Wild weather and stunning scenery - brilliant turquoise lakes, soaring peaks and a dazzling blue glacier. Fabulous.
Flying into Punta Arenas was quite an experience - it was incredibly windy! But the pilot had no problem setting the plane down and we were met by a guide, to pass on information and snacks and drinks for the drive, and a driver. Punta Arenas was the furthest south we'd ever been!
It is a four hour drive from Punta Arenas to the Torres del Paine National Park. We drove a long way along the Ruta del Fin del Mundo - the road at the end of the world!
Along the way we saw some beautiful landscapes. The closer we got to Torres del Paine the more mountainous it became. At Puerto Natales, across a wide plain, there was a stunning view of a vast lake backed by three snow-capped mountain ranges - the gateway to the Torres del Paine National Park.
The Park covers over 180,000 hectares, dominated by the Paine massif, mountains at the very end of the Andes, with twisted peaks and towers of rock. The weather here is notoriously wild and difficult to predict. During our three day stay it threw everything at us from blazing sunshine to a blizzard, well, a snow flurry, but it was very cold and unpleasant at the time! It was amazing to see how fast the weather could change.
We were staying at Las Torres, a good hotel within the Park and perfectly placed to make an early start on exploration.
The hotel has its own stables and a large fenced paddock. Early one beautiful morning we walked down past the paddock and towards a camp site and gradually the granite towers came into view around the side of Almirante Nieto. It was a very easy walk with lovely views and we saw lots of hares and birds along the way.
We had one day with a guide and a number of other guests visiting many areas of the Park - the weather was interesting to say the least! We were with a very jolly bunch of people, which was just as well as the weather got steadily worse through the morning!
We first made for lakes Sarmiento, Nordenskjold and Pehoe - even in poor weather the colours of the lakes are fabulous.
We stopped at various points including the Salto Grande falls which drop from Lago Nordenskjold into Lago Pehoe.
The weather was really deteriorating and we became convinced that the planned boat trip to see Glacier Grey would be cancelled. It would have been very uncomfortable to have our picnic lunches out in the open so our guides arranged for us to have them at the Glacier Grey Hotel. Several bottles of a good Chilean Cabernet Dom Luis were also provided which were most welcome - it was a fun and enjoyable meal.
Lago Grey is dotted with huge chunks of ice which have calved from the glacier and eventually end up on the lake shore near the hotel.
After lunch the weather didn't seem quite so bad, though quite windy, which was probably helping to blow it away because, almost miraculously, as we started up the lake, the clouds cleared and we had great views.
It took about an hour to get to the glacier which is beautiful - the sun even came out!
The glacier lies to the west of the Cordillaera del Paine, the group of mountains which includes the horns and granite towers.
Glacier Grey is at the south end of the Southern Patagonia Ice Field, travelling south into Lago Grey, though it has been retreating for many years.
It has two major arms divided by a high rocky outcrop - an east arm and a west arm, the west arm further split by narrow rocky spurs.
As we went from the east to the west arm we were served pisco sours with glacial ice - very civilised!
The glacier is 5-6 km wide and the leading edge rises some 30 meters from the surface of the lake..
The shapes and colours are endlessly fascinating, no two sections of ice look the same, hence the large number of photographs, only a fraction of those we took!
In sunnier weather, with more red in the light, the ice and snow might not look quite so blue. Today, with much cloud cover, the illumination is very much towards the blue end of the spectrum. Even in sun, though, glacial ice naturally looks blue because it absorbs light at the red end of the spectrum.
We returned back down the lake and the weather still held for us, though it was very cold and there was still a lot of cloud over the mountains which made for some good atmospheric photographs. Further down the lake the weather started to get worse again and we all got drenched as we were transferred by dinghy to the dock.
As we made our way back to the transport it started to snow! Fortunately it didn't last long and as we travelled back to Las Torres we stopped at a few of the view points again where the mountains were now visible.
Thin cloud drifted around the very tops of Los Cuernos - the horns - some of the most iconic peaks in the Park. Just the weather for dramatic shots of an awe-inspiring landscape!
It was 7:30 by the time we got back to the hotel, very tired. The park is known for its wild, changeable weather and we'd certainly experienced it today!
The following morning the weather was better and we had a great morning walk with another couple and a guide. We covered some of the same ground we'd been on the previous day but the views were clearer.
We again visited Lago Sarmiento with its distinctive white edges and then on to beautiful Lake Pehoe and the iconic Los Cuernos (Horns) of Torres del Paine.
The weather was again very changeable but our patience was rewarded at Lago Nordenskjold as the magnificent twisted peaks of Los Cuernos again emerged from cloud.
The wind was so strong on the shores of Lago Nordenskjold that I was very nearly blown off my feet!
Later that day we went out on another excursion with guide Goncalo who had been with us previously and was very good. This time we were headed for the Blue Lagoon with many stops to see wildlife. Guanacos are everywhere - they are a member of the same family as camels.
We saw a large herd of guanacos grazing on a hillside and Goncalo showed us the shallow dirt bath they use.
The Blue Lagoon lies south-west to north-east - we were at the north-east end about 20km from Los Cuernos which can just be seen in the far distance across the lake if there is no cloud.
Our final stop was at the Paine Cascades on The Rio Paine - from here in clear weather the towers are visible in the distance.
On the day we were due to leave there was not a cloud in the sky so Goncalo asked our driver to stop at various view points in the Park.
We ended up having a mini tour with the driver stopping to show us wildlife and the magnificent mountains and lakes - we even met up with Goncalo at Lago Sarmiento and he explained which mountains were which - a great end to our visit!
Laguna Amarga is a sheet of brilliant blue water reflecting the towers, an absolutely stunning scene.