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Argentina: Perito Moreno Glacier

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Perito Moreno Glacier | Argentina | Americas

[Visited: November 2011, October 1995, April 1994]

After the incredible changes I noticed in El Calafate, the jump-off point for visiting Perito Moreno glacier that seems totally geared towards tourism and which was a far cry from the quiet village I had seen on two previous visits in the mid 1990s, I was curious what the famous glacier would look like. Traveling with new friends in a rented car, we were surprised to see one tour bus after the other come back from the glacier, and were glad we had decided to visit independently. When Lago Argentino appeared on our left, we spotted some white things floating in the lake, and while at first we assumed that they were small boats, I soon remembered: they must be icebergs, pieces of Perito Moreno drifting away from the glacier after centuries of slowly moving down the mountain. Then, we had our first view of the glacier; after a short stop, we were too excited in anticipation of this wonder of nature, and quickly continued to the parking lot on the far side of Península de Magallanes. We went down the wooden boardwalk, a much more modern version from the one I had used on my previous visits. Looking ahead, we could now see the jagged top of the glacier at our own level through the trees; walking down the boardwalk we came closer, and the full size of the Perito Moreno revealed itself to our eyes. As the boardwalk took us lower, we could appreciate the impressive height of the face of the glacier. Even more so, because it had just closed again: being one of the few advancing glaciers in the world, the Perito Moreno advances until it reaches the other side of the Lago Argentino (the Península de Magallanes where we were standing), thus effectively blocking off the upper level of the lake, the Brazo Rico, from the lower level, called Canal de los Témpanos or channel of icebergs which is part of the rest of Lago Argentino. This occurs only every so many years; the situation lasts until the water level in the upper half of the lake rises to such an extent that the pressure of the water eventually breaks the glacier again, sending huge icebergs down the Lago Argentino.

Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Wall of ice and the lower part of Lago Argentino

One of the big differences with my previous visits, then, was that before, there had been a channel between the shoreline and the face of the Perito Moreno, whereas now, the glacier was right in front of our eyes. It is from this vantage point that you can appreciate the height of this glacier: from the water level, it measures 60m, the entire width of the glacier is 5km and the length 30km. We just stood there, and listened to the groaning and moaning of the deep blue ice; fallen as snow centuries ago, over time it has compressed into compact ice, and moved down slowly but surely like a tediously slow moving river. We heard a loud crack and realized some big chip must have fallen off the glacier on the southern side we could not see; we actually saw waves sending small chunks of ice into the Brazo Rico. This also explained to me why I saw icebergs in the Brazo Rico which I did not remember seeing on my previous visits when Perito Moreno had not been closed: before, the icebergs moved downstream into the Lago Argentino, but now that their natural flow was blocked by the glacier itself, the strong winds just sent the icebergs drifting in the other direction. We continued walking the boardwalk until we reached a higher position from where we had a better view of the glacier. One thing had definitely not changed in all those years: the sheer thrill of listening to the glacier, waiting for a loud pang which would announce the ice to break somewhere, scanning the face of the glacier to guess which piece might fall off, and the excited yells in the air when, as if in slow motion, a slice of the icy wall gave way, detached itself from the glacier, falling into the waters of Lago Argentino below, causing a small tsunami in the waters.

Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Ice calving off Perito Moreno and crashing into Lago Argentino

The sun was shining most of the time, playing hide and seek with the clouds, and there was a surprising small number of people on the boardwalk. It was late afternoon, and we had seen many touring-cars heading towards El Calafate on our way here: apparently, rush hour at Perito Moreno was over and we had to share the glacier only with a few others. So much the better: these natural phenomena are best enjoyed in silence. We stood for a while on the lowest side of the boardwalk, then moved up, anxiously trying to keep our eyes on the glacier as much as possible, afraid to miss something. The higher vantage point allowed for an over view of the entire glacier, and much of the face of it, rising out of the quiet Lago Argentino waters. Instead of walking the long way to a parking lot on the northern side of the small peninsula, we decided to drive down to it, and walk back. That way, we would be walking towards the glacier - and it proved to be a good idea. Icebergs were floating down Lago Argentino, waves were smashing against the transparent blocks of ice, and in the background, always, the massive face of Perito Moreno glacier. The sun was now mostly hiding behind the clouds, and we decided to stop at one viewpoint. Again, our eyes were glued to the blue-white face of the famous glacier, scanning it, trying to predict where the next slice of ice would fall. We were not disappointed: amidst a spray of water, ice fell, and slowly drifted away from the ice mass it had belonged to for the last centuries; the beginning of a long and slow process of drifting down the lake, melting, and eventually, disappearing.

Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Wall of ice at the face of Perito Moreno
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): The massive ice formations of Perito Moreno with hues of blue
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Blue ice of Perito Moreno in the sunlight
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Blue wall of ice of Perito Moreno with a small iceberg in the foreground
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Lago Argentino with face of Perito Moreno glacier
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Perito Moreno extending into Lago Argentino
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Crashing ice off the face of Perito Moreno
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Blue-white wall of ice: the glacier face of Perito Moreno
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Chunks of ice falling into Lago Argentino causing a small tsunami
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Wall of ice in Lago Argentino
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Water hurled into the air as ice crashes into Lago Argentino
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Part of Perito Moreno glacier seen from above
Picture of Perito Moreno Glacier (Argentina): Waves crashing on a small iceberg in Lago Argentino

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