"Please don't stray away", our lead guide barks out, "there are crevasses waiting to swallow you!" Of course, no one among us would want to end up turning into a bloody part of the glacier. So our group gingerly follow his words. We walk in single file, now aware that in this rugged expanse of ice known as Perito Moreno Glacier, fatal accidents can happen. While it's already immense from afar, the glacier becomes more like an intimidating bully as one treads its icy, irregular slopes. We huff and puff on our way up and down, helped a lot by the fact that we're wearing crampons. But make no mistake about it, this frigid environment is one of the world's most fragile.
|Sailing on the Brazo Rico part of Lago Argentino|
|Perito Moreno Glacier dwarfs a catamaran|
|Arriving at the opposite shore|
It was while I was staying at EcoCamp in Chile that I learned about this glacier walk and I thought I should give it a try - for a long time I've dreamed about walking on a glacier someday. As soon as I got into El Calafate, I went to check Hielo y Aventura, the company that has exclusive concession on glacier excursions to Perito Moreno. While they do have the more exhaustive "Big Ice" activity (about 4 hours trekking but more expensive), I chose "Mini-trekking" since it's the only excursion that I was willing to splurge on - at 500 ARS (or $125!), it surely isn't cheap. It maybe called "Mini" (just under 2 hours walking) but, as I would find out later, nothing is really "mini" about the whole experience. We did burn some serious calories.
|A group of trekkers (right) walk in single file on the glacier|
|A dream come true. Yehey!|
I was picked up at the hostel in El Calafate early in the morning and joined some others on a big bus that picked up some more tourists along the way. We traveled for almost two hours, stopping at the park's entrance to pay our entrance fee - which was about $18! - and drove straight into the embarking pier. After a short wait, we boarded the boat that navigated the Brazo Rico side of Lago Argentino. All of us soon elbowed each other for vantage views as we sailed closer to the massive walls of Perito Moreno Glacier. We reached the opposite shore in about 20 minutes where guides immediately divided us into English-speaking and Spanish-speaking groups. There were not that much in our group, just about 14.
|View of the glacier through a forest of beech trees|
After seeing that most of us came without gloves, our lead guide directed us to grab a pair from a huge basket - the ice is very cold and the gloves are free! Like everyone else, I also had to leave behind my lunch box and some stuff I really don't need while walking on ice. With a lighter backpack, I felt so ready to go. We walked through a thick forest of beech trees but it felt weird that not far away from this lush vegetation is completely a different environment. Right on the lakeshore, our guide went on Glaciology 101, in essence telling us that right in front of us is the terminus (or the end) of the glacier while all of it begins about 30 kilometers away, up there in the mountains where it snows heavily.
|Ice calving and the resulting mini-tsunami|
The health of a glacier is determined by this delicate balance of snow accumulation and melting /calving. As more snow and sleet is produced, it becomes compacted into a dense mass of ice which gradually moves, depending on the slope of the terrain and the degree of pressure exerted by the overlying ice build-up itself. Certain things happen during this very slow glacial movement: it carries with it rocky debris resulting from friction and creating features like crevasses (or deep cracks), seracs (blocks of unsteady ice), moulins (narrow holes through which surface melted water exits). Landforms like cirques and moraines are also brought about by a slow moving glacier.
|Securing crampons into my hiking boots|
Of all things visible in a glacier, it's the blue color that fascinates the most. But why indeed is it blue? Due to the denseness of glacial ice, light ends up being absorbed and scattered; the more light travels in ice, the more it appears to the human eye as blue. Whereas, snow looks very white because light does not even penetrate far enough but rather ends up reflected back to the viewer. (When I think of snow in the city, I only see the beauty of it when fresh on the ground, not three days after when car exhausts have made it gray and sooty).
|A huge moulin|
One by one, we got our crampons fitted unto our boots. It felt heavy but the crampons do make walking on otherwise slippery ice less difficult. After being given safety instructions, we started walking in single file, following the leader. For more than an hour and half, we trudged on ice, hearing scraping noises as crampons after crampons made contact with ice. We walked past crevasses, viewed icy water on a moulin and trembled at the thought of a crumbly serac. I got to refill my water canteen with melted glacial ice - certainly better than any bottled water I've tasted! Finally, we were led up into this part of the glacier for some surprise - there was a wooden table set up with two bottles containing amber liquid. It turns out our guides were serving us scotch "on the rocks" - with ice literally shaved off from the glacier! How cool is that? (pun intended). Cheers everyone!
|The coolest bar on earth|