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Published: April 3rd 2014
Glaciers Galore and Icebergs Aplenty I was lashed by freezing wind and occasional horizontal rain, but I couldn't leave the deck of our big catamaran, The Patagonia--there was magic everywhere! Gliding by us, all around were icebergs from the size of toy boats to cruise ships. They'd been wind- and water-sculpted into a myriad of fanciful, hulking and anthropomorphic shapes. I saw birds, dragons, amphibians, even the Three Graces and a few angels wafting across the water. As varied as the shapes, were the colors from deep cobalt interiors to turquoise and baby blue, most opaque, some transparent, some striped in blues and dirty grays, revealing their checkered origins. Not only were the icebergs impressive, but also was the setting spectacular. Tall, snow-capped mountains towered above the fiords of Lago Argentino, the country's largest. The mountains' lower slopes were lushly covered by dark green, native (a rarity in South America) southern beech (nothofagus) forests cut through vertically by tall waterfalls carrying the snow melt to the lake. Above the water, ancient volcanic rock had been tortured, uplifted and folded into undulating hills. This magic was the All Glacier Tour out
of El Califate, where we did, indeed, sail up to the faces of four glaciers where we heard thunderous cracks as massive icebergs broke off and plunged with giant splashes into the lake, milky-turquoise with its glacial deposits. We also saw lots of smaller glaciers seeming to spill down the mountains, but which, like most glaciers in this time of global warming, were really melting and receding back up their valleys. Previously, boats had visited the huge 600 km2 Upsala Glacier. However, the higher temperatures of climate change resulted in so many icebergs being calved from the glacier that they filled the channel and made it unnavigable (which I'd also experienced in Alaskan fiords). Yet the entrance to this channel was my favorite part--the horizon was filled with titanic icebergs that dwarfed our ship.
Gaga for Glaciers I'd become obsessed with glaciers when I saw my first, the Mer de Glace (Sea of Ice), in the French Alps at Chamonix-Mt. Blanc. It was like nothing I'd ever seen- a magical, solid/liquid river of ice flowing down from the high mountains and filling a valley. Just as surprising were the deep crevasses that provided a
peek into the deep cobalt blues of the glaciers interior. Oh, I wanted more! So, in Alaska, I cruised fiords, seeing glaciers calf and then flew over endless valleys filled with glistening glaciers in a flight-seeing plane. To help pick up climbers, I flew in a tiny plane up to a their base camp where I walked on a smooth, snow-covered glacier on Denali-Mt. McKinley, North America's highest peak. Finally, here in Argentina's Patagonia, in El Chalten, I'd fulfilled a dream and walked with crampons on the whipped cream peaks and looked down into the deep crevasses of the Viedma Glacier. In El Calafate, I'd visited a glacier museum and walked close to the face of the famous Perito Moreno Glacier. Craving still more, I signed up for this All Glacier Tour. It was exorbitant and required me to be ready at an ungodly early hour, but sometimes sacrifice is necessary for true love, and I love glaciers!
Sacrifice for Love I had to be ready at 7 am, and not trusting my three watch alarms nor my ability to hear them, I had, unwillingly, stayed awake all night. On my
IPOD, I tried to put myself under by listening to Faure's Requiem for the Dead, then Mozart's, then Verdi's, then Dufray's. Nothing put me in the land of nod, but at least I heard some fine music. Finally at 6:30, I got up, layered fleece and wool over the 2 sets of thermals and regular layer I never took off in the unheated house, swigged the cold coffee I'd made the night before and headed out to wait for the van. One of the many sweet street dogs befriended me, and I had a fine half hour of affection with him until the van arrived. As we drove out of town, the sunrise was glorious, and I almost understood why people arise for them. We were headed for Puerto Bandera on Lago Argentino in the Parque de los Glaciars (Glaciers' Park). Our van pulled in before the flurry of others, so we were the first in what turned into a very cold, very long line of waiting people (300 in high season). Finally, they let us in, and we raced up to the smaller top cabin that held an intimate 50; the others were
left in the lower cabin which was as cavernous as a jet. I grabbed a seat, but was to spend little time there.
A Taste of Antarctica The weather changed constantly--driving winds sweeping in symphonies of clouds, drenching rain and occasional bursts of sun. Most people stayed bundled up inside, emerging onto the deck only when we were up close to a glacier. With my giant Dutch poncho, I stayed outside most of the time though every hour or so, I'd have to go in to thaw out a bit before heading back outside. The voyage exceeded all my expectations, and I took a ridiculous numbers of photos (11 panoramas above). It was grand!!! From Puerto Bandera, we sailed up the Canal de Tempanos (Channel of Icebergs) where ice bergs lined our way and up smaller fiords to visit the faces of four huge glaciers--the Spegnazzini Glacier, which towered 130 meters above the lake, the Agassizi and Onelli Glaciers, and the northern face of Perito Moreno, whose southern side I'd seen the previous day. My dream had been to go to Antarctica, but since I'd lingered too long everywhere in my
travels, I'd be arriving in Ushuaia (the gateway for Antarctica cruises) after the end of the cruising season. Oh well, at least I got to see loads of icebergs and glaciers--a glimpse of the far South.
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