the Westernmost side. Unlike the O portion, which you can only hike East to West, everywhere on the W portion of the hike can be hiked in either direction. This is because there are a lot of different places/campsites that people can start from, depending on how much time they have and what they want to see. Anyway, our 6th day on the trail took us from Grey to Paine Grande, 6.7 miles.
It was weird at first having so many people passing us going the opposite direction, after hiking a one-way for so many days. Not just that, but there were considerably more people on this portion of the trail (from what I understand, this is fairly normal because the W is, overall, an easier hike than the back/O). It was funny, though, because we would comment to each other how new everyone’s coats, backpacks, or gear looked while a lot of the folks we’d grown used to hiking with on the back side had gear that looked old, weathered, broken-in. Take that how you will? Just an interesting observation.
In December of 2011, an irresponsible hiker tried to burn some of his used toilet paper and it got out of his hands and hit the ground. With dry summer conditions and the typical strong winds of Patagonia, it escalated quickly and became a massive forest fire that destroyed 125 square kilometers of the park (or a little under 50 square miles). Over the next 2 days, we would walk through portions of this fire, and it was all at once sobering, eerie, and beautiful. At least…in a hauntingly beautiful way.
It just reinforced for both of us how important it is to be careful with our stove flames and lighter. Bearing witness to the result of stupidity all around us, we just kept shaking our heads.
But of course – life finds a way! (Jurassic Park, anyone?) New growth was everywhere, both plant and animal.
We even saw a few Magellanic Woodpeckers hard at work. You could hear their pecking so loudly on approach. The females have the small splash of red feathers around the beak, while the males are the more obvious full head of red feathers. Really great to observe these industrious creatures in the wild, and a friendly passerby bird-watcher lent us his binoculars so we could get a close-up.
Everyone along these trails is in such a great mood. If you don’t feel similarly, you’re doing something wrong. Also, we were hiking below a snowstorm that day! Quite satisfying, beautiful, and kept drawing our gaze all day. We never at high enough elevation to be within the storm, so we just admired from below.
Lots of great miradors on the hike up, as today we were primarily continuing to walk the East side of Lago Grey. With each mirador that was further away from Grey Glacier, we’d stop to turn around and see if this was our last look at the big glacier.
Our windy lunch was accompanied by a new pal looking for scraps of food left by hikers.
Finally, after our lunch at the peak of the trail, we turned inland and had our last parting gaze of our Friend, Grey. It was hard to say goodbye.
We both plan to come back and see it again someday in the future. I think some glacier hiking and kayaking amongst icebergs will be in order then.
Came across the charming Laguna Los Patos in some late afternoon sunlight. Enjoyed the waterfowl out on the little islands.
It was a nice relaxing bit near the final leg for the day when we did some gradual downhill going through a wide valley. Finally got to the Lago Pehoe on which Paine Grande sits, and were rewarded with some nice, clear sunset colors over the Southwestern view of Los Cuernos and some of the smaller towers to the north. A rich reward.
Paine Grande was nice, one of the bigger refugios because it sits on a harbor where people can arrive by boat to start their hike of the W. A lot of hikers end up using Paine Grande as their home base. It was a little crowded for our taste – the kitchen was packed and we had to wait in a bit of a line to wash our dishes. Not a big deal, just a reality of being in a more popular spot.
The surprise kindness of strangers was always following us. A lady we cooked next to was asking about our time on the trail, our favorite parts. She had just done her last day that day and was headed home tomorrow to Spain. She gifted us each a full chocolate bar for the trail the next day, as she had some leftover that she hadn’t eaten. It’s the little things. Small wins.
It was a good night to hit our halfway mark – we felt alive and prepared, always hopeful and always curious of what the morning would bring. Still sore without a doubt…but in a mental state of living in the “now” more and more with each day.
We welcomed a semi-early bedtime with the dark and a few sips of bourbon.
See all our photos here: