Dientes de Navarino

Dientes de Navarino trekking, Chile

Last week Claudia and I and took a zodiac boat ride from Ushuaia to Isla Navarino, an island that is actually in Chile even though it’s right across the Beagle Channel from Ushuaia and Argentina. So, coming and going, four more stamps in our passports, which are nearly full of Chile and Argentina stamps after three months of border crossings between the two countries. By now, the amount of stamping and filling out of immigration forms has reached a certain level of inanity to us.

But I digress… our reason for heading to Isla Navarino was to trek around the Dientes de Navarino, a small but rugged mountain range on the island. We spent five days out there on this wild and adventurous route, enduring a full range of extreme weather and trekking through some spectacular scenery. See lots more photos from the trek below! Continue reading “Dientes de Navarino”

Glaciar Perito Moreno

Perito Moreno Glacier, El Calafate, Argentina, Patagonia, glacier

Glaciar Perito Moreno : Prints Available

Blue ice of the spectacular Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate, Argentina. 

Happy new year!!! Here’s a couple shots from the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Calafate in Argentine Patagonia. This is one of about seven or eight glaciers on the Argentina side that flow out from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field into large turquoise lakes.

Glaciar Perito Moreno, panorama, Argentina, Patagonia, glacier, El Calafate, Lago Argentino

Glaciar Perito Moreno Panorama : Prints Available

The Perito Moreno Glacier panorama, Argentina

The Perito Moreno glacier is unique because as it flows out from the mountains into Lago Argentino, it smashes directly into a peninsula of land. So, from this peninsula you get this incredible front-and-center view of the snout of the glacier, and you can watch chunks and columns of the glacier crashing into the lake. It’s a huge tourist destination, for good reason!

We’re now in Ushuaia, on Tierra del Fuego at the southern tip of South America. Tomorrow we head out on a six day trek on Isla Navarino – our final adventure of our three month trip!

El Chaltén Dream

Fitz Roy Range, El Chaltén, Argentina
Fitz Roy Range, El Chaltén, Argentina

We’ve just returned to civilization after 8 days camped out in the mighty Fitz Roy range near El Chaltén in Argentine Patagonia. One of my main goals of this return trip to El Chaltén was to capture a photo that I have been dreaming about since my last trip to Patagonia four years ago. I was prepared to spend a week or more waiting for the perfect opportunity to accomplish this photo, and to repeat the efforts with stubborn determination until I did it. I want to talk a bit more about my experience behind this “dream shot” since it epitomizes everything I love about mountain photography!

Back in 2007, I spent two weeks in the Fitz Roy range with my 4×5 camera, hiking around to all kinds of obscure viewpoints every morning like a madman. One morning, I hiked up to the still-partially-frozen Laguna de los Tres for sunrise, and scored one of my favorite Patagonian photos. I was stoked. After the sunrise it was still early, with very calm weather, so I decided to go for the summit of nearby Cerro Madsen. I had no info whatsoever about any route up Madsen, or if it was even possible without climbing gear, but I had scoped it out from different perspectives the previous days and thought that I had figured out a route that would go. The route turned out to be a very fun and challenging scramble, with numerous little obstacles and puzzles along the way, even including a pretty long knife-edge section with gaping abysses on both sides. I made it to the summit, took a photo, and got back down just in time before the Patagonian winds started howling again. It felt great to climb this mountain using only my own reconnaissance and instincts – for all I knew I was the first person to ever climb it… Of course that’s not true, but it felt that way to me!

I wondered about how amazing it would be to get up on that summit for a sunrise, but at the time it seemed like quite an accomplishment for me to have gotten there at all – getting up there for sunrise would be a bit much. But the seed was planted in my head. In the run up to our trip to Patagonia this year the idea starting growing again. My memories of the climb had faded a bit, and now it didn’t seem to me like it would be so impossible. It would be my holy grail grand finale photo of our three month trip down the Andes. So I decided to give it a serious effort. I had my challenge. The hike itself is not what concerned me since that was the only part squarely in my control. Given enough time, along with the long period of dawn light in the summer here, the hike would be strenuous but straightforward. What worried me was the unlikeliness of the convergence of good light, decent clouds but not so much to cover the peak of Fitz Roy (as is very often the case), and most importantly not having the usual ferocious winds that could fling me off that knife edge scramble. We were stocked up with enough food for a week at the base camp area, and as I mentioned before, I was prepared to stubbornly repeat my efforts every morning until I hopefully scored the perfect conditions.

