<p class=”clear”>If a year ago someone had told me that I would go trekking on a glacier, I would have laughed. First of all, where the heck would I ever go where I would be able to find a glacier? Secondly, what glacier could anyone possibly walk on? Aren’t all glaciers big blobs of ice, constantly splitting and crashing into the water (because of global warming)? Oh how naïve we can be. On my recent trip to El Calafate in southern Argentina, I did indeed trek on a glacier. For what amounted to about $10 dollars an hour, I was treated to one of the most memorable experiences of my life.</p>
At 9 am, I left my hostel and boarded a bus that took me and numerous other tourists to the Glacier National Park, which is about an hour outside El Calafate. The bus safely maneuvered the narrow and windy roads despite its size, and parked above what is known as the balconies of Perito Moreno Glacier. The balcony course provided five or six short walks in between platforms that looked out over the amazingly expansive and breathtaking the Perito Moreno Glacier.
Although the day was marred by pouring rain, I still could not wipe the smile off of my face. The immensity of the glacier was amazing. It looked like it rose hundreds of meters out of the water and spanned back for kilometers. (I would later find out that both of these observations were true.) At one point, I looked far out to my right to a point where the glacier and the lake met and saw a small spec which, upon closer examination, proved to be not a spec at all, but a large sightseeing boat that was dwarfed by the monstrous glacier.
After a couple of hours and dozens of pictures from every possible angle and vantage point that the balconies offered, we boarded the bus again and headed down to lake level on the other side of Perito Moreno. We arrived at a small port and hopped into a small shuttle boat that ferried us to a small forest on the other side of the lake where we split up into two groups of about 15 people (Spanish speakers and English speakers).
<p class=”clear”>A quick 10 minute walk brought us up a trail in the woods and down to a black sand beach that led right up to the base of the glacier. From there, we took turns waiting to have metal crampons attached to our shoes by the trekking guides to help grip the icy surface of Perito Moreno.</p>
Once we were all equipped with our crampons, we began our glacial trek. In a single file line, we traversed in a zigzag pattern up a couple hundred meters until all we could see for more than 180 degrees around us was the surreal bluish-white color of the glacier. Every hundred meters or so, our good-humored guides would joke about the ice cracking, or pretend that someone was falling down one of the 600-meter deep drain holes that run from the top of the glacier to the base.
On this specific trek, ice-hiking skill were not necessary, and safety was not an issue. There are, however, much more challenging trekking options. The guides’ jokes were all in good fun, and everyone was confident that they had our best interest and our safety in mind.
Everywhere we turned and every ridge we walked over provided a new amazing view or picture opportunity. The intricacies of the glacier were more remarkable than I had imagined from the balconies, and I remarked to other hikers that no matter what anyone back home was doing that day, I had them beat. I mean, I was walking on a glacier!
At the end of our trek, we passed over a ridge and found our way to a table that had previously been placed on a flat area on the lower part of the glacier. Our guides cracked some glacial ice and filled a couple dozen glasses with it, and then served us a beautiful scotch and Perito Moreno ice drink accompanied by some chocolate truffle candies.
After we toasted and took some more pictures, we trekked back off of the glacier and headed back through the forest to the bus. On the walk back, we heard a loud cracking noise and turned back to face the glacier. The noise continued for a few more seconds and was followed by a huge chunk of the glacier (far away from where we hiked) crashing down into the lake below, sending large waves out in all directions. It was the most impressive show of nature that I had ever seen.
The ferry back across to the lake concluded our two hour trekking experience and provided us with our last views of the glacier. As we boarded the bus, everyone marveled at what a unique and amazing experience we had just had. I would absolutely recommend the Perito Moreno Mini-Trekking daytrip to anyone who is visiting the El Calafate area. Or if you are choosing where you would like to go in southern Argentina, this excursion is reason enough to pick El Calafate!