Published: February 2010

Patagonia's Peril

Patagonia icefields

The Power of Patagonia

With its glacier-carved peaks and fjords, southern Chile remains one of the wildest places on Earth. But that could soon change.

By Verlyn Klinkenborg
Photograph by Maria Stenzel

At the head of a remote fjord in southern Chile, a determined Norwegian named Samsing settled down in 1925 to a life of pasturing sheep in what was then a grass-filled valley. A year later he was literally chased out of his homestead by an advancing glacier.

Where his estancia lay there is now a glacial lake with icebergs floating in it. The glacier, today called P5o XI, relented for a time, then went on the march again. Nowadays it is lifting a forest by its roots, flinging it ever so slowly aside. Along the capsizing tree line, Guaitecas cypresses, some hundreds of years old, seem to have paused even as they were toppling. Roots have been upturned, crowns snapped off, trunks set akimbo. Elephantine boulders of ice have been driven under moss and carnivorous bog plants.

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