Fitz Roy, El Chaltén, Argentina, Patagonia, sunrise
Fitz Roy Sunrise #2 : Prints Available

Sunrise light on Monte Fitz Roy – December

Well, very fortunately, I scored my “dream shot” on the very first morning! I timed it just right with the 2:00am start. The scramble was just as tricky and fun and challenging as I remembered it, and I arrived at the summit just in time to take some dawn shots and then wait for the real sunrise light. I was troubled by a thick cloud on the eastern horizon that I was sure was going to block the sunrise light; I was sure I would have to repeat the hike again for better light. But the cloud dispersed right before sunrise and when the tip of Fitz Roy started glowing faintly reddish pink with the very first rays of sunlight, I knew I was in for a good show! As the sun rose fully above the horizon, the light got more and more intense, finally descending onto the glaciers below the rock faces at the peak of pinkish-orange intensity. I was shooting the photos as if in a dream and I started to wonder if maybe it was actually one of those awful photography dreams where you always lose your photos once you wake up. But no, it was real and I was photographing perhaps the most amazing sunrise scene I’ve ever witnessed in my life. If my photos from that morning convey even one quarter of the glory of that scene, I will be a happy photographer.

(See a series of panos of the morning light unfolding from dawn to sunrise here).

Cerro Torre, reflection, El Chaltén, Argentina, Patagonia

Cerro Torre Reflection #4 : Prints Available

The piercing spire of Cerro Torre reflects in Lago Torre at sunrise - December. 

After spending three more days camped below Fitz Roy in poorer weather, we headed over to Lago Torre, below the jagged spire of Cerro Torre. Again, the first morning there I had good luck with gorgeous sunrise light and decently calm reflection conditions. In a stark contrast with my “dream shot” of Fitz Roy that I just described, getting to Lago Torre at sunrise involves merely a sleepy 5 or 10 minute stroll from the campsite to the lake.

The contrast between these two photo scenarios illustrates why I believe that the experiences behind the photos matter so much. With landscape photos like these, much of the creative spark lies within that experience behind the photo – the process of discovering unique locations and perspectives and photo ideas, and then the physical challenge of accomplishing the task. There are those who will look at the two photos objectively and may prefer one or the other for purely visual reasons, with no concept or care of the story behind them. But for me – and for those who can understand and appreciate the challenges behind the photos – the experience shines through bright and clear.

Claudia stuck in a tree

Meanwhile, Claudia got stuck in a tree.

The W

Torres del Paine, moon, Chile, moonrise

Cuernos Moonrise : Prints Available

A nearly full moon rises behind Cuerno Principal (2600m) - December. 
Glaciar Grey, Torres del Paine, Chile
Glaciar Grey, Torres del Paine, Chile

Last week we spent 10 days hiking the popular “W” Circuit in Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. These spectacular mountains rise abruptly 3000 vertical meters (almost 10,000 feet) above a series of huge turquoise lakes. Although the finest views of the range are actually seen from further away across the lakes (like this), the W Circuit offers the opportunities to experience the three main valleys and highlights within the range: the Glaciar Grey, the Valle Frances, and Las Torres lake. Although most people hike this route in about 5 days or so, we took 10 days so that we could spend extra time in each valley along the way.

Hiking below Cerro Paine Grande

We started the trek by taking a ferry across Lago Grey to Refugio Grey, and hiking to Campamento Los Guardas, a campsite set in a beautiful lenga forest, with a spectacular mirador (lookout point) directly above the snout of Glaciar Grey, a huge glacier that flows out from the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, the second largest extrapolar extent of ice in the world.

Glaciar Grey, Torres del Paine, Chile, panorama, sunset

Glaciar Grey Sunset Panorama : Prints Available

Enjoying a panoramic view of Glaciar Grey at sunset.

We then hiked around the massive Cerro Paine Grande up to Valle Frances, the second destination of the trek. This is one of the most unique mountain cirques in the world – a broad basin ringed by sheer needle peaks. It’s the kind of place that no photo can do justice to; you just have to be there to tilt your head back and spin around to see all those teeth surrounding you. Awesome!

Cerro Catedral, moonlight, Torres del Paine, Chile, Valle Frances

Catedral Moonlight : Prints Available

A long exposure reveals moonrise light on Cerro Catedral, in Valle Frances in the center of the Torres del Paine range.

