Glacier Alley and the Chilean Fjords

After leaving Punta Arenas, my parent’s South America cruise sailed towards the mighty Chilean fjords and gigantic ancient glaciers in southern Patagonia. They compared the beautiful glaciers, snow capped mountains, and steep fjords to Alaska, but stressed that everything was much larger, cleaner, and more impressive in Chile.

There’s nothing quite like being in such a far off location to remind us how small we truly are in this huge, diverse, and ever changing world. Being surrounded by pure nature is a very humbling experience.

"Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes - every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man."

Orison Swett Marden

The cruise ship entered the navigable Beagle Channel, which is a strait in the Tierra del Fuego archipelago at the southern end of Chile. The narrow fjords of the channel came into view, with their high granite walls closely passing the ship. Sometimes a high waterfall could be seen plunging into the cold water below. 

As the Zaandam entered Glacier Alley the passengers could see the first chunks of ice floating past the ship.

The beautiful and dramatically shaped mountains in the Chilean fjords were formed many thousands of years ago during periods of glacial movement.

“There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more.”

Lord Byron

The ship spent some time in front of the gigantic Amalia Glacier so that the passengers could admire it's impressive beauty. The cruise ship continuously rotated in front of the glacier to prevent ice from building up around the hull. It was so cold here that without the movement of the ship, new ice would form within a matter of minutes.

The Amalia Glacier originates in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field. From 1945 to 1986 it retreated approximately seven kilometers, which was a dramatic loss of ice. The retreat is still continuing today.

The movement of the ship burst apart the ice that was breaking off and floating away from the Amalia Glacier.

It was a gloriously beautiful day as my parents cruise ship sailed away from the Amalia Glacier, but it was freezing cold outside! The crew went around on the decks with hot drinks, soup, and some snacks to keep the passengers warm. The weather played along for the most part, but as the ship sailed past several more glaciers the skies became cloudy and grey.

The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the world's second largest contiguous ice field outside of the Polar Regions. This ice field used to cover the entirety of southern Chile during the last glacial period, or Ice Age, as recent as 12,000 years ago! Today, the glaciers in Chile cover almost 3% of the land area of the country.

"Glaciers are delicate and individual things, like humans. Instability is built into them."

Will Harrison

My parents explained that the glaciers and ice in Chile looked cleaner than the ones up north in Alaska. The ice was somehow whiter, clearer, and in some cases more brilliantly turquoise. The freezing waters in the fjords looked cleaner as well. It makes sense that the natural landscape of South America is in a healthier state than it's North American counterpart because it has a much smaller population, less industry, and less infrastructure. Here the stunning nature is as it should be: relatively untouched and untarnished by humans!

"A man who keeps company with glaciers comes to feel tolerably insignificant by and by."

Mark Twain

What do you think, is Glacier Alley in Chile similar to Glacier Bay in Alaska?