Experiencing an Ice Age in Patagonia
Glaciers cover 10% of the world’s terrain. Most are isolated in Antarctica and Greenland, rarely seen by anyone other than scientists and satellites. But in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park travelers are treated with rare accessibility to one of these icy wonders.
Of South America’s 25,000 square miles glazed with glaciers, 97 of them are contained within the Perito Moreno Glacier, a massive blue block of ice that visitors can actually trek across.
The birth of a glacier is slow. They form over hundreds of years in places where regular snowfall collects and compacts, eventually turning to ice. In an interesting aging twist, instead of going white with age, glaciers instead turn a brilliant blue as they increase in years and density.
The Moreno Glacier is a bone-chilling blue. And it's active. Of nearly 50 glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park, Perito Moreno is one of only three that is still growing, sometimes creeping across and completely blocking a channel of Lago Argentino, Argentina’s largest lake. And even if you can’t see the glacier actually growing, you can definitely hear it. From across the channel where a network of lookout walkways lines the shore, the icy growing pains are distinctly audible. Haunting moans. Painful creaks. The unsettling trickle of tiny pieces tumbling down the 200-foot ice wall, usually followed by a spectacular splash as a significant section gives way and plunges into the fridge waters below.
Want to get closer? Visitors can take a boat ride through the channel to admire the face of the glacier from a more intimate angle. Dodging icebergs and icy debris, arctic ships sail the frosty seas toward the glacier face, and though they keep a respectful (and safe) distance, ice calving is still a startling experience.
If the need to reach out and touch is irresistible, embrace your inner explorer and strap on a pair of crampons for a glacier trek. A typical mini-trek includes a boat ride, some glaciology 101, and an hour and a half of icy exploration across the glacier’s other-worldly surface.
Thanks to John Weinhardt for the title image of this blog.