Sunday 6 February

(magnify) Sunrise on the Horns

Another windy night. Wake just in time to see dawn light around the tent, so hurry down to the lake to photograph the horns. A strong wind whips up waves on the lake, which break upon the shore in showers of spray. Watch the horns change from deep orange to pale yellow and then head back for breakfast.

Today we are off to Lake Grey today to look at the glacier. I almost forget to make my packed lunch and hurriedly throw together some bread rolls, cheese, and tomato before jumping on the bus.

The visitors’ centre has a large topographical model of the park, clearly showing the towers, horns, and lakes. From there we drive on towards the lake, crossing a narrow bridge over a fast-flowing river where we have to walk across ahead of the bus. Luqui remarks that it is unusual to see the river quite this high. The unusually warm weather is causing rapid melting of the glacier.

Lake Gray Causeway

At the foot of Lake Grey the beach is flooded, so to reach the causeway leading to a small island we have to edge our way around rocks and balance along planks put down by the park authorities. The wind is causing waves to come crashing in and spray to whip across the causeway. On reaching the island, we climb round to the front facing the glacier and are hit by the full force of the wind. It is very hard to stand up and Luqui estimates that the wind speed is 80–90 km/h.

(magnify) Iceberg on Lake Gray

There are two solitary icebergs in the bay, blue and spiky. Usually, Luqui tells us, the bay is full of them, but most of them have melted. They end up here after ‘calving’ off the glacier and then being blown down the lake until they run aground. I struggle to take photographs out across the lake while holding onto my hat. End up lying down on the rock to keep the camera steady.

There is shelter from the wind on the other side of the island where we eat lunch just above Luqui’s favourite beach, which currently lies under several feet of water. I watch milky-grey water rising and falling in a gully just below my feet where I sit. The grey colour is due to the suspension of rock ground up into a fine dust by the action of the glacier, and is of course the origin of the lake’s name.

We return to the bus along the causeway having scrambled around the side of the island to bypass the flooded path from the beach. It’s half past two and Luqui asks if anyone fancies a two hour amble up the hill opposite for a view out over the lake.

The walk soon turns into a steep climb. About half way up, Luqui stops at a viewpoint and I assume that this is it for the day. There is a splendid view across Lake Grey and Lake Pehoe behind, with the towers to the left.

But after a few moments, Luqui continues upwards. I don’t mind, but I’m very much aware that we will soon have to come all the way back down again. The path remains unremittingly steep but finally enters the shade of the woods for the final section. A short scramble up loose rock brings us out onto the windy summit of red rock, erroded into brittle layers.

(magnify) The summit
(magnify) Lakes Gray and Pehoe

From here we can see the smaller Pingo Glacier to the left of Grey Glacier. More icebergs too are visible, caught in the shallows on the far side of Lake Grey about half way down. Luqui gives us plenty of time to take what photos we can in the screaming wind, but as I take out my last remaining sandwich he insists that we must leave. I follow on, scrambling back down the rock and simultaneously taking bites out of my bread roll.

It’s a good knee-buster coming back down, or as Helen rather more optimistically put it, ‘good muscle toning’. Just before we arrive back at the car park I notice an exotic-looking yellow bird in the bushes next to the path. It turns out to be a Patagonian Sierra Finch, about as common as a sparrow round these parts.

No time is lost getting into the showers on our return to the campsite. I am waiting on one side of the building but an attendant calls me over to the other when a shower stall becomes free and wipes the floor down with a mop before I go in. I note that there is plenty of hot water as my feet fly from under me on the freshly cleaned floor.

Lake Pehoe, Paine Grande, and Cuenos del Paine