Located a short distance east of Bariloche, Argentina, is a massive, extinct volcano called Cerro Tronador. Standing at a height of 3,491m and with no neighboring mountains, Tronador’s prominence is impressive. This hulking mass of rock sits on the border of Chile and Argentina, and its upper reaches are encased in glaciers. When I first saw Tronador, it was definitely a “holy shit” moment.
The Argentine side of Tronador is located in Parque Nacional Nahuel Huapi. To see Tronador, I booked a trip to Parque Nahuel Huapi with a tour operator in Bariloche. The tour was typical for Argentina. In the morning a white passenger van went around picking people up at their hotel. My group consisted of a mix of Argentineans, Brazilians, and a couple of Europeans. We had a driver and a guide. We then drove along dirt roads in the park to different sites of interest while our guide put things into context.
We did very little walking. I usually like to do a fair bit of walking, but was happy that we didn’t. The trip to Nahuel Huapi marked the first day of a stomach issue which plagued me for most of my journey through southern Argentina.
Nahuel Huapi was a big and beautiful park. The park encompassed pristine rivers, emerald-colored lakes, shimmering waterfalls, and evergreen forests containing a few old growth alerce trees. While walking a short distance to a waterfall, we passed by an alerce tree estimated to be over 1,000 years old. While that may seem quite old, it’s not even middle-aged for an alerce. The oldest known living alerce is 3,640 years old. It’s quite possible that these trees can live several thousand years if not cut down.
Our final stop of the day was the base of Tronador. One of Tronador’s glaciers, a tongue of brownish-black ice, was located at its base. This low altitude glacier was called the black glacier. At the terminus of the black glacier was a small lake of brown-colored melt water. Chunks of dirty ice the size of cars had calved from the end of the black glacier, and were floating in the chocolaty lake. The black glacier’s color comes from the dirt picked up by the ice as it advances downhill under the force of its own weight. Like many mountains around the world, Tronador’s glaciers are shrinking as a result of climate change.
Pictures really can’t convey the size and scale of Tronador. Rock faces on the lower part of the mountain were more than a thousand meters high. Glaciers on its upper reaches were hundreds of meters thick. Given that I was there during the Austral summer, the intense sun operated on the compacted snow and ice. We heard the glaciers creaking and groaning. A couple of times we witnessed large chunks of ice and snow break off from the upper glaciers, creating a sound like thunder. Dozens and dozens of waterfalls carried melt water off the mountain, the water cascading down rocky cliffs like streams of milk.
Standing under the summer sun, I studied Tronador for quite some time. I realized that a mountain is not a static mass of immoveable rock. I realized that mountains are dynamic and alive. Under the agency of climate and physiochemical processes, no two days are the same for a mountain. Wind, precipitation, fluctuating temperatures, gravity, water changing states, and pioneering plants are some of the forces that continually change and shape the dynamic mountain organism.