August 12, 2017 was our first balloon launch from Punta Bandera which is on the west end of the lake exactly 32 air miles upwind of El Calafate airport. Airbus Perlan Mission II just got permission to launch a weather balloon from Punta Bandera. It's a bit complicated with the B team (Balloon) driving to the west 50 km and the C team (Communication and Computers) driving to the east 20 km. But the procedure of launching at daybreak is still working. By the time the balloon floated over El Calafate town it was at 30,000 feet.
The rest of the day was devoted to rest and relaxation. Almost the entire team took off for the first time in a month. (The rest of the blog is about an awesome Patagonia Glacier and Iceberg cruise.)
Patagonia is breathtakingly beautiful. Lago Argentino is the biggest lake in Patagonia and all of Argentina. It has huge glaciers feeding it with milky turquoise (aqua) waters. We were treated to a beautiful sunrise to herald our day. Castle Hill (Cerro Castillo) glowed in the crystal air. Puenta Banderas is the port for a 3 glacier boat tour. A bit pricey at $90 but worth every dime.
As we headed up the north arm (Brazo Norte) towards the biggest glacier we rode in reclining seats in the heated upper or lower cabin. Outside it was very windy on the bow of the cataraman due to it's 25 mph speed. The stern was very comfortable. We were very close to Castle Hill. Then we went through the narrow opening of Devil's Throat (Garganta del Diablo). As we neared Upsala Glacier there were enormous icebergs that had unique and fantastico shapes due to wind and water erosion. The hole with the rippled outside leading edge was my personal favorite. The clear opening was over 8 feet across. And the sleeping giant next to it was 75 foot long. The closer we got to Upsala the more ice there was in the water. Legally we had to stay 6 km away from the wall of the glacier. But that did allow for the panaromic view.
Next we headed past Seco (Dry) Glacier. It does not touch the water of the lake. Spegazzini Glacier was fabulous. The wall is over 120 meters (400 feet) and this one you can get to within 300 meters. There was a ring of smallish ice in the water which the front of the catamaran sailed right through - but slowly! A peak just above the glacier had really sharp jagged rocks at its summit. It looked like a crown of thorns, but I discovered it is called Cerro Peineta (Comb). As we lingered near Spegazzini we noticed the high altitude winds had picked up from the north. It still made lenticular clouds to entice us (Jim calls them len-teasers.) As we started back to our port we hurriedly gathered for a group photo. It was a fabulous day. Jackie