The Ice Caves of Grey Glacier

I have been known to break a rule or two in my day… But not in another country and especially when I don’t know what the consequences will be for my actions. I knew the Grey Glacier was protected, that there isn’t a public trail down to it and if you got caught off trail you would be kicked out of the Torres Del Paine National Park. With my wild imagination, I was envisioning being beaten and thrown into a cold dark cell, shared with the most heinous criminals in all of Patagonia. I had no intentions of going off trail till the park rangers at the Paso Ranger Station and Camp mentioned it to us.

The first time Heather and I caught a glimpse of Grey Glacier, it literally stopped us in our tracks. Holy crap Batman! So much ice. We whipped out the go pro and I hummed theIMG_9186.JPG National Geographic theme song while Heather attempted to communicate her feelings. The clouds broke and blue sky shown through which somehow enhanced the blue cracks in the chunk of ice that sat contently in a valley it had created for itself over millions of years with giant snowcapped mountains surrounding it like nature’s bodyguards. The water was turbulent and battered the icy cliffs. Watching in complete aw as a chunk broke off and drifted away with the wind created current. Indulging in a mini photo shoot, we took way too many pictures (if there is such a thing) because for all we knew this was as close as we were going to get.

The next day we were wearing Hefe Chef and Nat Geo’s spare waterproof pants and gloves
and were making our way down a path away from Camp Paso’s ranger station. The morning mist had never dissipated but it felt good against my face as Heather and I struggled to keep up with Nat Geo. He stopped and turned to us, “This is a good place to climb but not now. It is slippery from water.” Good place to climb I thought, hell, I could hardly walk across the rocks with out slipping. Thank goodness I had bought a pair of Salomon X Ultra Mid II GTX Women’s Hiking boots in Puerto Natales the day before we hit the park. Heather was raving about how comfy they were so I made a last minute choice to just tie my running shoes onto my pack and splurge for the ankle support. I didn’t get a blister once and never rolled an ankle (and I pretty much tried to roll one). Suddenly Nat Geo deviated from a clear cut pat and started down a steep incline through berry brambles and waist deep bushes. Heather and I looked at each other and without words she once again whipped out the GoPro to document our decent.

Whenever he would jump off a ledge he would stop, turn to us and offer his hand or grabbed us by the waist and helped us down. I was looking down with such determined focus not to slip or trip that I ran into him a couple times. Embarrassing but it could have been worse. Heather gasped and I looked up in time to see her catch herself. It was a rough route through the bushes but the smooth slippery boulders we scrambled over as it began to rain was far more challenging especially since I am a total klutz. The mist, rain and fog obscured our view of the glacier till we were almost upon it. Heather and I both squealed and the boys laughed and spoke to each other in Spanish then imitated us squealing and smirked.IMG_9305.JPG As the four of us approached where the rocks met the glacier the rain turned back to mist. Rain water mixed with glacial melt had created mini waterfall spouts off the edge splashing everywhere. The boys explained that this is “Holy Water” and this is when they felt closest to nature. They felt a part of the earth and this was sacred to them. I felt honored that they would share such a special place with us.

My hands went instantly numb as I cupped my hands and the void filled with fresh water. The water was more cold than normal ice water as it ran down my throat. Perhaps I just imagined the difference, but you’ll never convince me other wise. This was the best tasting water I had ever had. Crisp and refreshing especially after that hike. I ran my hand up and down the glacier like I had never touched ice before. Mesmerized by the most

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Heather, Nat Geo & I at the entrance to one of the ice caves in Grey Glacier

intriguing hue of blue I had ever seen. If cobalt and periwinkle had a magical sacred blue baby this would be the color birthed. The texture was, well… like a wet ice cube. Haha but I just couldn’t keep my hands to myself. There were bubble pockets in the ice walls and in some places the rushing water burrowed rounded holes and sharp edges in the giant slab. As we ventured further into the ice crevasses we saw tiny insects and rocks suspended in the slowly melting glaciers depths. Millions of years old we were seeing creatures from the past preserved over time in their ice grave. It was silent except for the hundreds intricate streams just below the surface of the ice that were being fed by the numerous waterfalls expediting the melt of anything in its path.

