EXPERIENCEEXPERIENCE
March 12th 2010 - Written by: Kelsy

Rios Libres: The Voice of Ice

Craig Childs checking out the Neff Glacier in Patagonia, Chile

Craig Childs checking out the Neff Glacier in Patagonia, Chile

by Craig Childs

At night I lay in my tent listening to the thunder of collapsing seracs, multi-ton columns of ice breaking free and falling a thousand feet. Smack, crack, rumble, groan. In these deeply-cut canyons, echoes build and fade. The ice-bound head of the Rio Baker is not a stable or quiet place.

Timmy O'Neill walking the line on the Neff Glacier

Timmy O'Neill walking the line on the Neff Glacier

Endangered Huemul Deer

Endangered Huemul Deer

Craig Childs watching a huge chunk of ice falling 20 stories down the Neff Glacier.

Craig Childs watching a huge chunk of ice falling 20 stories down the Neff Glacier.

In the morning we walk along an exposed wall of the Neff Glacier. A thirteen-story slab breaks away, tilts in slow motion, bursts into powder and bergs. How do you not feel fragile in this landscape?

On the ice, crampons crunch across a surface darkened by wind blown dust. The sound of meltwater emerges from deep below

Craig Childs taking a handful of perfect glacier water - some of the cleanest in the world.

Craig Childs taking a handful of perfect glacier water - some of the cleanest in the world.

us, mumblings in the belly of the glacier. I peer down a hole where shadows within shadows lead into a blue Jules Verne landscape, journeying into the source of the Baker. Oxygen-rich ice near the surface is white. Below it, baby blue falls into a saturated indigo so deep and rich it seems perilous. Becoming aware of the depths, I feel dizzy.

Every hole and crack emits a sound. Some places are whispers, and some rumble like a ship engine below deck. Unseen rivers roar and hiss as one of the largest ice caps in the world melts under our feet. Jonathan Leidich, a local glacier expert whose knowledge comes from 15 years on the ice, takes us to a measurement station that he maintains in conjunction with CECS, Centro de Estudios Cientificos de Valdivia here in Chile. A PVC pipe sticks up from a hole. Leidich runs a tape measure, says that a month ago the surface of the glacier was six feet over our heads. That much has melted in 30 days across this entire expanse. Hearing this, I take in the scope around us, daggers and ridges of ice, holes shaped like giant’s navels. Ice stretches as far as I can see, rising up through the teeth of mountains where the Patagonia Ice Cap spills through from the other side. I can feel it all melting. This is how the river starts.

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