Torres del Paine Grey Glacier
Grey Glacier is located on the western flanks of Torres del Paine National Park and it's what we consider a valley glacier, indicating that it's a stream of flowing ice which is confined by mountains on either side. Grey, together with 47 others major glaciers, belongs to the Southern Patagonian Icefield; this is a big "blanket" of ice that, with continuity, covers over 350km in length and 180km in width across the Patagonian Andes forming an area of approximately 12.300 km2. The Southern Icefield is the second world's largest extrapolar icefield, after Greenland icecap, and represents the third fresh water resource of the planet. Grey glacier can be observed and photograph in different ways; either by taking a boat tour across Grey lake towards the three actual fronts of the glacier, or by hiking part of Torres del Paine W Trek from Paine Grande to Grey mountain lodge, even though the best way to enjoy this massive iced river is by taking the trails that lead you on the backside of the park, that is 7-day Torres del Paine O Circuit. Whatever will be your choice make sure to include this place into your Patagonia trip.
History of Grey Glacier
First Explorers and Photographers
Due to its remote location and harsh weather conditions, the valley of Grey lake and glacier wasn't really suitable for any type of cattle or sheep farming explotation, and therefore this remote conrner of the nowadays Torres del Paine National Park has been kept its natural beauty and pristine native forest. Approaching the mid XX century the area attracted the attention of a well known character of the these remote lands, his name was father Maria Alberto De Agostini, a salesian priest who moved to the Chilean Patagonia in 1915 and lived in the city of Punta Arenas for many year until the late '50. Originally from Italy, De Agostini eldest brother, Giovanni, was a famous italian geographer and explorer, founder of the Italian Geographical Institute; his little brother wasn't second to him and as soon as he set foot in Patagonia he dedicated his free time to mountaineering, photographying and exploring locations such as the Patagonian Andes and the Southern Patagonian Icefield. Nowadays thanks to De Agostini we can study Grey glacier behaviour and loss of ice, by comparing his old pictures with the actual ones.
The Creation of a National Park
The area around Grey lake was the first one to be declared a protected land in the year 1959. This was the first ever made step for the creation of a National Park in the Chilean Patagonia. The new protected area was named Parque Nacional Turismo Lago Grey, a little bit more of 4000 hectares embedding the eastern flank of Grey lake, northern shore of Pehoe lake along the actual trail leading to the French valley. This was one of the many steps that led 18 years later to the creation of Torres del Paine as we know it nowadays.
It's worth mentioning that a man provoked fire burned more than 17.000 hectares of the park between 2011/12 affecting most of the trail that connects Paine Grande with Grey Mountain Lodge and when you trek Torres del Paine W Trek you notice and feel the sad effetcs of this dramatic event.
Hiking nearby Grey Glacier
Given its location in the western side of Torres del Paine National Park Grey Glacier is accessible in two different way. You can approach it by hiking the trail that from Paine Grande mountain lodge which means taking the catamaran to cross Pehoe lake; or you can visit Grey glacier on a boat tour which you can hop on at Grey Hotel.
Grey Glacier as part of the W-Trek
Our tours and trekking in Torres del Paine include a visit to this magnificient area of the park either on foot or on a boat tour. If you decide for instance to do the self-guided W trek you will be observing the glacier from the viewpoint located 2 hours from Paine Grande and from there you'll retrace your steps back to the mountain lodge and take the catamaran. On the other hand by hiking with us our Torres del Paine National Park W trek during the fourth day we will trek the entire trail to Grey Mountain lodge to spend a night there; the morning after you can kayak in Grey lake near the massive icebergs that calv of the eastern front of the glacier, or trek to the suspension bridges and overlook Grey from a different angle. Either way at noon we'll be embarking on the boat Grey III and visit the three fronts of the glacier before navigating back to Grey hotel to end a splendid adventure on foot.
Grey Glacier Boat Tour
One of the highlight of Torres del Paine is the boat tour to visit glacier Grey, especially if during your trip to Patagonia you're not including a stop to Perito Moreno glacier located in Argentina. This tour last approximately 3 hours as a round trip from Hotel Grey which can be reached by driving in two and a half hours from Puerto Natales. There is no way to reach to hotel via public transport therefore you either need to hire a car or a private tour. The boat is a catamaran which will first drop off people at Grey Mountain lodge and then continue to the eastern, central and western fronts of the glacier; therefore if you're trekking the W circuit of the O circuit we recomend you to take the boat from Grey mountain lodge to Grey hotel so that you can add a visit to the glacier to your trip.
Huemul Deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus)
For somebody the Huemul can be just "a deer" atlhough it's something more than that. This skittish and Critically endangered Andean deer has seen in the last century its population wiped due to hunting activity, desease from livestock and loss of habitat.
