Glacier Grey is a favorite amongst visitors to Torres del Paine National Park. We did it as a day hike, which was tough but absolutely doable. We took the bus from Puerto Natales, arriving at the park at 9:45am. We were at the entrance for an hour because everyone needs to buy tickets, watch a safety video, and then (if needed) get back on the bus. We got back on the bus because we wanted the second stop: Pudeto Lake.
We arrived in time for the 11am catamaran at Pudeto. Not everyone who wanted to get on this catamaran could. The people who didn’t make it on the catamaran needed to wait another hour for the next one. If you are planning to do Glacier Grey as a day trip, you must be in the 11am catamaran. The last catamaran from Paine Grande Lodge is at 6:35pm and the final bus leaves Pudeto after this last catamaran arrives.
The hike to Glacier Grey starts from Paine Grande Lodge and “finishes” just beyond Grey Glacier Station. It is described as a 7 hour hike (we did it in less time). It is about 12 km one direction with a peak elevation of slightly less than 300m.
The first part of the hike you walk along a dry creek bed and then start up an incline into some charred and burnt forest. There have been three forest fires caused by careless guests in the park. In 2005 a Czech tourist’s camping stuff fell over and lit some grass alight. He was not supposed to be camping at this location. The Czech government responded very quickly to the incident and paid for the damages.
In February of 2011 a Israeli tourist caused a fire, exact method unknown. In December of 2011, another Israeli started a fire by lighting some toilet paper on fire. The Israeli government took 6 months to start raising money in a campaign to aid Chile. This caused a lot of tension in contrast to how quickly Chile responded. In January 2014 another group of Israeli tourist were removed and arrested for starting a fire to heat up some tuna.
Do not light a fire in the park.
After walking through the charred forests you will find Little Duck Lake, which is cute, but had a marked lack of petite ducks. Just beyond Duck Lake you start to follow along the east coast of Grey lake and start catching glimpses of Glacier Grey. Be sure to check around the edges of Grey Lake for pieces of calved glacier.
The glaciers are enchanting because of the bright blue that almost glows from the giant pieces of ice. What causes the blue is the ice absorbing the red wavelengths and spreading the blue wavelengths.
Along with that electric blue though is a dirty grey that is reminiscent of car exhaust on clean snow. The glaciers though, that dirt has a redeeming factor. When the glacier slides over the rocky ground, it polishes the rock and creates rock flour. This flour then gets into the lake and gives it the grey opaque color that is its namesake. In other glacier lakes, that rock flour is what causes the lakes to have a bright blue or teal color.
Before you reach the viewpoint of the glacier, you walk through the Grey Glacier Ranger Station and the Grey Lodge. The viewpoint is maybe a little less than ten minutes after this point. And beyond the viewpoint is another point you can walk to, though it looks like an intimidating wet scramble. One tourist’s girlfriend decided not to climb to this viewpoint because she was wearing Nike Frees and didn’t feel safe. I think she would of been completely fine though.
This viewpoint is worth hiking to and climbing because it is the closest you can get to the glacier without hiking up John Gardner Trail along the east side of the glacier.
Our walk to the Glacier was long and “against the clock” in order to make it back in time for the last catamaran. I took the number of hours we had until we needed to be back and divided it in half to determine what time we needed to turn back on our out-and-back hike. We went about 30 minutes longer than this time though because once we made it to the glacier, the reason for all our efforts, it was hard to turn back. This was fine because the inclines returning to the lodge didn’t take as long to climb as the inclines to the glacier.
And we walked fast.
Once we started our return hike the skies began to clear and the majesticness of the park really started to come through. One of the other popular pieces of the park are the Cuernos de Paine, which means the Horns of Blue. Paine is the local word for “blue.”
The horns are in reference to the black tops of the mountains that make them look like horned tops. The black rocks are dated from the cretaceous period and are actually younger than the white rock which is sandwiched between them. The mountains were created/exposed from glacial erosion and also the tectonic plates of the Andean mountains.
We returned to Paine Grande Lodge with 30 or 40 minutes to spare before the last catamaran. It was completely stunning since the clouds had melted away and let the sun do it’s thing. The colors were vibrant and breathtaking. The park is truly different from cloudy to sunny. The whole park is stunning though with an aggressive wildness, in any weather conditions.