Glacier Perito Moreno
By Will on Thursday, February 28 2008, 21:32 - Permalink
I arrived in El Calafate on Tuesday night. This town is mostly famous as the "base camp" to the nearby natural attraction: Glacier Perito Moreno. The glacier shares its name with a national park and a town - which to maximise confusion are located hundreds of kilometers of each other...
El Calafate itself is quite uninteresting and claims the title for most expensive town in the whole of Argentina: even BsAs and Ushuaia are cheaper. There are only 4 things to do in El Calafate: see the Perito Moreno, take a boat ride to the Perito Moreno, go for a short trek on the Perito Moreno, or take a boat ride to see the other glaciers in the area. I decided to spend 2 days in El Calafate and do the first 3 activities - I was hopeful that over 2 days there I would have some nice weather. Moreover since I had arrived late I couldn't book anything for the following morning, which meant I would get to see the glacier during the morning and the afternoon.
On Day 1 the weather was very cloudy, therefore coming back for a second day sounded like a very good idea. I got only a few nice pics of the glacier but the main advantage was that the place was much less crowded than it was going to be in the morning. It is really a place to be in a contemplative mood, and having teenage girls sing "It's raining men" or Argentinean guys yapping endlessly and loudly (of course while chain smoking where it's forbidden) can really spoil the experience. That's why I would recommend going in the afternoon.
The main thing about this glacier is obviously its size: the front is about 50m high and 5km long (yes, you read that right). The whole town of Paris would fit on this huge ice field. As you can see in the little overview, it is shaped like an arrow, making it difficult to make a picture of the whole front. On top of that the viewpoints are on the center/north side and it is impossible to get pics of the south side except with a boat (on day 2). I include below three (continuing) pics of the front of the glacier, from south to north, and also one pic showing where the ice meets the land.
The second important fact is that the glacier meets the peninsula and therefore cannot just go on in the lake. From what I understood a glacier is made of 2 sections, an accumulation section (gaining mass) and an ablation section (losing mass). Fortunately for the Perito Moreno, its ablation section is limited in size by the peninsula (you can see that in the diagram on the right side of the overview pic above), and it is the only glacier in the world still progressing, and at amazing speed: 2 meters per day (after writing that I realised Chile claims to have a glacier even bigger and coincidentally also the only progressing one - I also learned from 3 different travel agents that there's only one bus company going to Ushuaia and of course, there are three of them: only doesn't have the same meaning in South America than in the rest of the world, apparently). After a while too much ice accumulates and it blocks the flow of water between the 2 parts of the lake, pressure builds and the tip of the arrow collapses (a so-called rupture) - and the whole process starts again. The next rupture is supposed to happen mid-March.
Sometimes a sound like a gunshot can be heard, it usually means a small block of ice has separated from the glacier and tumbled into the water. More significant chunks can fall with a thunderous noise - I have a 38 megs video to prove it, but it doesn't fit in this margin
: well actually I have, for once, a really good WiFi connection in the hostel so I managed to upload the video, but remember it's quite big - Badaboom!
Here are a few more random shots of the glacier, the last 2 being views from the top:
Since it was always very cloudy I was getting bored and started to play with my x25 binoculars and my camera, leading to these pics:
And when the sun finally decided to show for a few seconds I managed to take this one of the south side:
On day 2 I went for the (lousy) boat trip and the (great) mini-trekking (with groups of maximum 10 people, I was told, which of course meant we had 3 groups of 16 people - I think by now you start to get the idea). Spending 2 hours with crampons on the glacier was really nice, and since the sun was finally showing through the clouds (I'm not Esteban, Son of the Sun, for nothing - another long story), I could take a couple of nice pictures. The last one is the glass of Famous Grouse we got at the end, definitely on the rocks with fresh icecubes from the glacier (disappointing pairing for 300 years old icecubes). The ice definitely made the whole thing better by making the whisky taste of nothing, which is still better than tasting of Famous Grouse