Glaciers are at the Heart of the World

“As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.” – John Muir

Muir would have loved Patagonia. This is a place where glaciers live large and loud. Where the world feels brand new, almost as if you can feel the planet’s heart beating beneath the frozen ice of glaciers.

The earth, on the far east of Patagonia, is marked by glaciers. The mountains to the west are still emerging from glaciers. Meanwhile, the Southern Patagonia Icecap (el campo de hielo sur en castellano) bridges the frozen and wild deep south of Chile and Argentina in wildly scuplted territory characterized by towering granite spires. Together with the Northern Patagonia Icecap, this forms the border between the two nations, and holds a controversy that continues to grind away as well.

Underneath all that ice, spilling into landmarks like the Perito Moreno, Upsala and Viedma Glaciers in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park, and the Grey Glacier in Torres del Paine, there means to be a line separating Chile from Argentina. But 50 kilometers of the border, between Mt FitzRoy and Mt Murallon, remain undefined.

Various attempts over the past 20 years have tried to nail the border down, but failures to ratify or cartographis liberties have stalled any conclusions. Chileans generally cling to a 1902 agreement negotiated by the British Government that favours their claims. Argentina published a map in 2006 claiming all of the unmarked territory for itself following the highest points of land.

It’s no surprise, really, that a land so new, so unknown and so remote, is so hard to define. Glaciers, after all, retreat inch-by-inch, exposing brand new earth to the sun and the sky. It’s a process of carving.

Travel out on the icefield is treacherous – it can range from deathly storms to bluebird days, but nothing is easy there. So scientists continue to speculate, and bold adventurers launch expeditions into the unknown. We still have little idea of what lies beneath.

This is one of the great wonders of living in a place so dominated by glaciers – one can literally watch geology take place in front of one’s eyes. The speed of a glacier is staggeringly slow compared to the rush of modern life.

Torre Glacier

Standing on any of these glaciers – or even standing before them – is a soul-stirring experience, one that requires time, patience and quiet. It’s not easy to understand the scope of the ice nor the depths of its history, both being so enormous. While one may feel ’small’ compared to the world while inthe middle of a vast ocean, one feels awed in the middle of these glaciers, surrounded by such dramatic landscapes etched by the same glaciers we explore today.

What a place in the world!  Just the kind of place I think Muir would have loved.

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