Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Sarmiento Lake and Amarga Lagoon

Sarmiento Lake is the largest lake in the Torres del Paine National Park, has an area of 86.2 km2 and maximum depth of 312m. It is considered a sub saline lake due to chemical composition of its water. Also it is the only lake in the park that is not fed directly from a glacier but by a number of streams that come from eutrophic lagoons which ones characterise by having a high concentration of organisms due to the presence of excessive nutrients.

    The lake waters are deep blue and is surrounded by the exotic Patagonian steep vegetation.

Toponym: the name, Sarmiento, is a tribute to Argentine Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, politician and writer who ruled Argentina between 1831 and 1874.
Earlier in 1831 and also in 1840, he lived in exile in Chile where he had a remarkable activity both in the field of education and journalism.

However Faustino Sarmiento was a very controversial man, he was accused of allowing Chile to take possession of Patagonian territory, ensuring that the Strait of Magellan belonged to Chile and was not worth doing military spending to defend the region.
Also he was one of the most criticised president in the history of Argentina mainly because of his racism against both Patagonian indigenous and gaucho.

The Amarga Lagoon is a shallow lagoon, maximum depth of 4m, is small: has an area of 318km2 and is located outside the boundaries of the park, about 5km from Sarmiento Lake.
The waters of the lake is lush green colour and flamencos use to come to its shore in search of food.

Toponym: the name, Amarga which means bitter, is related to the bitter taste of its water as it has a high salt index, PH 9.1 which form a halo of salt in almost all the edge. For reference: pure water has a PH 7 index and toilet soap 9-10.

The Sarmiento Lake and Amarga Lagoon belong to the same basin closed by moraines (moraine is a mass of rocks and other debris carried down and deposited by a glacier.) and both have closed water systems: receive their waters from some streams, but not having drainage emptying takes place by evaporation, when the water evaporates can not carry the minerals resulting in high- salt environment.

Along the shoreline of Sarmiento lake there can be observed a white halo, the thrombolites, a drop in lake level by 9m has resulted in the exposure of these carbonate structure reefs.

Thrombolites and stromatolites are structures generated in shallow and/or salty waters by cyanobacterias (Cianobae rivularia), also known as blue-green algaes because they are able to perform photosynthesis in which they absolve the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere with which to form the carbonate that precipitate to the ground combining with sedimentary material to build these structures.

The word thrombolite or thrombolith derived from the same root as thrombosis which means clot, as thrombolites have a clotted structure, clumpy structure.

And the word stromatolite or stromatolith from the Greek word stroma that means bed, as stromatolites have a laminated structure, finely layered structure.

Scientists do not know whether stromatolites became thrombolites or thrombolites arose independently.

Biologists generally believe that cyanobacterias played a key role in increasing the amount of oxygen in the earth's atmosphere as these organisms are very old, some fossils date back more than 3.5 billion years, one of the oldest things in the fossil record. However is belied that the formation of the lake took place about 10.000 years ago so these thrombolites as well.

Thrombolites and stromatolites are true living fossils, in fact, are few places in the world that these living organisms can be studied and observed. However there is no doubt that it is the scenic beauty of Torres del Paine National Park that attracts thousands of visitors each year. From the viewpoints of Sarmiento Lake and Amarga Lagoon one can have a magnificent panoramic of the Paine Massif and observe the amazing condors flying around.

Tourist information:  Punta Arenas:





Friday, 3 October 2014

The Paine Massif

The Paine Massif is an independent group of mountains in the Torres del Paine National Park with its own interesting characteristics, actually it's the centrepiece of the park.

A simple explanation of its formation: 50 million years ago a thick layer of sedimentary rock was formed and a magma layer intruded between the sedimentary rock and the mantle.
Once the magma cooled down granite was formed and was forced up to surface by the movement of tectonic plates.

Magma is molten rock found under the surface of the earth, it's extremely hot, between 700-1200 degrees Celsius, and subjected to high pression. When the magma cools it begins to form igneous rock, which can be intrusive (below the surface) and extrusive (volcanic).

During the Pleistocene, geological period that began 2.8 million years ago and lasted about 11.7 thousand years ago, the climate was marked by repeated glacial cycles estimating that 30% of the earth's surface was covered by ice, so the massif.
Then about 12 thousand years ago the glaciers began to retreat as the climate changed and the movement of the waters shaped out the massif as it is today.

The main attraction in the massif are the iconic Torres del Paine (Towers of the Paine), a group of three distinctive granite towers lined up north-south with impressive vertical cliffs:

- Torre Monzino (North tower) is 2.600m high and was first ascended in 1958 by an Italian team led by Guido Monzino.

