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Eating our way through Patagonia

Eating our way through Patagonia

By AnnMarie Backstrom (College of Saint Benedict)


Annie Johnson by Río Tranquillo. Photo by AnnMarie Backstrom.


On January 28th, Team Aguila left our base camp in Cochrane and headed south to our new home for the week — a small cabin in San Lorenzo. We were all excited to travel to a new location, and took some time to enjoy some scenic stops along the way, including a view of waterfalls along Río Tranquilo, In the afternoon, we saw an even more stunning site in the San Lorenzo—the Calluqueo glacier, which for many of us was the first glacier we had ever seen. While at the glacier, we were all excited to test our newfound glacier knowledge – which we learned thanks to our glaciologist instructor Scott – on a real glacier instead of a picture. One of the most exciting events of the day, however, was sitting around a fire sharing stories late into the night at our new camp.


Calluqueo glacier in the valley and the peaks are the San Lorenzo Mountain, which is the second highest peak in Chile. Photo by AnnMarie Backstrom.


A view from Annie and Shelby’s tent of our cabin at our basecamp in San Lorenzo. Photo by Annie Johnson.


On our first full day in San Lorenzo, we went hiking to complete a plant survey of the area and to search for huemul deer (Hippocamelus bisulcus). We were unable to locate any huemul, but our instructor and botanical expert Manuela did show us the edible berries of Chaura de la Montana (Gaultheria pumila).


The berries of the Chaura de la Montana. Photo by AnnMarie Backstrom.


Another highlight of the day was spotting three juvenile Andean condors when we stopped for lunch. The condors were easy to spot using our binoculars, since they were soaring about 100m away from the mountainside where we were seat. They flew close enough that we were easily able to identify them as juveniles and sometimes they even flew lower than the elevation we were seated at, affording us to even better views of their faces.


Two Juvenile Andean Condors we saw before eating lunch. Photo by Shelby Sawyer.


After lunch we continued the plant survey, and while surveying for plants we discovered a cave in the hillside – curiosity then got the best of us and we began exploring the cave and the interesting mineral deposits on the roof of the cave before we finished our plant transect of the area.


Aidan standing in the cave we discovered while looking for huemul. Photo by Annie Johnson.


After spending the previous day hiking, on January 30th many of us took the day to relax, but Annie, Aaron, and I went on a hike with our instructors Scott, Shay, and Manuela. The goal of the day was to explore the hillside behind our basecamp, but this goal was quickly discarded by the discovery of a bountiful Patagonia landscape filled with edible calafate berries, wild strawberries, red crowberries, and Chilean sweet sicily. These ripe berries posed a problem for our adventure as we constantly stopped to eat, and could not travel more than 30m before all of us stopped and picked more fruit. In addition to the finding an abundant food source, we also found a wet area of moss that was dripping water from the higher mountains that were snowed on that morning. This water source provided us with some water to quench our thirst after a long day of grazing on Patagonian berries.


Calafate berries (Berberis microphylla). Photos by AnnMarie Backstrom.


Red crowberries (Empetrum rubrum). Photo by AnnMarie Backstrom.


Chilean sweet cicely (Ozmorrhiza chilensis). Photo by AnnMarie Backstrom.


AnnMarie drinking water drops from the moss on the cliffs. Photo by Annie Johnson.


For our last field day in San Lorenzo, we began developing research questions and hypotheses for future research on the glacial succession of Calluqueo glacier. The day involved a lot of exploration and numerous small lessons on glacial succession. One of the most interesting lesson was about map lichen (Rhizocarpon geographicum), which can be used to study glacial moraines – since these lichens have a consistent and known growth rate, scientists like ourselves can identify and measure these lichens to determine how long a moraine has existed above the ice, and this allows us to determine the time that the rocks were deposited to form the glacial moraine. Then with further research and historical photos, future groups of Round River students can determine the rate at which the Calluqueo glacier is receding.


Our adventures in San Lorenzo are done, but all of us are looking forward to our next adventure studying huemul in the Lower Pascua Valley. Hopefully, we will have more luck finding huemul on this adventure.


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