Wednesday 30 December 2009

CHILE - Torres del Paine National Park

We´re in Puerto Natales now having a few rest days after the ride from El Chaiten (Argentina) and a 4-day hike around Torres del Paine.

NB Check out the previous post of Los Glaciares national park in Argentina for more recent photos and updates, especially of the rough border crossing between Lago O´Higgins and Lago de Desierto.

Here are some photos of the fauna, flora and the mountain environment of Torres del Paine national park.

A guanaco family

Faunacation in the park
Spring was in the air and the guanacos were all very frisky - chasing one another across the salt flats of Laguna Amarga, leaping and fore-playing around....

.....and then down to the serious business.

Riding towards our first camp sitting under Torres del Paine

The three granite towers of Paine
The next morning we climbed to a lookout at dawn to view the towers and surrounding peaks swirling in mist and spotted with snow driven by strong winds. The towers´ smooth rockfaces and steep walls don´t allow the snow to settle on the pink granite peaks.

A gathering storm looming over Lake Nordenskjol

Los Cuernos from our campsite

An early morning double rainbow from our camp above Lake Nordenskjol

Track damage from the hordes of hikers who converge on the park every summer. Over 100,000 visitors in the short season and very little work is done to repair the erosion.

Every day we passed hundreds of hikers on overnight walks- the campsites are crowded (up to 40 tents per site) and the tracks have really deteriorated since our first visit in 1993. Then we were lucky to see 2-3 groups a day on the circuit.
Also mass tourism has prompted the construction of more facilities and private developers have built upscale refugios and in some cases luxury chalets within the park, like the obtrusive and ugly one below the Cuernos.

The authorities are now considering putting a cap on numbers with a permit system. It´s much needed as the environment suffers under the weight of `eco-tourism´ (an over-used and insidious euphemism for eco-ruinism).

Los Cuernos del Paine - or `the horns of Paine´. Spectacular monoliths of monochromatic contrast. The outer rock is igneous Devonian granite encasing an older and softer sedimentary shale.

We spent Christmas Day up here in the Valle de Frances with snow showers and biting winds. On our earlier visit in November 1993 we had very warm weather and even went for soaks in the glacial streams to cool down.

Notro (firebush) and bonsai Nothofagus nirre at 700m high in the Bader Valley. Both these species were wind-pruned and prostrate on very exposed slopes and thin shale soil.

I climbed up here on a climber´s path for spectacular views of the Cuernos and surrounding lakes, and followed the flight path of condors nesting high above a waterfall. I´d wanted to go higher but the weather turned foul and Judy was waiting at camp for me to return.

Guanaco and Mt. Almirante Nero

Los Cuernos in dawn light from our camp at Lake Pehoe

Riding south with Los Cuernos in the background

Lago Pehoe

Austral parakeet

Rhea, or nañdu, seen from the road just before the park on the windy steppe.

Condor in flight against the Cuernos del Paine. Double click to see the outer feathers flayed upwards on the downbeat, much like contemporary aviation design.

Condor gliding over the turquoise Lake Nordenskjol.

A noisy little raptor sitting in the tree at the campsite. It´s an American kestrel (`cernicalo´ in Spanish) Falco sparverius.

Perched on a Nothofagus branch with faint outlines of the icy towers in the background.

Caiquen comun or upland goose - an indulgent and watchful father and his chicks on Lago Pehoe.

Canquen real - a pair of ashy-headed geese

Late spring is an ideal time to hike at Torres del Paine for the flora alone. We located the remaining 4 orchids found in Southern Patagonia. We had already seen 2 others along the Carreterra Austral (the common dog orchid and the alpine chloraea -see the earlier post).
A real treat and surprise to see all these orchids in the wild in only 3 days.

These photos are in memory of Bob Ives, an erudite and charming bloke who died recently in Perth WA. He was fond of my botanical photos and I´m sure he would be thrilled to see these floral wonders. Adios, Bob!

Gavilea lutea Yellow orchid

Gavilea araucana White orchid (I think this is quite rare)

Chloraea magellanica This showy orchid has a few common English names, incl. Magellanic, Mosaic or Porcelain Orchid.

Gavilea kingii

Olsynium biflorum Streaked maiden (lirio del campo)

Sisyrinchium patagonicum

`Farolito chino´ or Chinese lantern, a false mistletoe and hemiparasite growing on Nothofagus nirre.

Indian bread or `llao llao´ Cytarria sp a fungus which also grows on Nothofagus species. It´s edible when it drops from the tree and hardens, and used to be a staple food for Amerindian people of the Patagonian forests. Possibly the first and only humans to have subsisted on a parasite (according to Charles Darwin, who is now my literary companion).

Alstroemeria patagonica (Amancay del campo) dwarf herb in sandy soil

Lady slippers Calceolaria (Andean genus)
Calceolaria uniflora (`capachito´ or `topa topa´)

Calceolaria biflora

Fuegian edelweiss Perezia recurvata - has lost its second set of petals

Notro or firebush, a prolific shrub on the open slopes

A herb found among granite boulders on moraine debris. A hardy little plant. Possibly Naussavia sp..

Ourisia poeppegii waterfall plant