In Patagonia the wind blows relentlessly endlessly never-endingly.
“Blow, winds, and crack your cheeks! Rage, blow!” cries Shakespeare’s Lear, a king subjected to the superior power of nature as any man. In Patagonia the winds howl and whistle and sweep up from the west, diminishing us before the majesty of the grand Andes and wild open ranges of the pampas. The wind blasts great billowing clouds across the Andes peaks, shrouds their mythical mounts in mist, and when shot through by a sunbeam illuminates their craggy caps.
Our first destination is Torres del Paine in Chile. We arrive after a day’s drive up from Punta Arenas across flat dry plains until the mountains begin to peek up above the horizon.
It is early autumn, the grass is golden, the foliage has taken on a subtle russet hue and the sky is blue blue blue.
Designated as a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, the 700 square mile Torres del Paine National Park encompasses mountains, glaciers, lakes, forests and rivers. Imposing granite peaks are the centerpiece of the Torres Massif, with the Grande rising more than 9,000 ft. above the Patagonian plain. Further along the ridge are the distinctive Cuernos, named for their horn like shape. The wind carries clouds and brume to cloak the mountains. We are out at sunrise and sunset, bracing ourselves against the gusts and waiting for a glorious moment when light will break through the overcast sky revealing the sapphire spires. Paine means “blue” in the native Tehuelche language as indeed these stunning towers appear.
We shoot at the most splendid locations – Lago Pehoe and Rio Serrano and we hike from the Salto Grande waterfall out through an eerie landscape of dead white trunked trees to get closer and closer to the Torres del Paine. Signs warn us along the way: Peligroso: Ventas Fuertes! (Danger: Strong Winds!) But the experience and the images we capture compensate for any discomfort.
We move on, cross to Argentina on the far side of the Cordil- lera. The landscape changes to dry tawny pampas grass, wind shorn, desolate open steppe, gusts shrieking across wide-open uninhabited space. Only a few animals are spotted in this forsaken place, some grazing guanaco and a red fox. Puma lions live here well camouflaged in the low vegetation. We stop for the sunset, but again the danger of wind tipping over the tripods makes the effort ever more challenging.
From our base in the tiny town we head out early before sunrise. The goal is Mount FitzRoy, a noble summit on the border of Chile and Argentina and rising to 11,171 ft. Usually covered by low lying clouds its name in Spanish is El Chalten, the “Smoking Mountain”; in English named for Robert Fitz- Roy the captain of the HMS Beagle who with Charles Darwin aboard explored much of Patagonia. The god of the winds, Aeolus who has momentarily locked away the gales, has blessed us and FitzRoy gleams brilliant and imperial against the blue sky, ruling royally over the entire region. We are breathless.
The last leg of our trip takes us to the Perito Moreno glacier. This glacier, named for the Argentinian explorer Francisco Moreno, is unusual in that it continues to grow and advance, rather than recede and diminish as so many other glaciers around the globe. We approach the massive face on a beau- tifully laid out walking trail, raised above the ground with well-positioned viewing platforms. The glacier is very active. Large chunks of striated blue ice calve continuously into the turquoise lake below, creating an apron at its base.
The reverberating roar of ice cracking echoes in the canyon. Cold air blows from the frozen surface and here we feel the chill wind as clouds skitter above.
Photography in Patagonia requires preparation for the wind and cloud cover. Along with the wind comes dust and the possibility of rain. First we dress in layers to stay warm and dry – with the outermost layer always a waterproof, windproof shell. Hat and gloves are highly recommended. The weather in Patagonia is as changeable as the wind is fast, so being prepared for any and all conditions is necessary. Camera equipment should be properly protected from the elements. Tripods are essential in the low light of sunrise/sunset condi- tions and under overcast skies – but the wind presents hazard to even the sturdiest and heaviest set-up. Always keep an eye, or better yet, a hand on the tripod.
Albert brought his two Leica S (007) along with the 24mm, 30-90 mm, 100mm, 120mm and the 180mm lenses and RRS TVC-43 tripod. Ruth works with the Q2 and finds that black and white captures the drama of the sky and the solid mass of the earth below.
At last we must leave. Farewell Patagonia…. you will always be blowing our minds!