Los Glaciares (The Glaciers) National Park in the southern Patagonia of Argentina is one of the most unique places on earth. Most of the worlds glaciers are formed somewhere over 8000 feet above sea level. Normally the air is too warm under that altitude for glaciers to survive for long. But here in southern Argentina the glaciers in this park originate from the Southern Icefield ice caps at around 5000 feet and then descend into valleys as low as 700 feet above sea level. That makes them easy to get to and to see up close.
We spend a few nights in the town of El Calafate on the southern edge of Lago Argentina and plan to go out and see one of the most famous of the 13 or more glaciers visitors can see in this park, Perito Moreno.
We book an early morning ice trek on the shoulder of this goliath so I can see it up close before getting to see it from the viewing platforms where most visitors go to see it. Perito Moreno looms in the distance before we drop down to the lakeshore to park in a cove out of sight of the glacier to catch our boat to the southern shore landing near Perito Moreno.
Then we hike along the shore and through the woods for about 30 minutes before arriving at the crampon shacks (my name for them, not the tour companies – I’m still giggling from the woman at the tour office walking us through the itinerary and telling us the guides would give us “cramps”, although her English was WAY better than my Spanish so I mean no disrespect.).
We get fitted with some pretty basic and dull crampons, just about perfect for my experience and skill level at ice trekking which is exactly zero.
And then our guide, Luis, takes us to the edge of the glacier for our first quick lesson and then we step up onto Perito Moreno and begin our hour and a half hike on the ice.
The ice is amazing….stunningly deep blue and multi-textured. I’m mesmerized just looking at it in all its forms. Water runs across and down it all over. There are lots of crevasses and holes that disappear into the glacier to who knows where. Waterfalls drizzle and run from above and then disappear to come out into the lake somewhere below.
We start the careful climb up and practice our “duck walk” attempting to land our crampon teeth all at once on the surface.
Luis explains that dust blows across the glacier, carried by the wind, and settles into the textures of the ice. That dust is darker than the surrounding ice so it absorbs heat from the sun differently than the ice itself, making it warmer. And over time these dark pockets settle and melt and can create crevasse or a hole.
We cross a tiny crevasse and climb higher.
As we walk back around the lake to the dock after our hike I take a photo of the hikers in the distance, where we had been. And if you look closely you can see the 3 gear huts and 3 hiking groups out on the glacier.
We carry on further and learn more about the incredible glacier we are on. Perito Moreno gets it start way up on the peaks above this river of ice. It takes a relatively short time for ice to reach the face of the glacier all the way at the end on the lake, only 400 years. The glacier is 3 miles wide and nearly 15 miles long. And despite a lot of reports that the glacier is still growing, it isn’t. But at least it isn’t receding either, which is an anomaly in the world of glaciers.
We descend to the end of our short trail and celebrate this spectacular experience with a scotch on the “rocks” made of glacier ice, of course.
Then we go back to the bikes and ride up to the face to sit and enjoy this gorgeous place from a viewing balcony.
It’s incredible to just sit and watch and listen. The ice creaks and groans and every now then a large piece breaks off and drops into the lake, making a loud explosion.
We spent the entire day with this glacier, and I could have spent another day or two here. What an incredible experience.