There’s nothing quite like rounding the corner on a bus and seeing the Perito Moreno glacier – 80m high, 30km long and 5km wide it flows down from the third largest ice field in the world (strong competition from Antarctica and Greenland there) into Lago Argentina.
As rain falls as snow in the high Andes it compacts, forms ice and starts grinding downhill under the force of gravity in massive ice flows. Slowly at first, 10cm a year at to begin with but this accelerates to around 2m a day at the very end where it breaks off (calving is the term) in large chunks due to melting and the currents in the lake. At this point the ice is over 400 years old.
You can see the scale of the glacier by comparison with the boats which mill about on the lake and look like toys by comparison. It’s difficult to believe something so big is actually moving but timelapse videos clearly show it is!
Perito Moreno is probably the most famous of all the glaciers of the ice field largely due to its accessibility – being only 90 minutes on a bus from Calafate. We decided to do the full tour plus trekking on the ice with Hielo y Adventura who were very organised and professional. It seems only a few operators are allowed to go on the ice itself while myriad others just do bus and boat trips.
The most striking aspect of the glacier apart from the size are the amazing shades of blue all over the ice sheet and the icebergs floating away. It goes to a deep azure blue due to the different density of ice and how it absorbs light. The deep pools of deep crystal clear blue meltwater are stunning.
Our first stop was a tour of the walkways to get a panoramic view of both sides and to watch some calving. It doesn’t take waiting more than 10 minutes or so to witness chunks falling off the face of the glacier and smashing into other ice with a thunderous bang. Although other glaciers are receding due to climate change the Perito Moreno is in equilibrium at the moment but those who study it aren’t quite sure why.
After taking a boat up close we headed to the base to change into our crampons for some trekking across the ice. As it is constantly moving the guides need to alter their routes every week or so but even at a few metres a day it is imperceptible.
Walking with the crampons takes some getting used to as they are iron and realtively heavy. Also you need to walk something like John Wayne with wide steps to dig in properly! After a while we got the hang of it:
There are plenty of peaks and ravines streaked through the ice due to the ice ‘speeding up’ as it gets closer to the lake.
Throughout there are streams of meltwater and deep blue holes. The water is pure and we were able to fill our bottles as we went – apparently the water isn’t good for long-term health as, being pure snowfall, it contains no minerals at all despite being exceptionally refreshing.
An enjoyable stop on the way down was a quick whiskey bar break. Although the ice may have been 400 years old the whiskey the bathtub whiskey was as far away from being aged or vintage!