Heather broke the silence after almost half an hour with a rather meek, “We should take some pictures of this.” BACK TO REALITY. Um duh! We started taking pictures as if we just remembered our role of tourist. We asked the guys to take our picture all over that not so Grey glacier. Nat Geo finally took my camera and started to walk away. This obviously signified the end of our photo rampage. Trotting behind him we returned to silence as we IMG_9341started to make our way up a rocky ridge away from the glacier. In a single file line we made our way over the ridge and saw a series of glacier lakes sprawling out before us. “Pictures later.” He muttered and beckoned for me to continue following him. It was hard, but I used my self restraint and continued… just kidding I turned around real quick and Heather took it with her camera. BOOM! That’s called teamwork my friends. He led us back towards another ridge and to my surprise with one giant step from rock over a very intimidating drop off, he helped both Heather and I step onto the top of the glacier.

I nodded to Heather like a bobble headed idiot and she again pulled out the GoPro. The boys warned us to follow exactly were they stepped and to avoid any cracks or edges. We zigzagged our way out onto the middle of the glacier where Nat Geo proceeded to sit down and pat the ice next to him. Obediently we sat. He took off his backpack and pulled out a thermos, cookies and our chocolate bars I had given them earlier. A yerba mate break on the Grey glacier with cookies and chocolate? I fought the urge to propose right there and IMG_9389instead settled for a thank you and a huge grin. I felt like a kindergartner at snack time sitting indian style on the reading rug. Even though it was starting to snow on the glacier I was all warm and fuzzy with the hot tea in my belly and my extra layers they had shared. We picked up are trash (pack it in, pack it out) and adjusted our layers before we started making our way off the glacier. The hobbit yelped from the back of our line and pointed to the skies to the right of us. There in the mist was a perfectly visible rainbow. Heather and I threw our cameras to the guys and did a classic “High School Musical” style jump in the air pose.

Looking at the pictures we had just taken and instantly reminiscing on an adventure that IMG_9399was not yet over, we almost fell off the edge. Thank goodness we traveled with park rangers. Haha once off the glacier, I remembered we had to hike back up that mountain to where we came from. To try and give myself a visual goal I asked them to point out how high we had to ascend to reach camp. “All the way.” The way up proved to be far more challenging and steep. At points Heather and I were pulling our legs so we could step higher and pushing off our legs so we could straighten them with momentum.

The guys stopped as they could see they were running our out of shape and unacclimated butts into the ground. They pointed out different berries that were edible and then after a few minutes of me sampling each berry bush insight we continued. By the time we got back to the Ranger Station, Hefe Chef and Gandalf had made us fresh bread and had set out Nutella. They had brought our stuff in from the dome and put it in their bedroom. “Girls get bottom bunk.We will take bottom bunk. Hobbit on the floor.” He smirked and chuckled a little a the last sentence. I gave Hefe Chef one of the bracelets I wore that he had taken a liking too as a thank you for his kindness and hospitality. That night we ate Nutella and bread till our stomachs hurt then piled in to the bedroom snuggled into each of our own sleeping bags on the bunkbeds and with the help of my EcoxGear wireless speakers, watched the Will Smith movie Focus on their laptop. Apparently it was their weekly movie night. In the morning we woke them with hugs and kisses (the one on each cheek kind kisses) goodbye. I left some Chilean money on their table, the last of my candy bars and a note and signed with the nickname the Paso Rangers had given us.

Thank you for the food,
shelter and kindness.
You are gentlemen.
Come visit us in America.

Love,
the Loka Gringas.

And with that we checked to make sure we had everything packed. I am notorious for losing shit when traveling. My walking stick! Heather popped her head back inside the door and looked around she reached just inside the door and retrieved my hand carved and painted spiritwalker with a feather and a sticky note on it.

Travel safe Loka Gringas.
Here is a beautiful feather
for your big stick.

Hefe Chef

Below that in tiny almost illegible writing he has written his Facebook info for us to be friends. Both cooing at the thoughtfulness we tucked the feather away safely and made our way down the path away from our new friends and camp Paso.

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