Post #184: Tip of the iceberg

January 27, 2023


I woke to the “ping” of my phone charging, which meant the generator had come on. Last night the wind never stopped and the building shook during the gusts. We eventually warmed up under the four blankets the hostel provided and slept well despite the noise.

Waking up to this view we knew it would be a spectacular day

Out the window was the clearest sky so far; we could see even the tops of the mountains and there was blue above. My shower ended in cold water but I knew I could warm up at the wood stove. Downstairs at breakfast, we chatted with an Italian couple before checking out and heading to Lago Grey, where we had arranged a catamaran tour to Grey Glacier.

We said goodbye to our refugio and headed toward the lake
Morning light and mostly clear sky as we headed out of the Rio Serrano Valley
Rio Grey en route to Lago Grey
Another rough Patagonian dirt road

We drove down a long rough dirt road toward Lago Grey. En route, the mostly clear sky allowed a stunning view of the Rio Serrano Valley, the mountains and the glacier-fed river.

Beautiful view from the lobby where we waited until it was time to head to the boat launch

At a hotel overlooking the lake, we checked in and waited in the comfortable lobby where we gazed through giant picture windows at the incredibly beautiful expanse of mountains with new snow at the top.


The wind was fierce and the trees were bent over. I wondered if the boat would still depart if the wind were howling.

At noon, we, along with everyone else who had tickets, marched for a half hour along a beautiful rock-strewn sandbar toward the boat launch in a 30-mph wind that nearly stopped us in our tracks a few times. To our left, lake waves crashed on the beach. A few miles beyond, we could see the mountains that ended at the other end of the big lake. 

To reach the boat launch we had to traverse this vast rocky beach with snow capped peaks beyond
Route from the hotel to the boat launch
We unwittingly became the Pied Piper as all the other passengers followed across the sandbar. They assumed we knew where we were going and, luckily, we got everyone there safely

Susan is a fast walker and within a few minutes we realized we had become the de facto leaders of the trek to the launch area—which was a little daunting because we weren’t completely certain where we were going and going the wrong way would mean crossing through lightly flooded areas of the beach, or fighting the wind to turn around and change course. Luckily, we found the way correctly as dozens of others followed us.

We passed both small and large bergy bits
This one looked like a bird with a sharp beak was frozen inside

We loaded up from the beach onto the catamaran, then headed up the lake protected inside while spray flew off the water. Very soon, we passed small and medium sized bergy bits that had calved off the glacier and now floated in the lake. 


The clear day slowly turned cloudy and rainy with snow higher up. We’d been told that a partially cloudy day would be better than a sunny one on Lago Grey because the bergs appeared bluer when there was less sun, so we were actually glad for the clouds even if it meant being more chilled.

We went outside on deck where the wind was still 30 mph, but now with the added speed of the boat; the total which felt like over 40 mph. It was everything we could do to hold on. Light rain stung our faces and the wind tried to snatch our phones out of our hands.

The catamaran was not quite a nonstop trip. We stopped briefly to pick up kayakers about 2/3 of the way to the glacier

The boat stopped to pick up more passengers who had just completed a kayak tour and glacier climb. Three 40ish-year old Americans who’d just finished that adventure joined us at our booth looking almost frozen. We had originally considered doing some of the hike they’d just completed, but we knew better than to fight the wind and rain in kayaks and on an ice trek while still recovering from our colds. 

Watching them recover from the deep chill reinforced that we’d made the right choice. We all chatted about our travels while enjoying either a traditional Chilean pisco sour (Charles) or a calafate sour (Susan and the three 40-somethings)—pisco sour with calafate berries—included as part of the ticket price. Pisco is a grape-flavored brandy that tastes a little bit like tequila. The beverages were chilled with chunks of iceberg ice.

It was a bit early in the day for alcohol, especially since neither of us drinks much, but thankfully the drinks were not too strong
Jagged glacier peaks behind the iceberg
The catamaran brought us across the windy lake to glaciers, granite cliffs and blue icebergs. We were in awe, once again
We didn't enjoy having to wear the life vests but given the wind and the freezing water we understood why they were required
Getting up close and personal with the wall of ice

Eventually, the boat stationed itself just off the face of the huge glacier. The ice turned from light blue at the top to a deep translucent blue near the water. It was stunning. Though we were shivering, we stayed on deck as long as possible. 

A shear cut of sheer blue ice
Massive melting iceberg that flipped over, revealing its underside

On the return trip, we passed some deep blue building-sized icebergs. Some had fallen over and we were in awe of their translucent blue underbellies. 


Back ashore, as we drove for two hours back to Puerto Natales, a rare puma sprinted across the road in front of us! Apparently, they don’t appear when you’re looking as we’d tried the previous day but sometimes show up unexpectedly instead. It was the perfect conclusion to our time in the park.

Outdoor furnishings crafted from a bathtub

In Puerto Natales, Susan had found us an unusual place to stay. We checked into a kind of geodesic dome that wasn’t quite geodesic but still a dome, where the acoustics inside messed with our ears, and where we’d stay for two nights. It had a distant view of snow-capped mountains and even better, it had heat, plenty of hot water and 24-hour electricity!


We drove two miles into town along one of the roughest dirt roads yet to have dinner. Along the way, I learned that in Chile you can’t turn right on red. So many horns! Not only that, you don’t stop in the road to turn left onto another road, instead you pull off to the right shoulder with your left turn signal on and wait until traffic from both directions is clear, then make the turn. An accident seemed way more likely using this method than a potential rear-end collision. Also, in the town, the women walking around in bright red vests with the little ticket-producing machines weren’t writing parking tickets, but rather collecting money for street parking (though it’s kind of the same thing, I guess). We had no idea how it worked especially if one wasn’t around when you wanted to park somewhere. Maybe if you missed her she then turned into a citation-issuer?

Charles' sandwich was nearly too big to pick up. Fresh produce is hard to come by in Patagonia so Susan's tuna salad platter included a few canned items. No mayo or dressing included

The tiny and popular local restaurant we found seemed a little expensive for Chile, with the menu showing a chicken sandwich costing the equivalent of US$8. But when I got it, it was the size of a dinner plate and would easily feed two or more people. While we were waiting for dinner, we were served a small bowl of really good salsa and some bread – a strange combination to us. Thirteen thousand Chilean pesos later, we brought the leftovers to our dome home.


The wind swirled around the dome all night trying noisily to find a place to tug on an eave or gutter or some angled surface but was foiled by its dome-ness.

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