Published: November 22nd 2011November 20th 2011
Day 40 - Saturday 19th November
Up at 5.30am for our first tour in, well near El Calafarte a boat trip to the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. This is a collection of glaciers including Perito Moreno which is one of the few advancing glaciers in the world. The bus collected us at 7.45am for the drive to the catamaran on the edge of the national park. These tours are expensive but most definitely worth doing, even though it is with large tour groups who push and shove.
We arrived at the boat and it took nearly 30 minutes from boarding till departure. The first stop on the cruise were the most amazing icebergs which the photos do not fully capture the beautiful colours and shapes. The good thing about the boat is it stopped for a good time so everyone could get a good look and photos, even if some of the tourists do not play nice. Next was the Upsala Glacier, which is one Patagonia’s largest glacier. Most Glaciers run along the ground but the Upsala is a suspended glacier, which means it’s outer edge floats on water. At present it is 55 kilometres long but is losing 200 metres
a year, generally in huge chunks and this is the reason we couldn’t get within 15 kilometres of the crumbling face. An ice barrier of massive clustered icebergs called an ice barrier had formed across the Upsala Channel stopping us from advancing. We cruised amongst the icebergs for a while before continuing down Lago Argentino, which is the largest lake in Argentina. This is the lake all the glaciers in this national park feed into, and despite it being unbelievably cold it has fish including trout.
As we travelled we had a view of a small glacier (Glacier Seco) that was quite obviously receding, there was exposed rock with no vegetation and the glacier had retreated right up the side of a mountain, it is incredible how clear you can see the evidence in front of you.
Next stop was Glacier Spegazzini which is another huge glacier which is visually amazing but still not as big as Perito Moreno, which at this stage is hard to believe. It is here that some tensions started between tourists with people walking into each other’s photos and not giving a damn, I am lucky I have a big lens so I can avoid
most of this but I am still shoved a few times. But we are not letting these pack tourist spoil our time, as they soon give up and go inside due to the cold leaving a small group with the views.
We are now off to Perito Moreno which is 2 hours away as we weave around the lake, most people have lunch and then a snooze. As we got closer there was an announcement and we all started to rug up because everyone wanted as much time as possible to see this glacier. As it appeared you could think this is just another glacier but it is 30km long, 5km wide and 60m high creeping forward 2m each day. It is trying to advance but every 4-5 years it hits a peninsular and damns up the water in an adjoining lake. Eventually the level of water builds up in the lake and the weight of the water causes it to collapse, so it only seems to reach one point and no further. I had read how this was one of the few glaciers in the world that is advancing, but they acknowledged on the boat that in fact the
glacier is in a “stabilised” condition meaning that it ain’t going anywhere, but at least it isn’t receding. The colours in the ice are breathtaking the main colour is a deep blue but every now and then there are pink hues. It is so photogenic which you tell by the number of photos I took 146 in one day, and surprisingly most are ok with a few being good.
It’s now time to head back to port, and despite it being utter confusion we manage to pick our bus out of about 30. We had met an American guy on the bus out and we managed to sit with him on the way home. He had travelled fairly extensively over the last few years around South America and so could give us some tips. Back at the hotel we had a couple of beers at the hotel bar and discuss the day and give us time to absorb the day we have had. Once again Shelley hit our kitchen and managed to cook up a great pasta dish with very little ingredients and very little effort. I think she has been missing her kitchen so getting this room has been
Day 41 - Sunday 20th November
Another tour today this time we are both excited because we will be walking on the Perito Moreno Glacier. We got picked up at the hotel at 7.45am in a minibus did a few other pickups around town and then transferred to a big bus, got on the road about 8.30am to the National Park. The bus today was extra, extra slow and it seemed a t times we were only doing 40km/hr. Having stated that, this is actually a really good thing about Argentina so far, and that is the bus drivers are over cautious as opposed to aggressive. This makes such a nice change as compared to Egypt.
