Morning has broken. The sky has shattered into pieces of orange, indigo and grey, with golden light seeping through the cracks. A light dusting of virgin snow blankets the craggy peaks surrounding the valley as it slowly emerges from beneath its blanket of night. It is early, far too early, and we are on our way to visit the Grey Glacier at the southern end of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. When we arrive at our departure point, we are greeted by a Patagonian fox, the soft morning light highlighting her thick, luxurious coat. She studied us for a while, licked her lips, yawned and then trotted off into the trees.
While we were waiting for the boat that was to carry us across the waters of Largo Grey to the glacier, the sun realised that it also got up far too early and so it retreated behind the clouds that were racing in from the north. By the time we boarded the boat, the clouds had descended around us and cold, icy rain started to fall. Things were not looking good. In fact, things were not looking anything, since we couldn’t really see any things at all. Some very helpful soul did point out that it is called the Grey Glacier and Grey Lake and so we should have expected it to be all rather grey, shouldn’t we? Hmmmmm. As the boat began to plough its way through the steely, frigid waters of the lake, one of the more optimistic members of the group decided that there really was a brighter patch of sky to the east and that, perhaps, the clouds were starting to lift and lessen in that direction. Hmmmmmmm. Then the Captain assured us that this really was the best light for viewing the glacier and that we were, in fact, lucky that the sun was not shining. Apparently, the blue colours of the ice are more vibrant, more alive when the sun is not shining and the surroundings are monotone grey. Hmmmmmmmmm. Still, all was not doom and gloom, and spirits began to lift when the crew bought us all an ice cold pisco sour, the ice freshly chipped from a nearby iceberg. Excellent, just what we needed to warm our hearts and our souls. As I sipped my drink, I couldn’t help but think that a hot chocolate might have been a tad more appropriate, given the frozen state of all of my extremities.
As the boat chugged nearer to our destination, the mood lightened as the pisco sour started to numb our brains and warm the cockles of our hearts. As if to mirror our mood, the clouds began to lift and the rain began to lessen. Our drinks were topped off and the sun didn’t shine – how lucky were we!?! Well, since I never did get to see the glacier with the sun shining, I can only assume that the Captain was telling us the truth and not some long-nosed yarn that he told to keep the tourists happy, since when we did finally get to see the glacier and some of the icebergs up close, the colours were spectacular. The glacier itself was all soft hues of blue and grey, with an icy heart of cobalt blue. The icebergs, sculpted by the biting winds into fantastical shapes, floated out of the gloom like apparitions of imaginary vessels carved from glass. Some of the icebergs had toppled over and their bases were exposed to the air. On the fractured and sheared planes and surfaces of the nether regions of these icebergs, the most stunning, vibrant, clear and sparkling shades of blue could be seen. You could stare into the heart of the iceberg and drown its deep blue depths.
I will finish this post with a quote from Darwin himself, made during his voyage through the fjords of Southern Patagonia:
"It is scarcely possible to imagine any thing more beautiful than the beryl-like blue of these glaciers, and especially as contrasted with the dead white of the upper expanse of snow."—January 29, 1833.
As for the name, the Grey Glacier, one can’t help but feel that the Beryl Glacier would be far more appropriate (and I am, or course, talking about beryl, the beautiful blue mineral as opposed to Beryl, the dear little old lady with the blue rinse).