Huemul's habitat is the native Nothofagus forest, thus a close encounter with them can be possible in the quiteness of our off-the-beaten-track programs especially aorund Pingo valley in the western sector of Torres del Paine. Another good area to spot them is neabry the trail between refugio Grey and campamento Paso where few people hike and the beautiful evergreen coigue and maiten trees provide shelter and food to these fragile animals.
Andean Condor (Vultur gryphus)
Kuntur is the name that the Incas gave to this mayestic bird; the Andean Condor has always been a symbol for most of the Southamerican western countries such as Colombia, Ecuador, Perù and Chile.
Despite being critically endangered in most of this countries, in the Chilean Patagonia is actually easy to spot due to the fact that the ecosystem is still very pristine and human impact quite low. Condors are scavanger birds which rely on carcasses of wild animals as well as livestock; therefore in some part of South America the heavy use of pesticide have brought these powerfull birds to the brink of the extintion.
Magellanic Woodpecker (Campephilus magellanicus)
The Magellanic woodpecker is the largest of the genus Campephilus and among the biggest woodpecker in the world. It's endemic of the Southern hemisphere living in southern Chile and southwestern Argentina in which it's a permanent resident of its natural habitat, the Sub-Antartic Decidous forest.
Feeding on wood-boring grubs and beetles this species of woodpecker is normally spotted in pair or small family groups. Sexual dimorphism allows to distinguish males, characterized by a bright crimson head and crest, from females which are mainly black with a small red spot under the bill.
Chilean Flicker (Colaptes pitius)
It's a species of bird in the family Picidae, hence a woodpecker, who lives in the temperate and southern forests of Chile and Argentina. It's local name Pitio, comes from the Mapuche language Mapundungun putiw for its onomatopeic sound of its call.
Chilean Flickers are normally spotted in small groups and are easy to hear due to their typical loud call when you approach them. They feed either on larvae on the woods as well as on bugs on the ground; unless its big cousing the Magellanic woodpecker, flickers prefer to nest on old bored holes in dead or alived trees, as well as on the ground such as cliffs of small ravines.
Austral Parakeet (Enicognatus ferrugineus)
This is the southernmost species of parakeet in the world, endemic of Chile and Argentina is typically recognized for its bright green plumage with a small reddish dot on the lower belly.
These birds are normally spotted in small flocks in number of 10 to 20 and use to loudly fly around in the forest canopy or in the open shrubland in search of food which is typically flowers nectar, insects and seeds.
If you're walking in the woods near Hotel Grey or before going down to the shore of Grey lake, keep your ears open because you might hear them before seeing them.
How to Get to the Grey Glacier
There are two ways to reach glacier Grey in Torres del Paine:
- driving from Puerto Natales via the provincial route Y-290 which grants you access to the national park via Serrano entrance. The drive takes approximately 90 minutes and after you'll enter the park there is an extra 30 minutes drive to take towards the western sector of the park till getting to Grey Hotel which is where you can do your check-in prior to embark on the boat tour.
- on the other hand, if you plan a trekking in Torres del Paine during more days thus visiting the glacier from the trails of the park, then the easiest access to this multi-day programs is via public buses from Puerto Natales bus station to the main gate of Laguna Amarga, from which you can take an inbound shuttle to Torre Central and Camping Central facilities which are often use as starting point of the W-Trail or the O-Circuit.
Grey Glacier Day Hike with a Boat Tour
If you're planning to hike the glacier Grey valley as a day hike and you want to combine it with a boat tour on the lake there is a way to perform such program even though you'll have to hire a private transportation that drives you to the starting point and pick you up from a different spot.
You need to start early in the morning from the town and travel to Pudeto, located approx 100km (60 miles) from Puerto Natales or 25km from the southern entrance (Serrano) in case you're staying in the park for a night. In Pudeto your driver drop you off and you get on the catamaran which brings you to the other side of Pehoe lake where you can start your hike to the Grey glacier. The trek takes between 3,5 and 4 hours to reach Grey Mountain lodge where you can embark on the second boat tour to visit the glacier and be brought back to Grey hotel where your driver picks you up and drives you back to the town.
Accommodations nearby Grey Glacier
Accommodation options near the glacier are two:
- Grey Mountain Lodge which is managed by the local company Vertice Patagonia and can be booked via their website. They provide accommodation in shared bed rooms as well as breakfast and dinner and can only be reached on foot via the trail from Paine Grande.
- Grey Hotel located at the southern shore of Grey lake and departing point for the boat tour on the lake. This is a beautiful and modern hotel with great views of Paine Mountains and the Patagonian Andes, private double or twin rooms and a nice lounge and dining area. You can reach Hotel Grey only by car or with a private transfer from Puerto Natales.