Glaciers come in all shapes and sizes. And, in Argentina, there is a glacier that reminds of science fiction dreamscapes (insert image of “The Wall” from the book and television series Game of Thrones here). Perito Moreno is one of the longest and straightest in the world. This enormous river of ice stretches out for more than 30km (18 mi) – much farther than the eye can see. To look at it, you’d think it was endless, as though the glacier melts into the clouds somewhere near the horizon.
To find it, you’ll need to go to the Argentinian city of El Calafate, in the heart of Patagonia. This city is known mainly as a launching pad for adventures around the region, and it’s from here that you can drive to the Perito Moreno Glacier.
Moving at a glacial pace
Most people who visit the glacier see it from the viewing platforms that have been set up around the front face of it. It’s here that you get the impression of “The Wall.” The face of the glacier stretches across for more than 5km (3 mi), side to side. It’s about 75m (246 ft) high and rises out of the lake in front of it like an impenetrable barrier of cold, hard cliffs.
Glaciers look solid at first glance. In fact, they tend to look solid at second glance as well (and with every subsequent glance, too.) But this heavy-looking thing is, in fact, constantly in motion. The Perito Moreno Glacier flows at about 2m (6.5 ft) each day, a gradual movement from its faraway origin towards the viewpoint. Not that you could see it moving closer from where you stand for the movement is so slow.
“Crack!” As I stand and look at the glacier, I hear the noise followed by an echo around the area. A few minutes later, there it is again: “crack!” As I watch, large chunks of ice break off the front of the icy wall and falling into the water below. Unseen forces are at work here. There is enormous pressure within the glacier and, as we all know, pressure eventually needs a release. The constant cracking and crashing of ice occurs at the front of the glacier as bits fall away. They have reached the end of their long journey – one that has taken years – to melt into water in just a few hours. Each time it happens, the silence of everything else around me only accentuates the moment.
A hiker’s haven
The Perito Moreno Glacier is part of Los Glaciares National Park, one of the highlights of a visit to Patagonia. The viewing platform here – and even the ice walks on the surface of the glacier – are a rather cursory experience. Although Perito Moreno is by far the largest, there are actually almost 50 glaciers in the park and all throughout the area are opportunities for hiking and exploration.
El Calafate is one base for these hikes, but it’s more suitable for people preparing for a longer trip. Another option is El Chaltén, which was once a sleepy little rural town that has grown in popularity in recent years. The town sits in a valley surrounded by mountains. White-capped, jagged, and imposing, these mountains (and the paths within them) are the main drawing card.
The jewel in the crown is Mt Fitz Roy and the hike to it. The final ascent is for only the most experienced of climbers and has defeated many who have tried to summit it. But for those of us without the equipment, skills or inclination to brave those cold, sheer cliffs, it’s possible to hike close enough to truly marvel at its might.
The glaciers here are smaller but just as beautiful. Rather than a tall, steep face at the front, many of them simply transform into rivers that run through the park. The water is clean and refreshing. (So clean in fact you can fill up your bottle as you go along.)
Regardless of whether you admire Perito Moreno Glacier from a viewing platform or climb directly onto its icy surface, whether you trek past smaller ones deeper in Los Glaciares National Park, these slow and powerful rivers of ice are one of the most special parts of Patagonia. Luckily, they are much more peaceful than anything that exists in the world of Game of Thrones.
G Adventures runs a number of departures in Patagonia encompassing a wide range of departure dates and activities to cater for different tastes. We’re thrilled at the prospect of showing you this big blue planet of ours — check out our small group trips here.