Avalanches and Glaciers in the French Valley

David Lee April 11, 2012 2
Avalanches and Glaciers in the French Valley

Our first night of camping in Torres del Paine National Park went smoothly. In fact, I’d go so far as to say we were a tad spoiled.

After a challenging hike to the Three Towers, we made our way back to a private campsite, where a row of yellow North Face tents were already set up for us.

I know some campers prefer to set up their own tents after a long day of hiking, but I’m not one of them. The campsite included a building with hot showers, as well as a small wooden building where our wonderful dinner was served.

The following morning, we awoke to perfect view of the mountains which we’d hiked around the previous day, including the tops of all three Towers.

Melissa enjoys the view in the French Valley

A mischievous skunk added excitement to the start of our day, as he rummaged around our stuff outside the dining room.

From the campsite, we took a brief van ride to a ferry, which was needed to cross a lake so we could begin hiking toward the French Valley.

As we drove toward the lake, the damage from the wildfire that began in late December 2011 became immediately apparent. Land that was once filled with green grasses, bushes, and trees was now barren, save for the scraggly, burnt remains of the larger trees.

Arriving on the other side of the lake, we used the bathrooms at a lodge that miraculously survived the fire, and then began our hike in the area initially damaged by the wildfire.

It was a surreal experience, walking through the skeletal remains of a once healthy forest.

A mountain reflected

One person in our group likened the scene to the setting of a scary movie. Because I never saw this part of the park before the fire, I didn’t feel a sense of loss like some of the guides.

After two hours of walking on fairly flat terrain, we reached the Britanico campsite, and our first views of the glaciers which hung tightly to the mountains above the valley.

Less than an hour later, we reached a popular viewpoint where we each picked boulders on which to recline, and enjoy our pack lunches.

I’m enamored by glaciers, and after ice climbing on Viedma, and watching ice calve off Perito Moreno, I still couldn’t get enough of them. Each is unique in color, size, shape and location.

This time, we were privy to avalanches caused by the towers of ever-shifting ice. They occurred with a surprising degree of regularity, sending white plumes of snow and ice showering down the mountain.

An avalanche caused by shifting glaciers

During our two hours in the French Valley, we saw a half dozen avalanches. Some were bigger than others, and they all were loud enough to hear from where we were safely sitting.

I think I speak for everyone in our group when I say we could’ve spent the entire afternoon sitting on those boulders, watching and listening.

 

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