Rios Libres: The Voice of the Ice

3 Min Read  /  Activism

Timm Neff walk Team Rios Libres is back with an update from the Neff Glacier, at the headwaters of the Río Baker. The team’s first two reports can be found here (1, 2). With the Neff at their backs, the team followed the river to the sea, doing their best to document the diversity, beauty, and wildness of the region. Before completing their journey, the team will be checking in on a region of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field last believed to be last visited and documented by explorer Eric Shipton during 1960-61 expedition.

Reports from the Rios Libres team are that their travels are proceeding smoothly, but the impacts of the quakes continue to be felt and much support is still needed (information about how to help is here).

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Childs-Neff1 The Voice of Ice (a report from 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.

[Top, Timmy O’Neill walks the line on the Neff Glacier. Above, left – Craig Childs watches as a huge chunk of ice falls 20 stories down the
Neff Glacier. Photos: James Q Martin]

Childs-Neff2 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 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.

Childs-water 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.

[Above, right – Craig Childs gets an up-close view of the Neff Glacier. Above, left – Taking a handful of perfect glacier water – some of the cleanest in the world. Photos: James Q Martin]

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Check out the video below for a better view of how much ice has been lost from the Neff Glacier in the past year. Facebook readers can find this video here.

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