- Torre Central is 2.800m high, it's well-known by mountaineers for its outstanding steepness and beauty. It was first climbed by the British Chris Bonington and Don Whillams in 1963 and next day an Italian team climbed the same route.

- Torre D'Agostini (South tower) is 2.850m high and was first climbed by the Italian Armando Aste.

Another attraction of the massif is the Cuernos del Paine (horns) which is a group of three amazing mountains resembling horns of a big animal. It's made up of layers of sedimentary rock on top of harder granite rock.

- Cuerno Principal (main mountain) is 2.600m high

- Cuerno Norte(North mountain) is 2.200m high

- Cuerno Este is 2.000m high.

Its magnificent forms, sharp edges and the colours of the rocks made these formations a great attraction in the park. It is located between Frances Valley and Bader Valley, and a amazing view of  Nordensjold Lake at the footsteps of the Cuerno Principal.

Mount Almirante Nieto is another formation of the massif with an elevation of 2.670m, also known by "Paine chico" (little Paine). Although it goes unnoticed by most of the visitors it's a very interesting mount with two summits, east and west, known by its great granite wall on its west side. Also it is the most climbed in Torres del Paine due to its low technical difficulty, actually was the first mountain climbed in the park in 1937 by German Hans Teufel and Stefan Zuck of the Bavarian Mountain Club.

 The Paine Grande (big Paine) is absolutely amazing, it's a mountain with four summits lined up from north to south:

- Principal summit is 3.050m high, actually the highest summit of the massif.

- North summit which is 2.760m high

- Central summit is 2.739m high

- South summit or Bariloche summit is 2.660m high.

This fascinating mountain is very difficult to climb indeed, only twice has been possible to reach the Principal summit. The instability of its glaciers and poor weather at its peaks has killed several climbers and has left many with the desire to climb.
During the 1954 summer climbers of Andean Bariloche Club saw how two of their mates were buried by a large serac that broke off and caused an avalanche.

More interesting mountains are part of the massif with height of 2.900m to 1850m.

Trekking around the massif is the most popular destination in Chile.
There is a large network of trails and many lodges and campsites that provide basic services.
Hikers can opt for a full day trek to the towers, walk the popular W route in about 4-5 days or trek the full circuit in 8-10 days.

The W circuit is the most popular as the trails join 3 valleys ( Ascencio, Frances and Grey Glacier valley) and the towers, the horns and the glacier. We can divide it in 3 sections:

1st section:
- Torres del Paine: it is the iconic walk in the park, but one of the most demanding. After 4 hours walking through the Ascencio valley and a millenarian lenga forest the trekker reaches the base of the towers and get a beautiful panoramic view of the towers itself, the hanging glacier and the Tower lake. Worth the effort

2nd section:
- Vale del Frances: the valley is located in the middle of the circuit but it is a high difficulty up hill walk to get there. It's a surreal place in the circuit, the view of an amphitheatre formed by mountains and granite hills with a magical sunrise is certainly breathtaking.

3rd section:
- Grey Glacier lookout: the 3,5 hours path is medium difficulty and have 2 lookouts: the first one is a nice view of Grey lake and icebergs that usually break off from the glacier. The second one is a panoramic view and sound of the Grey glacier itself. Highly recommended.

 Another suggestion to trek the W circuit:

Interesting facts about the massif:

-The oldest record of human life in the area around the massif date 6.500 years ago.
500 years ago the Aonikenks or Tehuelches arrived in Patagonia and named the massif Paine, which is a mapudungun language word that means blue as it is the predominant colour in the area. However they never occupied the territories around the massif but adjacent areas.
Also the presence of the Kaweskars is documented in the area.

- The first recorded tourists that contemplated the Paine Mountain Range, 1879, were Lady Florence Dixie and her party: husband, two brothers and a friend. She was more than a classical tourist of that time but an adventure and explorer. She left a very good report about her trip to Patagonia in a book published in 1880 titled: Across Patagonia.
In her book she refers to the three towers as Cleopatra's Needles, comparing the towers with the three authentic Egyptian obelisks, one installed in Paris and the other two in New York and London.

-Gunther Pluschow was the first person to fly over the Paine Massif.

 Useful informations:



Friday, 26 September 2014

The Eighth Wonders of the World

Do you know The Seven Wonders of the Ancient World? They are:

-Great Pyramid of Giza
.Hanging Gardens of Babylon
-Statue of Zeus at Olympia
-Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
-Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
-Colossus of Rhodes
-Lighthouse of Alexandria

However, the only one of these structure that exist today relatively intact, is the great Pyramid of Giza which was completed around 2680 BC.

