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near Villa O'Higgins, Santa Cruz (Argentina)
Twelve thousand years ago the entire valley that spreads out before you during this hike was completely covered in ice. During this era, the Tigre Glacier that you will find at the top of your climb, reached down the entire mountain into the valley below. Today, only remnants remain, complements of the climatic conditions that exist at its higher altitude.
As you make your way up to these remnants, look for the evidence of the glacier’s movements that accompany you along the route. For example, along the sides of the route and across the valley’s floor, you will notice large boulders that don’t match the rest of the rocks in the area; seemingly tossed into the landscape by a giant. These are called “erratics” and the giant was the glacier itself, which carried the rocks through the landscape, leaving them in its wake, as it made its retreat.
The trail becomes less clear as you reach the mid-mountain; however, the area is open and clean, and your guide should be very familiar with the route. It takes around 2½ hours to reach the top, (1,000 M), where you be rewarded with views of the El Tigre Glacier and its turquoise lagoon. Here, the hike levels off. As you get closer to the glacier, you will see the striations, or stripes, that have formed on the rock walls on one side of the narrow valley, marking the direction that the glacier’s ice followed, as it descended along its course.
As you descend down into the Valley, notice the signs of the changes that have occurred in this ecosystem over the previous 12,000 years. In the higher reaches the striations of the glaciers movements are especially pronounced. As you leave the ice you will notice a gradual change from bare rocks to rocks covered by lichen and moss. As you continue to descend you'll reach areas with tiny flowers and then, stunted lenga trees, which will get bigger as you continue your downward course. By the time you reach the valley, enormous coigües, thick forest undergrowth, ferns, and mosses will surround you. Always, the presence of water is nearby, carrying rich glacial sediments that provide the nutrients and base for the biodiversity of the wetlands.