Surely the date function on my camera had malfunctioned. Last week I read about the collapse of a famous ice arch at the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentina, a place we had visited back in … I thought 2014, but apparently 2012! A review of my travel documents convinced me that yes, it has been over three years since our wide-ranging trip to Argentina and Uruguay and, to date, I have written very little about that journey.
Why not begin with the glacier in the news and our trek there? Almost two weeks ago, on March 10, an ice bridge on the glacier collapsed for the first time in four years. Enormous chunks of ice fell into Lake Argentino, producing huge waves and a thunderous blast. The passage forms and collapses every three to four years, with the most recent rupture before this being in March, 2012, which must explain the shallowness of the arch when we saw it in December of that year. By the time it collapsed this time, the ice bridge was 250 meters wide and 70 meters tall.
Our excursion to the glacier was an active one. First, we traveled by boat across the lake, from which the massive front wall of the Perito Moreno glacier is visible. From afar, it looks like most other glaciers (ho hum),
but up close the scale is mind-boggling. The face is riddled with deep fissures, jagged points stretch up like veiny fingers, and the entire mass groans and creaks as if it’s alive. In fact, it is alive; scientists believe Perito Moreno is one of only a few Patagonian glaciers that are growing, and nearly all glaciers are constantly moving.
We were lucky to see and hear several large chunks calving from the face while we were there; I can only imagine the boom when the bridge finally ruptured.
Once on shore near the edge of the glacier, we walked a short distance to the ice itself, where we donned our crampons for a hike on the frozen surface.
For several hours, we trekked this otherworldly landscape – white, as expected, but also every shade of blue, gray and even black. We jumped over thin rivulets of water and avoided plunging into larger lagoons in the ice.
Gullies and crevasses crisscrossed the route, and the going was more up and down than I had expected. Ascending was exhilarating – it felt like mountain climbing in miniature – but descending was a little scary until we got the hang of the crampons.
In addition to the trek, there are also large viewing platforms and walkways for those who don’t want to see the glacier from atop. This structure affords the best view of the ice dam and bridge and provides another perspective on the size and shape of this massive and impressive glacier.
Until this outing, I never saw the appeal of glaciers; they were dirty and boring, I thought, but Perito Moreno was both a marvel and an adventure – a highlight of our time in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentinian Patagonia.