Patagonian ice

Patagonian ice. The end of the world.

“This was the world of my childhood dreams: a space without limits and lands without owner.”  Andreas Madsen.

Text: Kissthemountain

I  

like to imagine the wind traveling across the Pacific Ocean in its quest for solid ground. I close my eyes and try to join it on cold winter nights. It really is chilling to think of the sea violently shaken up as it blows by and of the creatures that inhabit it. Imagine the moment when you see the Andes range and, reaching an even faster pace, seek direct confrontation with its mountains.

These winds, which clean the atmosphere to enhance colors and silhouettes, and endow it with a luminosity for which human eyes are sometimes not prepared for, travel through Patagonia leaving behind great precipitations in the form of water and snow. Nature is giving us the formation of spectacular glacial tongues that culminate in magnificent fjords towards Chile, and towards Argentina in lakes that seem to be taken out of a dream. In any case, it goes without saying, of extraordinary beauty.

We are between the parallels of latitude 48°20’ and 51°30’ south. The South Patagonian Ice Field as it is called in Chile or the Patagonian Ice Continent in Argentina. The largest of this hemisphere after the Antarctic, and home of the Perito Moreno, Upsala, Spegazzini glaciers… in Argentina; and of Pio XI, Grey, Balmaceda and many others in Chile. And of course mountains whose names evoke times of the past, present and future: Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, Torres del Paine, Monte Steffen, Cerro O’Higgins, Lautaro Volcano, Cerro Daudet … Some 15,000 square kilometers, 360 kilometers from north to south and between 40 and 60 from east to west, on the Chilean Argentine border, extending from Jorge Montt glacier in the north to Torres del Paine in the south.

 

I like to imagine Andreas Madsen, a young Danish emigrant who came to these lands to carry out exploratory and measurement work, making the decision to settle with his wife at the feet of Fitz Roy, and helping all those who tried to conquer what he understood as one of the greatest creations of his god.

I like to imagine Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone reaching the summit of this mythical mist-shrouded mountain after weeks of continuous snowfall, frightening storms and brutal winds that threw them to the ground and ripped up their tents. Poincenot’s recent death, who also accompanied them on that expedition, was surely on their minds.

 

I like to imagine that I am next to Perito Moreno, alone, on one of those sunrises that can only be felt in these lands. I dwell on it. I hear it. I feel it. Beauty frozen. A cathedral of ice cracks, tossing icebergs into the sea which then suddenly emerge to create waves that break the most wonderful of silences. Immensity. Blue. I cannot stop thinking that what my eyes are able to see rising above sea level, is only an eighth of the grandeur of this glacier. How much beauty must be hidden under the waters!

I like to imagine I´m contemplating Maestri and Egger´s ascent of Cerro Torre. I see the fall of the latter and the despair of the former. He continues on an impossible ascent. I am the only witness of the truth that I keep to myself. I am not the one to unveil this universal mystery. I am not the one to justify or deny claims by Bonatti or Messner.

 

I like to imagine myself in a comfortable hotel room in El Chalten, where the fire warms a room through whose windows the cold can be seen. The wind violently shakes everything in its path. It is near dusk and rain hits the glass furiously. In the background, the intimidating mountains are reflected in the eyes of climbers from the other side of the world. Everyone is silent. Respect and fear. Hope and dread.

I like to imagine myself navigating one of the lakes that make this part of the world  even more beautiful, if that were possible. Lake Argentino. A great amount of clothing protects me from a temperature that gives the impression it cannot get any lower. I’m on the deck. What a sight. Icebergs that seem sculpted by the most inspired of artists indicate that I am approaching a new glacier. There it is. Its intimidating wall of no less than eighty meters awaits me. I close my eyes and let myself be carried to the top of the glacier. From there I look at the ship I came in on. On the deck I spot someone observing me through binoculars. It is me, myself.

 

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