Battling across the dark grey stony beach, hardly able to stay upright in the wind, which was whipping grit into my eyes and cheeks, I wondered if it would all be worth it. But one look at the turquoise blue icebergs floating on the water to my left reassured me that it would be. And it was.
We had already crossed a rickety suspension bridge and had a pleasant stroll through a wood. When we emerged from this to see the beach below us it looked like that too would be a pleasant walk. We had no idea from above of the ferocity of the wind!
Taking photos there of the icebergs that so delighted me was a huge challenge; I did actually tumble over on one occasion when a gust of wind caught me as I lined up a shot. After that I gave up, nervous about breaking a bone or a camera lens.
The journey to the glacier
Eventually though we reached the far side of the beach. We crossed a small spit of land to the jetty where we were to board the catamaran that would take us to the glacier. We had about a ten minute wait before boarding; once on board we found a comfortable lounge area with plenty of room for us all to spread out. The captain told us not to go on the outside upper deck until we had sailed as the winds were so strong. We were also told we must wear life-jackets while venturing up there.
We spent most of the journey to the glacier inside, with occasional forays outside to take photos. Meanwhile the crew played a bizarre selection of Elvis Presley hits, most of them repeated several times during the course of the hour-long trip.
Once we reached the glacier though, the boat slowed right down and everyone of course made their way upstairs.
The glacier is certainly an impressive sight and really worth the journey to get here. It reaches the lake on two fronts, as it separates around a small island that stands in its way (known as a ‘nunatak’); but at the point before it forks it is six kilometres wide.
The ice stands 30 metres high and even in quite a large boat like the Lady Grey you are dwarfed by it. It was only when we approached quite close to the ice that I realised the scale. From a distance you think you must be nearer and the glacier not so massive as it really is.
And as well as being surprisingly high, it is also surprisingly beautiful, shot through with deep blue cracks and set against the blackness of the surrounding volcanic rock.
Our boat cruised very slowly along the front of the smaller eastern section. It then turned to go back past so that anyone who’d stayed downstairs and was on the ‘wrong’ side of the boat could also get a good view. Next we sailed around the nunatak to the western section, which is if anything more striking and more beautiful. Here we repeated the slow cruising to give everyone excellent opportunities to see and photograph.
And boy did I photograph! Every new angle presented a different perspective; every new crack in the ice seemed a deeper shade of blue. And when the possibilities offered by the glacier itself began to run out, there were also the turquoise blue icebergs drifting past, off-shoots of the main star of the show.
The blues of Glacier Grey
Altogether we spent about an hour at the glacier, so everyone had plenty of photo opportunities and we saw its full extent. When we finally turned back towards the southern end of the lake, drinks were served; pisco sours (or fruit juice for the non-drinkers) chilled with ice chopped from a large block of iceberg brought on board for this purpose.
After another hour of sailing (and Elvis!) we returned to our starting point. The wind was behind us for the walk back to the bus, making this a little easier, but I was still glad to reach it. But I was gladder still to have made the trip which was to prove one of the highlights of our time in Chile.
Update 18.01.21: Since I posted this, Terri, of Second Wind Leisure Perspectives, has set us a Sunday Stills challenge to share photos illustrating the colour she describes as ‘glacier blue’. I can’t think of any I have in my archive that better fit that theme than this of the inappropriately named Glacier Grey!
I visited the Torres del Paine National Park in 2016