Camping in Valle Frances, Torres del Paine, Chile

During the trek you must camp in the large designated campgrounds, usually situated in the beautiful but gloomy lenga forests which provide good shelter from the strong winds that whip around most of the time. Most of these campsites are thoroughly used and abused by the thousands of trekkers that pass through, and the forests around the camps are littered with toilet paper and associated organic matter. It’s a shame that the whopping $30 USD park entrance fee that each of the thousands upon thousands of visitors must pay is apparently not quite enough to maintain a couple decent outhouses.

Hiking up Valle Ascencio
Hiking up Valle Ascencio

Photographing these huge peaks requires a bit of luck with the ever-changing weather and light conditions; unfortunately luck was not on my side for the entire first week of the trek, despite my most relentless efforts. Finally, during our stay in the third and final valley I got some sweet moonlight photos of the Torres spires reflecting in the lake during an unusually calm spell.

Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Chile, moonlight

Las Torres Moonlight : Prints Available

Las Torres reflect in the moonlight on a rare calm night.  From left to right, the three spires are Torre Sur De Agostini (2850m), Torre Central (2800m), and Torre Norte Monzino (2600m).  To get a sense of scale of these peaks, consider that the lake sits at an elevation of about 850m, meaning that these peaks here rise a sheer 2000m (~6500 ft) above the lake!

Tomorrow we take the bus to El Chaltén, where we’ll spend a week or so in the Fitz Roy range, the other famous Patagonian mountain range. I’ve always liked that place a lot, and am excited to return one more time!

Las Torres, Torres del Paine, Chile, lake

Las Torres Overlook : Prints Available

From left to right, the three spires are Torre Sur De Agostini (2850m), Torre Central (2800m), and Torre Norte Monzino (2600m). To get a sense of massive scale of these peaks, consider that the lake sits at an elevation of about 850m, meaning that these peaks here rise a sheer 2000m (~6500 ft) above the lake!

UPDATE: December 31, 2011: Apparently we were lucky to do this trek when we did it… unfortunately this last week a careless camper (surprise, surprise – an Israeli, of course) tried to start a campfire (which is forbidden) and ended up starting a wildfire that has burned tens of thousands of acres on the front side of the range. All the trekkers have been evacuated, and hundreds of firefighters are fighting the blaze, which is not yet under control. Tragic… http://www.digitaljournal.com/article/317068

Puerto Natales

Puerto Natales, Chile, Patagonia, sunset, December

Puerto Natales Sunset : Prints Available

A gorgeous sunset seen from Puerto Natales - December. 

As I explained in the comments in the last post, we drastically changed our travel plans and caught a flight yesterday from Puerto Montt to Puerto Natales, far south in Patagonia. Though we’re skipping the entire Carretera Austral region, I don’t think we had the time to do that area justice anyways, and now we have a whole month to enjoy the spectacular mountains in southern Patagonia without rushing around.

Puerto Natales is the gateway to the famous Torres del Paine, one of the most unique and spectacular mountains ranges on the planet. This is my third time here, but Claudia’s first. Tomorrow we’re headed out for at least a full week, possibly more, trekking around the range, and there are many locations there that I haven’t visited previously which I’m looking forward to seeing (and photographing).

Jack and Claudia in Puerto Natales, Chile

In other news, we just got word that Claudia’s fiancé US visa application, which we submitted in July, HAS BEEN APPROVED!!!! WOOHOO!!! She doesn’t actually have the visa yet – first the approved application will be processed through the Dept of State and sent to the embassy in Germany (which takes about a month – perfect timing with our trip), and then Claudia has to go there and schedule an interview before she finally gets the visa. But, this approval is the main first step – the tallest hurdle in the whole process. The rest is just a matter of follow-through. We are stoked, and relieved!

Jungle Granite

Cochamó, Chile, rain forest, hiking

Hiking through the wet temperate rain forest in the Cochamó valley.

After waiting in the rain in Puerto Varas for a week, we finally got a better weather forecast and headed out for a six day backpacking trip to the impressive Cochamó valley in Chile. We might have jumped the gun by a day or two, since it rained the entire way up; the ten mile hike was totally wet and muddy, with countless bogs and knee deep creeks to cross.

Cochamó, Chile, mist, forest

Mist rising off the forest on a rainy day in Cochamó.

Soaking wet upon arrival, we spent the first night in the Refugio Cochamó, where we dried out a bit and even had a wood-fired shower!

Cochamó, Chile, La Junta, cabin

Cerro La Junta towers above a cabin in the Cochamó valley.

We spent the next four nights camping in our tent in the campground at La Junta, and doing hikes during the days. Fortunately the weather did get better, and we had a number of sunny days mixed in with the rainy days.

