Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Perito Moreno Glacier

Perito Moreno
If you are our friends on Facebook or Google+ (hint, hint), then you know that Lana asked for advice on what to do at the Perito Moreno glacier. We only had time to either do a catamaran sail to several glaciers on the lake, or do a Mini Trek that involved strapping on crampons and hiking across the glacier. The advice was really great, and there were strong arguments for both, but we finally went with the Mini Trek, after talking to locals and really thinking about what we wanted to do.  And we’re here to tell you that we made the right decision, hands down.  

The Mini Trek involves a drive out to the Los Glaciers National Park, an hour and a half at the viewing platforms watching the glacier from really near distance, with panoramic vistas, then a short sail across the lake to the glacier, where you strap on some crampons (actually they do it for you), and hike around the glacier with a guide for an hour and a half.  Then you take a boat back across the lake, and a bus back to El Calafate. It’s a long day, and you have to pack your own lunch, but it’s all worth it.
Glacier Blues
Just going to the viewing platforms and seeing the glacier close-up was amazing. You’re close enough to hear it creak and groan, and watch it calve.  We went there first for an hour and a half, and had lunch on the benches while we watched the face of the glacier, hoping to see it calve. Through the spring and summer the glacier is very active, so we were lucky enough to watch several pieces of it break off while we were standing there.  The sound is unique and amazing.
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After lunch, we had a 20 minute boat trip across a narrow stretch of water, and we were able to see the glacier from the water, fairly closely, although not as close as the boat in this picture. We took this picture from our boat, but we got somewhat closer than what you see here—which was close enough, after watching some of the chunks crash into the water.
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On the other side of the lake, we met our guide and hiked for maybe 15 minutes through a beautiful forest, onto the beach in front of the terminal moraine.  We sat for a while, talking about the glacier, and listening to it crack and groan.  While we were sitting there, David had his camera at the ready and when this happened, he was lucky enough to capture it in a series of still images, compiled here in an animated gif.
PeritoMorenoCalving
Pretty cool (pun intended)!  The waves made by the crashing ice were larger than we expected, and we later saw signs on the beach that warned against going any further due to the wakes created by the glacier calving.
After that, it was on with the crampons, and onto the ice! We got some information and instructions from our guide about how to walk in the crampons, and then they strapped us in.
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Here’s a little video so you can get some flavor of what it’s like to hike on a glacier. 
Trekking on Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate, Argentina
Incidentally, Perito Moreno glacier is the most accessible glacier for this kind of experience. You just hike for 15 minutes or so, and then you’re on the ice. This is possible because the glacier is stable and at really low elevation, about 250 meters or 820 feet above sea level. And it’s one of the few in the world that isn’t retreating.  

It was simply amazing to see the glacier up close and personal, with all the grooves and channels of melting water. Our guide told us that the bubbles coming up in the various pools of water were air that had been trapped at the top of the glacier about 300 years ago.  That is an astounding thought.
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At the end of our trek, our guide had a little surprise for us—a little drink “on the rocks,” chipped off the glacier.
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For those of you who know David, you will not be surprised that his glass was full of glacier water, not whisky (the melted glacier water tasted flat, much like distilled water).

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We toasted our guide, and each other, and Perito Moreno. Then it was time to clamber off the glacier, unlace the crampons and head back to El Calafate, by hike, by boat, and by bus.  After a long day and a whisky, we might have dozed on our way back to town.

More pictures below—we took so many (about 400), but we weeded them down to around 50. If you’d like to see more, click on the slideshow below. I think it’s some of our best photography.