Routa Fin Del Mundo

November 26, 2018

We spent our first day in Punta Arenas, Chile, getting heavy polar gear from the United States Antarctic Program (USAP), trying on parkas, hats, gloves, insulated bibs, boots, Gore-Tex pants, etc. We chose what fit us best to be prepared for the cold and wet weather awaiting us in the Antarctic Peninsula. The process was pretty quick with our new friend Paul assisting us. With appropriate clothing checked off the list, we visited the warehouse containing our gear (which was mostly already packed up in wooden crates or pallets for easy shipping) for some last minute instrument checks.

Paul hands out clothes with Clem and friend. Credit: T. Scambos

Our flight to Rothera was delayed from Friday, November 16th, to Tuesday, November 20th. This meant the Firn Aquifer team (southern contingent) had some extra time to explore the local area, and what better place to go than to Torres del Paine National Park. We packed up some weekend bags and left all of our larger gear at the hotel for a mini-holiday. Torres del Paine near the town of Puerto Natales is about five hours north by car—or in our case, by trusty rental truck.

The drive is long, and the landscape and its tumultuous weather, change by the minute. Fittingly, the road, Highway 9, is called Routa Fin Del Mundo—the road to the end of the world. We spent hours checking out stark and empty, but still beautiful scenery. And slowly, the terrain became grander. Emerging ahead was the landscape of Torres Del Paine—incredibly rugged spires, snow-capped mountains, and glacial blue waterfalls. Bright flowers, green shrubs, and eerie skeletal trees from a long-ago wildfire made every landscape picture a keeper. The lakes were a magnificent turquoise, carrying just a bit of glacial flour that lightened the color. The effect was ethereal with high ragged clouds shrouding the peaks as the sun began to set. We headed back to our bungalow in Puerto Natales for the night and grabbed pizza (and wine) along the way to celebrate our adventures of the day.

This photo proves we work…sometimes. Credit: B. Wallin

The next morning was spent doing a bit of work and catching up on emails followed by more adventuring in Torres del Paine. We saw more huge blue waterfalls, got a clearer view of the Towers finally, and hiked to an overlook with a view of Glaciar Grey, a mountain glacier just west of the Cordillera del Paine. Most of the roads in the park are narrow, winding, and unpaved, so although the travel was bumpy, the views made up for it tenfold.

The team poses at Torres Del Paine National Park with Los Cuernos (horns) in the background. Credit: C. Miège

Las Torres, or the towers, of Torres del Paine National Park stand shrouded in cloud cover. Credit: T. Scambos

After another long day of adventuring, we headed back to our hostel, 4 Elementos where Rodrigo Traub, aka Mr. T, hosted us. Mr. T is a local mountaineer, Puerto Natales resident, and native Chilean with a very lovable dog, Perrita. He provided us with a delicious local dinner of salad and homemade stew including eggplant, potatoes, carrots, onions, rice, chorizo, smoked mussels, and—of course—plenty of wine. Mr. T told stories of his mountaineering days, being one of the first men to ever reach the summit pyramid of Cerro Paine Grande in the winter in 1996, while we relaxed by a warm stove that heats the hostel. We headed to bed, stomachs and hearts full, ready to return to Punta Arenas and begin the next leg of our trip to Rothera in the coming days.

Lynn looks skeptically at home-smoked mussels, which are heading for the stew. Rodrigo Traub, aka Mr T, prepares dinner at 4 Elementos. Credit: B. Wallin

After a morning of corn-flour crepes, coffee, and fresh-squeezed orange juice, we headed back to Punta Arenas, but took a few back roads to stretch out the return. The drive turned into a mini-safari as we passed flamingos, a brown Patagonian skunk, a fox with a cloud of angry birds chasing it, and a flock of emus. The landscape has a look of desolation, but it teems with life. We returned to our hotel happy and ready for the next few days…and the flight to Antarctica.

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