Cerro La Junta, Cochamó, Chile

Cerro La Junta : Prints Available

The granite walls of Cerro La Junta (1677m) tower above the temperate rain forest of the Cochamó valley in Chile - November.

The Cochamó valley is known mainly in climbing circles, due to the vast granite walls that rise above the rain forest on both sides of the valley. The locals and resident climbers have blazed a network of trails to access the various walls and peaks – these “trails” are actually often more like roped via ferrate, with seriously challenging scrambling, climbing, and route-finding puzzles up through the steep, thick forest, and over exposed granite slabs. The vista above was a reward of an intense hike that was one of the most challenging (and fun) hikes yet for me in the Andes!

Volcán Villarrica

Volcán Villarrica, Pucón, Chile, November

Volcán Villarica : Prints Available

Volcán Villarrica, above Pucón, Chile - November. 

The last several days we’ve been in the town of Pucón, at the northern end of the Lakes District of Chile. The beautiful Mt-Fuji-esque Volcán Villarrica rises behind the town, which is situated on the shore of Lago Villarica. Although totally different geographically, Pucón reminds us of San Pedro de Atamaca, in that it’s super touristy, yet has a great relaxed vibe, lots of delicious food, and heaps of activities to do in the surrounding area.

I visited this town in the winter 10 years ago, and am shocked at how much it has changed and grown since then – I can hardly recognize anything about it. I vaguely remember back then one main strip with a few main dusty dirt roads branching off; now it’s a bustling tourist town with a complete network of paved roads, and probably ten times the size. But it still has a great atmosphere, perhaps better than ever.

Hiking Volcan Villarrica, Pucon, Chile

Of course once I saw the snow-smothered volcano, I knew that if we were going to climb it, I’d definitely have to snowboard down! So, I rented a board again and we figured out how to get up there without having to use guide services like most people are obligated to do (just a matter of showing our crampons and ice axes, along with a printed proof of membership in a mountain club – in my case an old email from the Colorado Mountain Club).

Smoking crater of Volcan Villarrica, Pucón, Chile

From the bottom of the little ski area to the 2840m (9317 ft) summit was about a 1500m (5000 ft) climb, all on snow. But this was a cakewalk compared to the grueling tour of Volcán Nevado last week! Another difference was that while we were all alone on the mountain last week, this time we were accompanied by about 100 or so other people, mostly in big guided groups.

Volcán Villarica is an active volcano, and from the summit we were able to peer down into the gaping smoking crater! Pretty amazing!

Snowboarding Volcán Villarrica, Pucón, Chile

There’s me dropping down from the summit.

Snowboarding Volcán Villarrica, Pucón, Chile

It had snowed several days earlier, and the cold nights and sunny days since had transformed the new snow into smooth fresh spring corn snow! Perfect for the long, mellow, cruisey descent. Claudia brought a plastic trash bag and had a blast sliding down the whole way.

Sunset on Volcán Villarrica, from Pucón, Chile

We were stoked to have scored such a perfect day on the volcano! Now we’re still in Pucón, trying to figure out where we’re going next tomorrow. But first, a dip in the nearby hot springs this evening!

Volcán Nevado

Vulcan Nevado, Chile

As you could probably guess from the photos in my last post, all the snow in the mountains around Las Trancas had me practically salivating, wishing for a snowboard. Well, on the way down from Valle de Aguas Calientes, we met some skiers and a splitboarder, who told me of a place in town where I could rent a splitboard! Well, I got the board that evening, and the next morning we woke up at the break of dawn and started the long walk to Volcán Nevado, a 3212m (10,538 ft.) glaciated volcano – the tallest one around here. Read more about our big day below! Continue reading “Volcán Nevado”

Valle de Aguas Calientes

Valle de Aguas Calientes, Termas de Chillán, Chile, hot springs

Valle de Aguas Calientes : Prints Available

The hot springs rivers in Valle de Aguas Calientes steam in the cool dusk air.  The water here is scalding hot, though a joining river right around the corner is a perfect temperature for a soothing soak below Vulcan Chillan Viejo.

After our long bus ride south from northern Chile and a quick pitstop in Santiago, we’ve spent the last several days in and around Las Trancas, a sleepy mountain town set in a gorgeous forested valley below two volcanoes. Las Trancas is situated down valley from the famous Termas de Chillán hot springs and ski resort; however, we bypassed the commercial hot springs in favor of a backpacking trek to some remote hot springs on the other side of the mountains. Continue reading “Valle de Aguas Calientes”

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