Gap: Studying Glaciers in the Icefields

*Photos will be uploaded later when the group has better service!*

Hey everybody! It’s Kosi with an update from the field. The ice fields exped was incredible. Here is a day by day.

Day 1: Starting again

We woke up and the world was dark. Louis and Amelia drove us from Cerro Castillo to Bertrand where we met 3 of our new companions. John, our trail avuncular figure and river crossing expert who manages the organization that we traveled with, Patagonia Frontiers. Don Louis, a local gaucho and a generous neighbor to John who supported us by transporting our re-rations and by providing good company. And Felix, a recent grad student who studied environmental policy and geography. He created and taught us the curriculum that we learned over the course of the expedition. We took two small boats across Lago Bertrand where we met our final two companions. Jeremy, a red-bearded poet, and wooden spoon maker. And Oliver, a fellow gap year taker who resembled a hobbit (in all the best ways). They were both working with Patagonia Frontiers and helped to guide us through the valley. Our group was mentally and physically exhausted from the sudden departure of 4 community members as well as just two days to de-issue from our last expedition and prepare for a new one. The addition of five new members felt overwhelming, but also added much-needed fresh perspectives, joy, and experience. We hiked together through thorny rose hip bushes and over hills to our first campsite.

Day 2: Finding the Groove

We walked up and down hills until we reached a lookout from which we could see up the valley to distant white-capped mountains and glacial ice. Felix taught us glacial formation basics. The lesson was super engaging and interesting, especially given the prime classroom location. We were all very curious and asked lots of questions. When we reached John’s ranch, our campsite for two nights, we had an extremely chaotic and comedy-filled hike debrief.

Day 3: Layover Day at the Ranch

We started the day off with hot breakfasts— Rosa made my cook group delicious pancakes. Felix helped us to examine tree cores taken by an HMI group he worked with 3 years ago in the same valley. We counted the rings to determine the age of the trees, which we could use to estimate the age of the moraine (a glacial landform created by depositing of glacial debris which forms hills/ridges) on which they were found, and thus estimate the timeline of the glacial ice flow. It was science in its most chaotic and fun and imprecise form. Then we finally had some much-needed alone time to process the departure of some of our community members, during which Nora and I faced down a group of cows. We ended the night with a cuddle puddle evening meeting under the stars.

Day 4: HUGE hiking day.

Unlike in past expeditions where we hiked in two groups, we hiked all together. To facilitate this change, we adopted new daily rituals. Each day we had 2 mistresses of moral, 2 self-care squires, and 2 demons of togetherness to keep us close together on the trail. We also started each hiking day by shouting and dancing to Gwen Stefanie’s Holla Back Girl. The entire valley was flooded from days of rain and glacial melt. Our hike began with a river crossing. John coached us through the river scouting process and after a few attempts we found a route that worked. It was cold and deep and fast flowing—by far the most time and physically intensive river crossing of our semester. The flooded valley resembled a bog and cow poop floated to the surface of the calf-deep water as we walked. Laila got stuck in thigh-deep in mud and thankfully we were able to get them out! After walking up the main valley for most of the day, we arrived at our next campsite, located at the mouth of the Soler Glacial valley. We were soaked and cold and exhausted but thrilled to have a toilet.

Day 5: Layover Day

We took a day hike to a stunning lookout over the Soler Glacier valley and had a hot lunch. Then we learned about glacier mass balance and its implications on a local, regional, and global scale. Libbey led a yoga class. In the evening, Sid, Laila, and Steph made a fire. In past expeditions, we have not been able to make fires because we were on National Park Land. On this expedition, we traveled on ranches owned by Patagonia Frontiers or by one of the other residents of the valley.

Day 6: Hike Day

We awoke to much-needed sunshine. It was a beautiful day. We hiked up the valley towards the Soler Glacier outlet where we would conduct our fieldwork. We walked through forests and swamps and over long, flat stretches of gravel-like rocks and developed a new understanding of how the landscape was formed. Our new river scouting and risk management skills came in handy when we determined to not make a deep river crossing. Instead, we found a new campsite. We have learned to be very flexible on trial.

Day 7: First Data Day

The sunshine continued. We packed up early and crossed the river to reach the campsite we had planned to camp at the night before, which was located near the base of the glacier. Some of us stayed to set up tents and make a hot lunch while the rest scouted places to collect data on moraines at the glacier outlet and on the glacial melt river. By this point, the 5 new members of our group really started to feel a part of our community. We spent the afternoon working together to collect data. I worked in the river data collecting group. We used an impeller to measure the velocity of river flow at different locations and depths across time of day. We waded into freezing water to make our measurements. At first our morale was low. I spent a while curled up in a fetal position (as I often do) next to a rock. About halfway through the afternoon, we turned it around with hot drinks, singing, and dancing. The other group spent the afternoon measuring the diameter of lichens. It was an AMAZING experience. We were so lucky to have such an amazing classroom and such a generous, patient teacher. Later we had a pizza night and told stories around the campfire.

Day 8: Data Day 2

Me and my fellow wet bandits woke up early to make early morning river measurements. It was FREEZING and energizing and beautiful and altogether not that successful because our instruments stopped working. We arrived back at camp just in time for a hot breakfast which included hash browns and biscuits. In the afternoon we explored the area— highlights include eating glacial ice and spotting a Huemul, an endangered species of dear that we had been hoping to see since the start of the semester. In the evening I happened to be at the Instructor team’s kitchen when two more Huemules emerged from the forest and started tussling a few yards in front of us. The encounter left me feeling grateful and humbled.

Day 9: Down the valley

We hiked back down the Soler Glacial valley. I felt particularly sad leaving the glacier behind, knowing that I might never see it again, and even if I did it would most likely be much smaller. Rosa did her thing and led us back on impractical yet immensely fun terrain through the woods. Meals (Amelia) got stuck in thick swamp mud. Then we made our longest, coldest, and most peaceful river crossing yet in order to spend the night at one of Don Louis’s ranches. Don Louis generously gathered apples from a tree in his yard for us. I cooked everything-in-your-ration-bag-lentil-curry and pita for dinner. The kitchen was chaos! Mice were scampering and spices were flying. 

Day 10: Huge Day, Last Day

Chaos! Mice (we knew due to the mice droppings) and dogs (we knew due to the quantity eaten and lack of evidence) had eaten one cook group’s pasta leftovers. We spent the morning at a glacial outburst flood plain where we reconstructed an example of an outburst flood using satellite imagery from the Patagonia Ice Field area. Then we took our own tree core samples from trees in the valley for a future HMI group to examine. We spent the rest of the day hiking back down the main valley to John’s hut. The grassy landscape was much drier than it had been when we walked up the valley a week before. Rivers that flowed fast and deep were slow swooshes over our ankles. At the campsite, we all made cheesy pasta, a back-country favorite. To end a long day and an amazing exped we made a bonfire on the lakeshore beach.

Alright, I have to go pack for our last expedition now! Things have been busy and hectic and fun here (per usual). Go Bills!

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