Ice, Ice Baby: The Glorious Pia Glacier

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I can hear, and feel, our small zodiac boat crunching through the ice as we make our way from ship to shore.


Miniature icebergs bob in the water around us, congregating nearer the land, forcing us to break our way through. We’ve left the Beagle Channel behind and navigated into the narrow Pia Fjord, where our ship, the Via Australis has anchored. We travel the last few minutes to shore in the small rubber zodiac that seems happy to push the ice aside. Once on shore we finally have the opportunity to take in the sheer vastness of the Pia Glacier. Its jagged edges creep into the water, while sharp points reach for the sky. Here the glacier measures over 1.5km in width – but it’s impossible to get any sense of the scale. The ice we see at its tip has taken over 700 years to travel from its source further inland up the mountain. Light reflects off its face throwing bright blues back at us. Everywhere there is colour; verdant greens of the trees and mosses, yellow lichens and grasses, deep red calafate berries, rusty brown fungus, and a smorgasbord of blacks and greys from the metamorphic rock below our feet.

Pia Glacier

Pia Glacier

The glacier towers over us – so immense and so beautiful it grabs the breath from your lungs and pulls tears, unbidden, from your eyes. You feel tiny, and overwhelmed by this colossus of nature; a reminder that we just an ephemeral blip on the face of this planet. We stand gawping at the glacier as our guide explains its lifecycle and the way it moves slowly back and forth throughout the year. We then stop to soak up the silence, broken only by the occasional sound of the glacier heaving and cracking – a sound not dissimilar to a deep explosion. We hold our breath wondering if a large junk of ice will calve off into the water below. But not this time. It’s surprising there is so much greenery and life just metres from the foot of this icy mammoth. Tiny birds flit about proving that life can assert itself almost anywhere.

Calafate Berries

Calafate Berries

We carefully pick our way upwards through the trees, admiring the tiny white flowers of the calafate bush and the old man’s beard lichen dangling from the branches of the gnarled and twisted trees. At the top of the low hill we emerge into a clearing of smooth, black rocks polished hundreds of years ago by the movement of tonnes of ice. Here there is a photogenic view of the Pia glacier, the fjord and out into the Beagle Channel. It’s cold, its wet, the cloud is low and the rain refuses to let up – but this can’t spoil the view, the silence and the sense of nature at its most grand. And is if this isn’t enough, Manuel, the ship’s barman has come ashore with a huge can of hot chocolate laced with Johnny Walker – to banish the cold from the inside out. It is the perfect way to enjoy the perfect view. P-manuel-hot chocolate-whiskey


FACT BOX: Australis runs regular four and five day voyages around Cape Horn, through the Straits of Magellan and ending in Punta Arenas. British Airways flies direct to Buenos Aires. From there you’ll need to pick up a domestic flight to Ushuaia. To arrange your tour to Argentina contact Argentina Travel Partners To arrange a tour once in Chile contact ProTours Chile:


ABOUT THE AUTHOR Chantal Cooke is an award winning journalist and broadcaster with a passion for the planet. In 2002 she co-founded the award winning radio station PASSION for the PLANET and in 2009 Chantal was awarded London Leader in Sustainability status. Chantal also runs a successful communications agency – Panpathic Communications.

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