First described in scientific literature by Charles Darwin in 1839, penitentes are vertical snow formations (closely spaced and elongated, thin blades of hardened snow or ice) found at high altitudes. They range in size from a few centimeters to over 5 meters or 16 feet. They can be seen all glaciated and snow-covered areas in the Dry Andes (a climatic and glaciological subregion of the Andes, runs from the Atacama Desert in northern Chile and Argentina south to a latitude of 35°S in Chile) above 4,000 meters or 13,120 feet. In Spanish, their name is nieves penitentes (Spanish for “penitent-shaped snows”).
The name “Peninente” comes from the resemblance of a field of penitentes to a crowd of kneeling people doing penance. Photo: alittlebithigher.wordpress.com