Trekking on El Perito Moreno Glacier – An Unforgettable Experience

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Hiking on El Perito Moreno Glacier

<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).

El Perito Moreno glacier seen from the viewing balconies.

<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!


[…] I don’t recommend rapelling down a deep dark crevasse of ice that may collapse around you at any time as Bear so eagerly does in his show, but if it is a trek on the glacier that you want, or a boat tour through Argentino Lake, there are regular tours offered from the local agencies out of El Calafate that will make sure to show you a good, and safe time. […]

Heather on April 3, 08

Awesome story! I’m so excited to go in 2 weeks!! Quick question for you, what time did you get back to your hotel after the mini-trek? I’m trying to figure out if I will make it back in time for a 9pm flight back to Buenos Aires or if I should suck it up, stay the night, and leave the next day.

Emily Crawford on April 4, 08

Hi Heather,

I recently did the mini trek. On the bus back there was one couple that was pretty agitated about getting to the airport on time. I’m pretty sure they made it, but it was stressful for them and for us! We got back to our hotel around 7 I think. In other words, I think you can make the flight, especially if you let the folks know you’re flying out. However, it might be more mellow for you to just hang out and go get pizza in town after and relax!
Have a great time!

Matt on October 19, 09

We are interested in taking the same trek. I have tried to book online but have been unable to find it. Can you direct us to a website or let us know where to find it once we are there?

Bettina on October 26, 09

Here is a link to Hielo y Aventura – the company that organizes the mini treks on the glacier. They also organize longer more strenuous glacier treks as well.

We hope to hike the same mini trek in December.

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