Patagonia’s Mountain Landscapes 2012 Trip Report

By Wayne Lynch on Jun 05, 2012

Fitzroy Massif, in southern Patagonia, was first seen by a European in 1877, and named after Robert Fitzroy, the captain on Darwin’s famous voyage around the world.  Observing that cluster of peaks for the first time, most people are impressed by their raw jaggedness and the steepness of their granite flanks.  In Japan, seeing the snowy cone of Mount Fuji is a religious experience and a harbinger that the traveler will return to the country some day in the future.  For many, watching the serrated peaks of Fitzroy materialize from a swirl of golden clouds at sunrise is every bit as heavenly and portentous.  The indigenous people called Fitzroy “the smoking mountain” because of the mantle of cloud that often shrouds its summit.  So it was one morning this past April that 15 of us clustered in the darkness to await the mountain’s performance and luxuriate in her magic.  Shortly after 7 AM the first flush of pink washed across the minor peaks shouldering the edge of Lake Viedma, south of Fitzroy.  But the mountain herself was still hidden and asleep, totally wrapped in a billowy cloak of gray.  We waited.  Weather in the Andes is always capricious and as the minutes slipped by we began to accept that Fitzroy might withhold her disclosure for another dawn, on another day.  Even the silhouette of a nearby condor was not enough to assuage our disappointment.  Then, without fanfare or notice, the lower clouds beneath her summit rapidly began to dissipate and within moments her lofty spire was uncovered.  Sometimes the anticipation and waiting is as equally sweet as the vision.

Twenty years ago, Joe Van Os and I were co-leaders on the company’s first photo safari to Patagonia.  After that initial introduction, I led the trip three more times, but always in the austral spring and early summer.  When the chance came along to photograph this magnificent mountain wilderness ablaze with autumn color I was giddy with anticipation.  I wasn’t disappointed.

The trip focused on two areas of the southern Andes—Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina and Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.  We had traveled to these distant hinterlands to witness the autumn splendor of the southern beech forests set against the magnificence of the snow-capped peaks. Los Glaciares National Park, abutting the eastern edge of the Patagonian Icefield—the largest expanse of freshwater ice outside of Greenland and Antarctica—celebrates one of the great glacial regions of the world.  And Torres del Paine, in the words of author William Leitch, “is not a mere park, but a park of parks, a destination of travelers to whom a park is more than a place in which to be entertained, but rather an experience to be integrated into one’s life.  Torres del Paine is the sort of park that changes its visitors by setting standards of sheer sensory impact against which all other parks are thereafter measured.”  We had much to expect and savor.

On the tour this year we had our share of rain and wind but, despite the sometimes challenging weather conditions, the group produced some remarkably beautiful and memorable images.  Psychologists opine that great opportunity and creativity often result when individuals push themselves outside their familiar comfort zone.  In Patagonia we did that and were delighted with the visual discoveries.