more than meets the eye

For a hiking trip there’s been a suspicious lack of physical activity noted on this site over the past two weeks, wouldn’t you say? Time to fix that today with a straight climb up highest hill on Mull. All mountains have a certain magnetic attraction for those who enjoying a good harrumph, but Ben More has more than you’d suspect. At 3,172 feet, the peak is a true beauty because every inch of it is climbed from sea level and that’s a rarity. Plus, the views from the top are spectacular. Beneath the summit are the glens and table-lands carved by retreating glaciers some 10,000 years ago. Eastwards across the sea are the serried mainland mountains; to the north, the sawtooth peaks of Rum and Skye; southwards, the Paps of Jura; and if you look westward on a clear day, you can almost see as far as Ireland. Bound by lochs on either side – and Iona and Staffa seemingly close enough to touch – the panorama is superb. (Double click each image for a greater sense of scale.) Many hikers mistakenly assume Ben More is a volcano. It is not, despite the picturesque “smoking” that often appears near the summit. In fact, it is a much rarer phenomenon: a highly magnetic mountain. Extruded 55 million years ago, the iron-rich basalt is so strongly magnetic that chippings will jump on to a proffered magnet. More importantly, compass readings can’t be trusted, particularly at the summit, which has been struck by lightning and remagnetized so often that readings vary enormously even within a few feet. Another surprise is the lack of a well-marked trail, which led to more than a few heated discussions on the extended hike up – all of which evaporated into thin air once we had summited and, more to the point, returned back to ground level unscathed.



bucket list: 2010 – april

ARGENTINA/NAPA:  Far from being the cruelest of months, April was a banquet of adventure.  My first foray to South America took me from the cultured urbanity of Buenos Aires to Bariloche’s lake district (and a near fatal expedition in search of condors) to the otherworldly glaciers of Patagonia.  The variety of experiences in Argentina whet my appetite for a return, while the Michelin stars dotting the Napa Valley whet an altogether different kind of appetite:  the all-you-can-eat hedonistic kind. Bardessono may have been a disappointment under the fussy hand of Sean O’Toole but Michel Chiarello’s convivial Bottega was extraordinary.  The high point:  a gastronomic pilgrimage to the altar of Thomas Keller at The French Laundry.


live blog: calving

Thanks to Tracy Shar – and her lightning-fast reflexes – for catching these photos of the Spegazzini Glacier as it calved almost directly in front of us.


live blog: perito moreno

After our hike across the Perito Moreno glacier the other day, it was interesting to view the massive north face from the water.


live blog: meditating on the practical applications of icebergs

Add whiskey and enjoy.


live blog: iceberg, straight ahead

Sailing the lakes we were privy to the sight of numerous icebergs, slowly drifting and melting in the end-of-summer sun.  When we got to the ice tunnel in the second photo, one of the deck hands scored for us the most practical of (temporary) souvenirs.  To be continued ….


live blog: glacial views

Yesterday we spent quality time on the ice, today we got to enjoy a different perspective: seeing it from the water.  Departing from Puerto Banderas, we settled into cozy leather recliners and navigated our way through Boca del Diablo along the northern fjord of Lago Argentina.  For close to 90 minutes we sailed among huge icebergs and chunks of drift ice that pulsed with color in the early sun.  If you’ve never seen icebergs – and I’ve not, until now – they’re transfixing.  You want to see them from every angle; you want to touch them, to taste them.

Eventually we came to the imposing glacier in the video here:  the Upsala Glacier, which covers some 370 square miles.  To put that into perceptive, in the 1960’s an Argentine Air Force Captain actually landed a DC3 on the glacier.


live blog: georgia’s ice

We jokingly nicknamed this crevasse the O’Keefe due to the, how shall we say, interesting anatomical formation.  There was a river coursing down below – no jokes, please – but we couldn’t see down to the bottom.

live blog: ice, ice baby

It’s surreal – and a lit bit disorienting – to hike into the middle of a vast glacier.  Yes, you have a mountain as reference along one horizon, but turn around and as far as the eye can see there is nothing but ice. I’ve always been a fan of the narratives of the polar explorers and though today we only hiked for little more than six hours, I came away with a much grander appreciation of their individual perseverance and fortitude.

A short boat ride from Bajo las Sombras across Lago Argentina brought us face to face with the towering ice walls of  Perito Moreno Glacier.  At roughly 3 miles wide and 100-feet high (plus, don’t forget what’s below the waterline: another 300-feet of ice) it’s not the largest glacier in town.  It is, however, the only one to which you can virtually drive up and jump aboard.

A guide awaited us as we landed on the opposite side of Moreno’s north face.  After checking gear, we picked up our crampons, got fitted for harnesses, and hiked up the lateral moraine towards the center of the glacier.  After about an hour, we finally stepped away from terra firma and out onto the surprisingly hard ice.  I don’t know why it was such a surprise; it is, after all, ice.  But perhaps it’s because when viewed at a distance the glacier – despite its girth – looks ethereal.  I half-expected the terrain to have the texture (and taste) of gelato.  Turn the sound up on this video and you’ll hear that nothing could be further than the truth.

The ice sounds like it is alive.  Occasionally there is a deep low rumble, as if the ground were about to start shifting beneath your feet.  Or a high-pitched thunder, as though someone fired off a rifle round in the near distance.  It’s the pressure of the all that ice seeking release.  I couldn’t imagine being out here in the dark or all alone. There are huge moulins, crevasses, and caves that shimmer a milky blue in the sunlight.   (The ice is not actually blue but a trick of the eye, functioning like a prism as it’s hit by the light)  There are unexpected rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, too.  The absence of life doesn’t mean the glaciers aren’t alive by any means.


live blog: strap-ons

One of the chief attractions of this entire journey south of the Equator is getting the opportunity to hike the glaciers.  No less than thirteen of them descend out of the Andes as part of the Patagonian Ice Field – the second largest ice field in the world after Antarctica, in case I haven’t already  dropped that factoid in here somewhere.  It kind of seems as if you want to hike a glacier, this is the place to do it.

Here’s a little tease of what we got up to today as part of a full-day hike across the ice:  strap-on crampons.  I’ll post something in more detail just as soon as I’m done with a much-needed massage.


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