We eventually made it down to the shoreline of Lago Brazo Rico at about 10.00am and embarked on a small battered little boat that took us across Lake at the foot of the southern face of the glacier. The Perito Moreno glacier winds 35 kilometres down the flanks of the Patagonian mountains and then slides across Lago Argentino in the shape of an arrow head, where it collides with the Magellanes Peninsula. The glacier cements itself on the peninsula creating an ice
dam that backs the water up in Brazo Rico till the water pressure gets too much and it ruptures the glacier. The rupture event breaks a tunnel through the glacier and occurs every 2 to 4 years although there is no real pattern to it, and really just depends on water levels. The last rupture was in 2008 when the southern side was 16 metres higher than the other and at present it is only 3m, so it is still some time off. Yesterday we had sailed up to the north (lower) face and today we crossed over on its southern face and it was just so spectacular seeing it for the second day.
Once off the boat we were split into different smaller groups so we had an English speaking guide who explained the history and facts of the glacier with the usual corny jokes. We walked along the shoreline with the enormous face of the glacier in front of us creaking and cracking, then slowly ascended to the hut that containing the crampons for our walk on the glacier. The guides fitted every ones crampons over their shoes and it is very weird walking with them on, the
first lesson is to walk with your feet apart so you don’t trip on the spikes. Then we were shown how to walk up hills like a duck and downhill with feet parallel and slightly squatting. Each technique was really simple but it was remembering what to do as you went up and down over the ice formations.
As stated before, the glacier moves on average 2m a day, but that is at the centre whilst the sides may only move about 30cm a day. When you see the millions of tonnes of ice before you it really does seem unfathomable, that it is moving. The “minitrek” that we took today basically stuck to the closer side fringes and also away from the unstable face of the glacier, but it wasn’t without its dangers. We saw multiple deep sink holes, crossed crevices, and countless freezing streams, and of course watching out for your fellow hiker was a full time job. It was a very slick operation with multiple tours heading off every half an hour, and although the tours seemed to go different ways we would often cross paths. I would reckon that close on 500 people a day would
trek across the glacier, but most of the time we felt like we were the only ones there.
We were on the ice for 90 minutes, and had plenty of stops for photographing and for the guide to tell us facts about the glacier. Being the nerd I am (Scott typing of course) I just loved every minute of the hike. The final “surprise” stop of the day was at a table set up on a high point where we were each served a glass of scotch…with glacial ice in it of course.
We reluctantly hiked off the glacier at the conclusion of the trek, removed our crampons and then walked back through the nearby forest to where the boat had dropped us off in the morning. Here at almost the base of the glacier we sat and had our lunch, before getting the boat back across the lake. The bus then drove us the short distance down the peninsula to the lookout over the glacier. Unfortunately we were given only an hour to view the glacier, which kind of sounds ridiculous as it is just a large lump of ice, but we both wished we had all day. The
lookout was a vast network of viewing platforms linked by stairs and ramps that from a distance looked like an Escher print. We made our way down to the lowest point, which was adjacent to the point of the glacier that was attached to the peninsula where we had the most sublime view along the northern face.
What everyone comes to see isn’t just the enormity of the glacier but to watch it’s face breaking off, and today we witnessed a few small and medium size chunks break free and crash into the water. The whole time we watched you could hear the repeated “bangs” and “cracks” like distant gunshots as the ice breaks up as it pushs down the valley. Whilst waiting we had the rare sight of an Andean condor that swept across in front of us, and this time Shelley managed to get a couple of photos. After standing there for just under an hour we had to quickly run back for our bus and as we headed up the stairs managed to witness a huge chunk peel off the southern face and go crashing into the lake, a sight I will never forget.
The trip back
to town was similar to the trip there….slow. When we eventually got back to town we managed to get the bus driver to drop us in the centre of town rather than our hotel. We had planned on getting money out but stupid us had left our credit cards back in the hotel safe, so we decided to just take it easy and grab a feed and a beer instead. Went back to a small bar in the centre of town that had a heavy reggae vibe and we got a huge hamburger with a couple of beers. It was a fabulously casual kind of place with a dog wandering around while you ate. I got myself and the dog into trouble when I slipped it a bit of my hamburger, but I just couldn’t help myself.
We could have stayed there all night but we had packing to do so we got a taxi to drive us the 3km out of town to our hotel, where we hit the huge task of cramming everything into our backpacks.
There are more photos below