My visit to the Perito Moreno glacier a couple of hours away from El Calafate, Argentina, was an escape to a landscape of jagged white and blue ice. It stretched past the mountains in the distance and clouds clung to the far reaches of the glacier. A milky blue-gray lake lapped at one end of the glacier and transported thick pieces of ice away from it.
The heavy silence that hung over us like the clouds on Perito Moreno was only broken by camera clicks and the thunder-like sound whenever a piece of ice – no matter how small – broke off the glacier and collided with the lake water.
As we took a boat chartered by the Solo Patagonia tour company across the lake to the foot of the mountains closest to the Perito Moreno glacier, the immensity of the body of ice towered high above us. An archway in the ice that bridged the glacier to the piece of land on which the lookout points stood allowed both sides of the lake to flow into each other.
Every few decades the passage closes up from the force of the moving glacier, damming up one side of the lake and causing it to rise until the pressure buils up enough to break through the ice and restore the archway. It’s impossible to predict the next time it will happen, but I have heard that the explosion of water through the ice is one of the most remarkable natural sights in the world.
My travel companion and I were part of a group that donned crampons – metal spikes that attached to the bottom of our shoes – and thin gloves to protect our hands from the rough ice, and hiked up the Perito Moreno glaciar. The bright white and pale blue of the ice stood out against light brown hills and black mountains. We followed single-file along a narrow path chosen by our guide based on how the ice had shifted.
Turquoise pools of water were scattered among towers of ice, indicating narrow chasms that allowed underlying lake water to seep up into the glacier. The water tasted crisp and achingly cold. We trekked along the ice for an hour and a half, pausing every once in a while to take in the awesome landscape, and to take photos. My travel companion said it reminded her of C.S. Lewis’ land of Narnia.
At one point, as we maneuvered around a massive cliff of ice, one of the guides asked us if we thought he could scale the vertical glacial wall. As we insisted that he couldn’t, he took hold of two ice picks and, kicking the front spikes of his crampons into the ice, scrambled up to the top. We all gasped when he pretended to slip and hung from the ice picks near the top of the cliff, legs dangling. He swiftly got to the top of the precipice and looked down at us triumphantly, laughing at our worried expressions.
As we rounded the last bend in the path between two huge mounds of ice, a wooden table and two chairs came into view. A guide had hurried ahead of the group and set up two large bottles of whiskey and a bowl of bon-bons to warm our frosty bodies. The guide filled up glasses with glacial ice and a bit of whiskey and passed them around to the members of our group. As we sipped the warming liquor and bit into the rich chocolate, we all toasted to a successful glacier trek on the Perito Moreno; our crampons secured our footing in one of the last moving glaciers in the world and in the distance we heard the thundering crashes of its slow breakdown.