Brrrr….Ice, Ice and more Ice! – Fantastic! Fantastic -a must if visiting South America
I had always wanted to try trekking with crampons and my chance came when I travelled to South America for 2 months and whilst researching hikes I found a ‘mini’ trekking experience on the Perito Moreno Glacier, Los Glaciares National Park, Southern Patagonia, Argentina. The only thing was that there was an age restriction of 65 years of age and I would be that when I arrived in South America so I quickly booked it before my birthday and it was accepted!
After trekking 7 days on ‘W’ Trek in Patagonia I caught a local bus to El Calafate.
Whilst there I enjoyed a visit to the Glaciarium- interpretation glaciological centre and had a drink in the Glaciobar Branca – ice bar. The ice bar is below zero and you are handed coat and gloves to keep you warm – there is a maximum stay of 20 minutes – just enough time to get down a couple of drinks.
Venturing down the stairs as I opened the door it looked like a night club with all its strobe lights and loud music but the walls, seats, tables, bar and the drinking glasses are all made of glacier ice. They have a temperature gauge on the wall – it showed -5 degrees. I ordered my first drink and am I glad they gave us gloves as holding the ice glass without them would have been impossible. As I went to sit down on the chair it was good to see cushions or I could still be stuck to the chairs!
The next day I caught a bus for the 78km trip to Perito Mareno Glacier. They were picking up people from different hotels on the way and to my surprise 2 of my trekking mates, father and son from England that I hiked the ‘W’ trek were also heading to trek the glacier.
On arriving at Bajode las Sobras pier I caught a boat crossing over the Argentino Lake which took me up close to the glacier. Pieces of ice float in the lake that have broken off from the glacier earlier in the day. It is hard to believe the sheer size, jagged peaks and beautiful turquoise colour. Hanging out on side of the deck trying to get a spot for a photo was a bit frightening with everybody pushing and shoving – decided safer to use my camera with its strap than take the chances of my mobile going overboard as everybody jostled for a position.
Perito Moreno Glacier is the world’s 3rd largest freshwater reserve. It rises 75 metres above the surface (whilst 170m of it is underwater) and is over 30km long and up to 5km wide. All up, it covers a mind-boggling 250 square kilometres. It is unusual that it is advancing and not retreating. The best time to go is between November to March when the weather is at its best.
Best to layer your clothes, fleece top, good rain/windproof jacket, hiking boots, beanie, good merino socks, sunscreen and definitely gloves for warmth and sunglasses to prevent glare and reflections from the ice. You could wear waterproof over-pants, although I didn’t on this trip but I had a pair of thermals underneath my hiking trousers. We weren’t allowed to take a backpack as the guide said we could over balance, a small bum bag would be a good idea. There are lockers at the beginning of hike where you can leave valuables.
After leaving the boat a short picturesque walk along the beach to the edge of the glacier where we had an introductory talk about the glacier and were fitted for crampons by experienced mountain guides ready for our trek on this breathtaking glacier.
I had never walked in crampons before so it was good they explained how – walk flat and firmly so metal tips dig into ice, slightly raising the feet, not dragging, separate feet slightly to prevent catching crampons on clothes or metal on metal and to prevent you from falling. Going up slope – short flat steps like a penguin – follow in a line behind guide. Descending – keep your centre of gravity, bend your knees, stomp the ice, engage all vertical crampon points – easier said than done
Stepping onto the ice for the first time is an amazing experience as you are still getting used to walking with crampons and now have to negotiate the steep ascent and watch the crevices. The huge expanse of ice peaks, ice sculptures, turquoise crevices, lakes, valleys is so mesmerising and then the creaking /cracking noise followed by complete silence make you appreciate the wonders of nature.
We had to follow the same line of the guide so we didn’t take a wrong step and end up down a crevice. The guides have checked out the trail we will walk early in the morning to make sure they are safe. The glacier is constantly moving slowly so all the crevices and valleys will never be the same each day.
As we came around the bend in the middle of nowhere was a small table setup with whisky. What a way to celebrate the awesome experience with a glass of whisky and glacier ice followed by chocolates. Lucky for my friends from the ‘W’ trek I am not a big whisky drinker so after a sip I let them enjoy it. Probably a good thing as we still had to walk downhill to get off the glacier and I needed to concentrate so I didn’t fall. – at one stage I had the guide help me down as I felt like I was going to topple over and plant my face into the ice
After our walk we returned to the shelter to eat our lunch and sit and admire the glacier from a different view.
After my boat trip back I was picked up by the bus and taken to the Glacier’s viewpoint where there is a maze of wooden walkways that you can walk and view the glacier from all angles and hear and see pieces calving from the glacier
Absolutely fantastic adventure. A must do if you travel to South America.
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