Walking on Glaciers

Trip Start Feb 07, 2006
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Trip End Aug 07, 2006


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Where I stayed
Hostel International El Calafate

Flag of Argentina  ,
Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Make sure to check out Andrea's Travel Blog for more stories and photos of our trip!

Heading south

It took 2 weeks to plan our flights, schedule and to book our hostels for the trek south to the chilly and mountainous regions of the Argentinean and Chilean Patagonia. Hiking the Torres del Paine in southern South America wasn't something to do on a whim, especially not in cool last months before winter. It took some planning, research and some preparations for cold weather and strenuous trekking.

Normally, I love planning but all of this advanced planning really put a damper on any kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants style travel and firmly affixed our jaunt down south to a preset schedule.

Our next 3 weeks were now planned out to the day.

First, to El Calafate to see the world's largest and most active creamy blue glacier, then to Torres del Paine for a world class 5 day hike in the chilly Patagonia and then onto Ushuaia, the world's southernmost city before heading north to Bolivia.

A big part of traveling is the journey, getting there. Unfortunately, "getting there" this time meant sitting in seats 33E and 33D on flight 9282 from BA to El Calafate.

The last row in the back of the plane. No window and no adjustable seats, which made for a tight squeeze when the seat in front of our cramped space decided to recline. Unfortunately, the flight through Ushuia was one of the most picturesque ones which flew over mountains we wouldn't be able to see from our seats.

The passengers on this flight all wore warm clothes, a sign of things to come. We were glad that we had bought a fleece and hats in BA before coming. The 0-10 degrees weather would be a change from the warmer Brazilian and Northern Argentinean climate.

Walking on Glaciers

El Calafate, Argentina's purpose build city which existed solely to cater to tourists visiting the Moreno Glacier was ever growing. On the ride in, we could see building being erected in a frontier-town like way. Shacks made of bare wooden walls speckled the town. The main tourist street, lined with shops, hotels and hostels.

It was cold. The coldest we'd been so far. It was the fall after all. Over the skyline of El Calafate, beyond the deserted landscape which surrounded us, were mountains with red-green trees.

Like all of the other tourists in town, we were there to see Perito Moreno, the world's most impressive glacier.

The glacier was only one hour away by bus. I'd never seen one before, aside from a quick glimpse of one in Whistler BC one time.

Moreno was impressive. We had arranged for a full day on the glacier. This tour involved a view from the balconies, a boat ride and a walk over the glacier itself.

On the tour we learned a few facts about glaciers. Glaciers were formed by snow falling into the Andes. The temperatures in this part of the Andes, which had the highest peak in the entire mountain range, stayed very cold all year round. Without a chance to melt, the snow built up.

Over thousands of years, the accumulated snow compressed by it's weight turned to ice, forming a glacier. The actual process of going from snow to ice takes 5-7 years.

The enormous amount of ice and new snow eventually pushes the glacier outwards and towards the mainland where it eventually begins to melt.

This melting point in particular was what we had come to visit. Every few minutes the glacier broke off massive chunks of ice the size of a truck into the lake it was pushing out into it.

When the glacier broke apart it made an enormous crash. During our visit, we could hear loud cracks off in the distance as we looked around to see if we were lucky enough to actually see it this time.

We eventually did see it. Giant slabs of minty blue ice crashing into the lake below which caused a huge explosive splash from the 100 meter wall of the glacier.

Ice takes 300-500 years to makes its slow creep from the top of the icy mountains to the lakes below which meant that we were witnessing 500 year old ice crash into the lake.

To end off the tour, we strapped on crampons, metal contraptions with spikes which are tied to the bottom of your shoes for our ice walk.

While walking on a glacier it's hard to maintain perspective. Looking around, blades of white and blue ice shoot up under you. It's only when you see other climbers off in the distance that you realize just how big the glacier is.

We climbed up the glacier and ended over an ice hill where a small whiskey table was set up. The whiskey, cooled by glacier ice cubes was a nice way to end the day.
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