Last week I visited the Perito Moreno glacier, taking part in an all day mini-trekking tour. This included two hours observing the glacier face from the specially constructed wooden walkways opposite, and two hours walking on top of the glacier itself. A half-hour boat trip linked the two activity locations and afforded us a better view of the south face.
The glacier, which straddles a valley, is enormous, fierce-looking and very bright indeed; sunglasses were essential to view it comfortably. As I stood on the viewing platform looking at this behemoth, I realised that this was not merely one of mother nature’s static exhibits. Every couple of minutes or so there was a thunderous CRACK that echoed profoundly through the valley, occasionally accompanied by pieces of the glacier shearing off into the water below with an almighty splash. The Perito Moreno is an advancing glacier, moving forward at up to two metres a day. Watching it is dramatic in the way it holds you in suspense. Which piece is going to break off next?
We took the boat to the the other shore and upon embarking our tour guide, a friendly young Argentinian lady, gave us a briefing. We were told of the importance of wearing gloves while hiking atop the glacier, since the ice is sharp and can cut your hands if you slip and reach out to break your fall. I had my own pair, but they had a box full of spares for those who didn’t. We were instructed to leave any bags we didn’t want to take on the hike in the cabin next to us, and were lead to the starting point where we would put on our crampons. For those that don’t know, they are like flat metal frames with spikes that dig into the ice and give you grip. They tie around your hiking boots with adjustable straps.
On the way over to the starting point, I asked the guide goofily if she had ever had any fatalities during one of her hikes. I was sort of expecting her to say that she hadn’t, so I was surprised when she said that she had. It emerged that an overweight man had suffered a heart attack while trekking on the ice some three years earlier. ‘In your group?’ I asked, intrigued. ‘Yes’, she said, adding that there are deaths from time to time on the viewing platforms which I had visited earlier. I felt a little sorry for having reminded her of what must have been a traumatic experience. Then again, an enormous number of tourists – many of them older – visit the Perito Moreno during the peak season. So statistically all this is perhaps not that unusual.
Crampons fitted, we started walking towards the limits of the glacier. Walking on the ice itself was straightforward – the guides had prepared paths for us to follow, and carried a pickaxe to hack up any parts that had become slippery. The fascinating thing about a glacier that is on the move is that the terrain is constantly shifting about and the tour company has to continually forge new routes. The landscape was dramatic, as you can see in my photos.
It felt as though the glacier had its own living, breathing ecosystem. There appeared to be a network of newly melted running water, pooling up into small reservoirs in certain places (making it easy to cup one’s hands to get a refreshing drink), or flowing into mini-waterfalls heading deep down beneath the surface. The colours of the ice were magnificent – a piercingly bright white for the hardest parts of the ice, set off by a gorgeous deep blue in the cracks or more watery areas. We were lucky to have sun and mostly clear skies, which accentuated all of this.
I walked along the ice trail with the other 12 or so group members, chatting about such things as photography and the mineral content of glacier water, inbetween pausing to take pictures. As we returned to the edge of the glacier, we were presented with tumblers of whisky accompanied with ice from the glacier. It was a stylish end to a fantastic day out.