Torres del Paine: Valle des Frances


The fable goes that there is no lightning in Patagonia, and indeed, over many days of overcast and dreary skies, we hear nary a sound and see nary a spark.

So, imagine our surprise as we hike up the Valle des Frances–or, the Vache des Frances, if you opt for the Argentinian pronunciation–and hear thunder.

Deafening, earth-shaking thunder.

Only, this isn’t from the skies–it’s the unmistakable crack, friends, of glacier thunder.

Up close, the thunder rolls, followed by firecracker pops, making this glacier a veritable Fourth of July spectacle, a living, breathing, moving slab of a snowfield of millenniums of compacted snow, water pouring out its crevices from god-knows-when, globules of dinosaur sweat for all we know.

And, we drink it like the deserts drink the rain, filling up our bottles with time machine liquid, time immemorial, the cycle complete between then and now.

Holy Christ, this water is G-O-O-D.

We are in awe, barely up our day hike to the French Valley, already captivated by the glacier that surely caught its namesake’s attention, so massive and imposing and spectacular, one of Patagonia’s many glaciers, this corner of the globe home to the largest ice sheets outside the poles, and we decide to stay a while, determined to catch a wave of glacial excitement, which, as luck would have it, we most definitely do.

Interesting, you see, because like thunder, you see it before you hear it, the release of ice and water and snow dust a waterfall of epic proportion pouring out from the glacier, followed a nano second later by the tell-tale rumble of the moving megalith.


The show continues as we continue, thunder carrying us up, up, up the valley in the company of fellow trekkers we know from sight only, silent trail companions from the last few days. Our vow of voiceless salutes breaks today, and now, we are friends, the French girl Edith and her Algerian man, his first encounter with a glacier right this second.

We follow each other upstream to the cirque, and to quote my super slick man, this is a backpacker’s wet dream, mountain eye-candy every which way the Cordillera Paine buckles and folds, and we soak up the views over lunch, certain that any minute from now, the gates of hell will send us fleeing for cover downhill.

More future friends make their way uphill, Frederic from Paine Grande and a foursome from the US, their football jerseys unmistakable brands of Americana, along with a threesome from France, dude decked out in the hottest gear ever and despite the sweat pouring from his face, he resists removing his Haute École de Geologie de Nancy hoodie.

Strange, actually, the number of people we pass who insist that mountain play means mountain layers, all zipped up and regardless of how crazy warm this uphill makes them, the gear stays on, a trekking chastity belt sure to send them overheating and miserable.

We leap frog down, happy to recover our Colorado cadence, and blow by group after group of struggling elders, doomed by a late start to see nothing beyond the glacier, the French Valley nothing but a distant tease.

And, just like that, we pay our final homage to the icy behemoth and meditate a while on its grandeur and the gift of life–water.































This entry was published on February 25, 2013 at 13:20. It’s filed under Chile and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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