The highlight of my visit to El Calafate in January/February this year and, indeed, one of the absolute highlights of my trip, was seeing the Perito Moreno Glacier in Los Glaciares National Park. The glacier’s awesomeness cannot be overstated. The mild and sunny weather on both days I visited accentuated the experience.
According to Wikipedia, a glacier is a persistent body of dense ice that is constantly moving under its own weight. Perito Moreno’s movement slowly pushes it against the land, causing various sized pieces of ice to fall off regularly. I was lucky enough to witness and record a giant ~50 metre high slab falling off the glacier (see video below). Every four or five years a bridge forms in the ice and crashes down even more spectacularly. The bridge last ruptured on 10 March, more than a month after I visited.
The head of the Perito Moreno Glacier pushing against the land
Visitors on the viewing platform watching the glacier (note the icebergs in the water). Even without the glacier, the lakes and mountains create a beautiful setting
One aspect that makes Perito Moreno a wonderful experience is its accessibility. Viewing platforms harbour stunning views of both the glacier’s north and south faces and one can spend hours in awe watching this giant piece of ice.
A hiking group on the glacier in the foreground giving an indication of how vast the glacier is
My first visit to the glacier was as part of a Big Ice hike. To serve the glacier, participant numbers on this hike are strictly limited and I was privileged enough to take part.
A bus transferred hike participants from El Calafate to Los Glaciares National Park. There we had time to see the front of the glacier before being transferred to a boat for a ride across the lake. After a pre-hike briefing and fitting crampons to our shoes, we set off. Firstly we walked for almost an hour on land alongside the glacier and past a great waterfall. Then it was time to hit the glacier!
In a glacier tunnel
Standing in front of a glacier lake containing potable water
Another group hiking across the glacial ice
The glacier surface is very uneven with canyons, holes and crevasses making for a dangerous environment. Our group of ten hikers had two guides, one who had the responsibility to scout ahead and find a safe path, hacking ice to create steps when necessary. Although the glacier only moves very slowly, it changes enough for a new path to be necessary every day.
This waterfall was next to the glacier. On almost any other day it would have been the highlight
The boat Yagan took our group across the lake before and after the “Big Ice” hike
After the “Big Ice” hike the workers hauled an iceberg from the lake and broke it up into ice cubes for the post-hike whiskey on the boat ride back
I had not intended to return to the glacier but two days after the hike my hostel room mate Jim was going. Travelling with solely carry-on luggage I have limited clothes. As most of these were being washed I only had a shirt, lightweight rain jacket and bathers-come-shorts to wear. As the weather in El Calafate was fine I decided to take the chance and join Jim. I’m so glad I did!
Wearing a shirt, shorts and sandals in front of the Perito Moreno Glacier
The following two photos provide a sense of Perito Moreno’s size:
The black dot above is a boat near icebergs in the lake
The above photo is the same boat zoomed in!
Jim and I had been observing the glacier this afternoon for over three hours when we sensed something big was about to happen. Smaller chunks of ice had calved off a particular area of glacier and a big slab looked vulnerable to calving. Mindful of my camera’s diminishing battery life, I started recording video of the glacier. Several minutes later the following occurred:
Video of large wall of ice calving and causing tsunami waves in the lake
The wall of ice’s impact with the water left a large ring of thousands upon thousands of icebergs
Only 30 minutes beforehand Amy and Dario joined Jim and I as witnesses to this natural phenomena. They had driven directly from Chile. After collectively basking in the glory of this spectacular event, they were kind enough to drive us back to El Calafate. There we ended an amazing day at a parrilla (Argentinean barbecue) restaurant.