The best day of summer: 2km of CTD profiles, a drop of liquor and a block of ice

After deploying our sediment trap in Steffen fjord, we immediately left the Chilean fjords and drove landwards towards Monte San Lorenzo. During this three hour twilight drive, Patagonian wildlife woke up. Plenty of suicide bunnies started to test their luck by crossing the gravel road just in front of our pick-up truck. Luckily, by midnight we reached our cabaña in Cochrane with zero road kills.

During our first day in Cochrane, we assembled the mooring for Lago Calluqueo and tested our newest toy, the YSI EXO3 CTD profiler, in Rio Cochrane next to our cabaña. In the meantime, Francois and Mélanie visited the new Patagonia National Park, the luxury backyard of late Douglass Tompkins, from which they returned early to prepare the evening BBQ. By the time Seb and Matthias finished the preparations for the next day’s work on Lago Calluqueo, a superb piece of lomo was ready to be devoured.

The next morning, the four of us jumped in our camionetas and headed to Lago Calluqueo, Loïc’s favorite proglacial lake at the foot of Monte San Lorenzo. This mountain is the residence of a small icefield located roughly between the NPI and SPI, with several outlet glaciers that terminate in or near recently-formed pro-glacial lakes. Lago Calluqueo is such a lake. It formed during the last decades and it only contains a very limited sediment record (Los dos geolocos meet another rey). According to locals, this is the best summer day they’ve had so far this year: clear skies and temperatures reaching 25°C ensured perfect fieldwork conditions. After a one hour drive and one steep hike down a Little Ice Age moraine, we arrived at the little dock of Lago Calluqueo. Here, our boat kindly provided by Richard from Turismo Onix awaited us.

Francois and Matthias pulling the CTD profiler up and down Lago Calluqueo while Seb maintains the boat in position.

First on our todo list was pulling the CTD profiler manually up and down the water column at 14 different sites for a total length of 2.5 km. With Seb holding the boat in place, Matthias acting as a human winch and Francois putting out his hand as a manual pulley, we rolled out the rope at a constant speed to depths >200m. With this new dataset, Loïc will be able to construct a 3D model of the lake’s temperature, conductivity, turbidity, pH,… and assess how meltwater and glacial sediment flows through this proglacial lake. After finishing the CTD profiles, we picked up the mooring at the dock and crossed the lake once again. An hour later, the mooring, which includes our faithful sediment trap and a new HOBO temperature logger, was deployed in the middle and deepest part of the lake. For the coming year, this trap will hopefully collect sediment originating from Calluqueo glacier and monitor changes in surface water temperature every 30 min.

Francois and Matthias deploying the sediment trap.

With our mooring in place, we finished the second and last objective of our work in Patagonia. With some time left at the end of the day, we enthusiastically hiked up, guided by Richard, towards the front of the astonishing Calluqueo glacier. To celebrate the successful end of our field expedition, Richard took out his finest bottle of Calafate liquor and refreshed it with a piece of glacial ice. This drop of liquor and block of ice were joyfully consumed by our fulfilled team. Before crossing the lake one last time and returning to Cochrane, we eternalized the experience of the last ten days (group picture below).

Mélanie enjoying her shot of Calafate liquor on the rocks, in front of Calluqueo glacier.
This year’s team, from left to right: Francois, Mélanie, Matthias and Seb.

This successful day on Lago Calluqueo marked the end of our field adventures. Or at least, we thought so. The one-day drive to Coyhaique and two-day flight back to Europe via Santiago seemed to be a routine journey. This was without considering our camioneta. With less than 100 km to go and just after having left the gravel road, a dashboard light you don’t want to see started to blink. Apparently, we were running out of fuel, which seemed strange since we had refueled just a few hours earlier. We pulled over to check what was happening, and as we got out of the camioneta, we quickly started to smell gasoline. The entire left side of our camioneta was covered with fuel and our tank was draining out its fluids all over the Carretera Austral! In less than 10 minutes, we had lost half of our fuel! Since there was no cellphone reception in the area, we were on our own. We decided to try our luck and drive downhill in direction of the small town of Cerro Castillo about 20 minutes back. Unfortunately, we were already on the reserve and our fuel continued to drain. A small hill right before the long descent to Cerro Castillo stopped our exhausted camioneta. At that point, there was only one solution: hitchhike to the nearest area with cell phone reception. After about twenty minutes, the first car pulled over. A friendly Argentinian-German couple took Seb towards Cerro Castillo. After calling the car rental company three times, and sharing some mate and calafate pie with the friendly Argentinian, a staff member of the rental company decided to drive down from Coyhaique to pick us and our equipment up on this late Sunday evening. “I’ll be there in one hour” he said… which in Chilean means two hours! As night was falling, Patagonian wildlife woke up once again. The roars of a male Huemul, the typical endangered south Andean deer, accompanied our wait in the camioneta. Eventually, at 11pm, two approaching headlights scared the Huemul away and took us to Coyhaique to continue our journey…

Seb and Matthias stuck in a Patagonian valley between Cerro Castillo and Coyhaique without cellphone reception.

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