The origin of the list is questionable, but usually attributed to the ancient Greek poet, Antipater of Sidon, which list he described in a poem composed about 140 BC and was popularised by Philo of Byzantium in his work "The Septem Orbis Miraculis", in a short description called "The seven sights of the world".
It is known that for Greek, the number seven represented perfection and plenty.

Inspired by that famous list, Bernard Weber, founder of New Open World Corporation, led a project to choose the new seven wonders of the world.
In 2001, New7wonders foundation launched a selection of 200 existing monuments to be chosen. In January 1, 2006 the foundation announced 21 finalists. Finally the results were announced on July 7, 2007 in Lisbon, Portugal. The winners:

- The Great Wall of China
- Petra (Jordan)
- Christ the Redeemer (Brazil)
- Machu Picchu (Peru)
- Chichen Itza (Mexico)
- Colosseum (Italy)
- Taj Mahal (India)
- Great Pyramid of Giza, as honorary candidate.

Immediately after the campaign to elect the man-made new seven wonder, in which more than 100 millions votes were cast, Mr Weber started a campaign to elect the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
Over 440 locations from over 220 countries entered as nominees. On January 1, 2009 a shortlist of 77 locations were chosen and in 2009 a selection of 28 finalists.
The winners were announced on November 11, 2011 after 500 million votes were cast.
The winners are:

- Amazon Rain forest and River (South American)
- Ha Long Bay (Vietnam)
- Iguaçu Falls, a national park (Argentina/Brazil)
- Jeju Island (South Korea)
- Komodo Island, a national park (Indonesia)
- Puerto Princesa, underground river (Philippines)
- Table Mountain, a national park (South Africa)

Meanwhile, VirtualTourist, a travel website that's part of the TripAdvisor Media Group, led a campaign to choose the 8th Wonder of the world.
More than 330 tourist locations from 50 countries entered the contest that was conducted over a period of 4 months, from June to September 2013. The results were presented in Los Angeles, USA, on 1 November 2013.
The Chilean Torres del Paine National Park received the most votes and was declared the winner during a Los Angeles morning television show with the Chilean Actor Christian de la Fuente representing Chile in reception of the prize.

The park was founded on May 13, 1959 and was declared a Biosphere Reserve on April 28, 1978 by Unesco. Its area is 227,000 hectares which is part of the SNASPE, the protected wild area Chilean system, and therefore managed by Conaf, the national forest corporation.

The main attraction of the park is the Paine Massif, or Paine Mountain Range which is an eastern spur of the Andes Mountain Range but, once there, the visitors realise that are other impressive attractions such as huge glaciers, turquoise colour lakes, rivers and falls, ancient forests and rich flora and fauna.

The Torres del Paine National Park possesses an interesting water system which consists of numerous rivers, streams, lakes, ponds and cascades most of them fed by glaciers. The southern Patagonian Ice Field has 48 large glaciers and over hundreds smaller, some of them end up in the park such as the huge Glacier Grey, Serrano, Tyndall, Pingo and Dickson.

 The park has four defined vegetation zones:

-Pre-Andean scrub land
-Nothofagus forest, where lenga, Nothofagus pumilio, is the dominating species.
-Patagonian steppe
-Andean desert

Part of the flora is exclusive to the park area and Province of Última Esperanza, also the park has 7 documented species of orchidaceae and 85 non-native plant species.

The park is the natural habitat of 25 species of mammals, among them the puma, guanaco, foxes and the endangered Chilean deer, huemul. 126 species of birds such as the Andean condor, ñandú (rhea), eagle, Magellanic owl, woodpecker, goose, ibis, to name a few. Also 6 species of fish, amphibious and reptiles.

The park also feature an excellent lodging service: the visitor can choose from a five-star hotels to a very good lodge or a camping service with all the comforts of a good hotel.
There is a good transport service, park ranger information service, shelters and meal services.

The Torres del Paine National Park is in Region of Magellan, XII region of Chile.
See map:

Interesting facts:

- The park can be visited year around however is recommended late december to late february, during southern summer time when the weather is good and daylight is very long, 17 hours.

- Drinking water can be found throughout the park as it is completely pure.

- Activities: trekking, hiking, fishing, mountaineering, rafting, kayaking, horse riding, wildlife observation, photography.

- Related attraction: Milodon Cave: see post: "Region of Magellan's Natural Monuments."

- Informations: