Upsala & Spegazzini Glaciers

Published: August 5th 2016
Edit Blog Post

While I was in the shower this morning, Bernie went onto the Qantas website to try to change our seat allocation for the flight from Punta Arenas to Santiago because he thought our seats were too far back in the plane. Hmmn, that went well, Bernie said that just going onto the site to look at whether other seats were available caused our seats for the long haul Santiago to Auckland leg to be changed to the very, very, back row - right next to the toilets. Great! I guess we'll try again to change our seats when we check-in?

We had another early start today. I'm getting to be a bit over all of this getting up in the dark! And, once again, we were ready slightly before the scheduled pick-up time only to end up waiting, waiting ... and waiting in the hotel foyer for our ride to turn up. Each time a coach or minibus pulled up out the front we were half out of our chairs thinking it was our ride only to be disappointed repeatedly as other guests headed off on their excursions. It was very stressful this morning because we knew we had to be at the port by the boat's scheduled departure time or we would be left behind.

Finally, with absolutely no time to spare, our minibus arrived and we were on our way. I was still really stressing though because vehicles are only allowed to travel at 80km/hour so our minibus driver couldn't even put his foot down to make sure he got us to the port on time. Apparently the fines are horrendous if they get caught speeding so he just tootled along at the requisite 80km/hour while my blood pressure went up!

Eventually we reached the Y intersection at the foot of Cerro de los Elefantes and this morning we took the right arm heading for Punta Baderas where we hoped there would still be a boat ... At last we were there and the boat was still docked. Phew, now we just had to purchase our National Park tickets and board the boat with, we thought, only minutes to spare.

Hmmn, it seems that the stated departure time of 9.00am is a bit rubbery. Or do they say 9.00am to make sure everyone is actually on time for a 9.30am departure??! Being far from the first passengers on board we had to settle for seats in the middle of the boat which was a bit disappointing. Then they made an announcement to say that passengers could purchase an upgrade to the 'Captain's Club'. Bernie was out of his seat like a shot and off to the bar to see if he could secure us an upgrade. Woo hoo, don't care what it cost - we were off upstairs to the exclusive area on the upper deck where the captain drives the boat from (the bridge?). We now had sumptuous lounge seats up the front of the boat beside window on the right hand (starboard) side of the boat. Nice!

We cast off and headed out into Lago Argentino. The captain had to negotiate a narrow passage into the Brazo Norte (northern branch) of the lake as we headed for the Glaciar Upsala. As we cruised along the Brazo Norte and then into the Brazo Upsala we saw icebergs that increased in size as we ventured closer and closer to the face of the Glaciar Upsala. The icebergs are created when huge chunks of ice fall (calve) from the face of the glaciers. As they float away from the face they start to melt hence the further they are from the face of the glaciers the smaller they tend to be.

When we reached a particularly large iceberg only a few kilometres from the face of Upsala the captain stopped and people queued up to have their photos taken by the professional photographer on board. OMG, so many people who wanted to pay $$$ for a photo of a spectacular iceberg with their ugly mug in front of it??! We settled for a photo of us taken by another member of the Captain's Club. We just didn't see the need to pay for a professional photograph. We considered it much better value for money paying to upgrade our experience rather than paying for a professional photograph of the two of us.

While the photographer was at work the crew went fishing for a couple of smaller icebergs that they put in the fish tank beside the bar. Why? we wondered, but more on that later. After the photo stop the captain cruised a little closer to the face of the Upsala Glacier. I think we were told that we were still about seven kilometres from the face but, even at that distance, it was impressive. Our guide told us that the boats are not allowed to go any closer to the glacier because in the past it has calved icebergs huge enough to create waves capable of capsizing boats in the Upsala branch of Lago Argentino. Hence the maritime authorities now have laws in place to prevent the tour operators from venturing too close to the glacial face.

Our upgrade included a hot lunch with beer or wine so, needless to say, we didn't eat our supermarket sandwiches. After lunch we were offered liqueurs over Upsala Iceberg. That's why the crew members were fishing out icebergs! Bernie stayed on beer, but I sampled some Tia Maria Cream Liqueur - with some of the ice that was collected earlier from the lake. Now there's a drink I'll never have again.

As we cruised into the Spegazzini Branch of Lago Argentino towards Glaciar Spegazzini we finally heard the full story behind the flooding of the lake from our expert guide in the Captain's Club. Apparently the Perito Moreno Glacier is considered to be neither advancing or retreating. Usually the nose of the glacier extends over the Canal de los Témpanos onto the Magallanes Peninsula. This blocks the southern and right branches of Lago Argentino and the water level behind the glacial wall rises during spring and summer with glacial melt water that flows into these temporarily land-locked branches of the lake.

However, at the end of every second or third summer the water finds its way through the glacial wall. The flow of water starts as a trickle and gradually an arch forms over the canal. Hence the snow globes, etc that we saw in all the shops yesterday that show the Perito Moreno Glacier with an arch. This is almost false advertising because the arch only lasts for about 70 hours before so much ice is displaced that the arch collapses spectacularly! We missed out on this event by 19 days - the arch collapsed on Thursday, 10 March 2016 - but our guide shared a YouTube clip with us which was amazing. Check it out:

Perito Moreno Glacier ice bridge collapses into lake in Argentina - YouTube › watch

It would be so exciting to be there to see it happen, but the last time the arch collapsed was in 2013 so it would be the most amazing coincidence if you visited during the three days there is an arch or on a day the arch came down! Of course as all of the water trapped behind the glacier flows out into the lake it causes flooding in the lower reaches of Lago Argentino.

After a short stop at the face of the Spegazzini Glacier the captain turned the boat around for the cruise back to Punta Bandera. For a change I was quite wakeful during this journey. Goodness, someone had to be - even the captain was struggling to stay awake! Fortunately he was alert and wakeful when it came time to negotiate the narrow passage from the north branch back into the main body of Lago Argentino.

Tonight we put our puffer jackets on and walked around the corner to have dinner at Buenos Cruces Restaurante the No. 1 restaurant in El Calafate according to Trip Advisor. We have enjoyed some fabulous food throughout South America and the food down in Patagonia has not disappointed us.

Steps 5,185 (3.96km)

Additional photos below
Photos: 11, Displayed: 11


Tot: 3.327s; Tpl: 0.052s; cc: 34; qc: 130; dbt: 0.0889s; 3; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.7mb