Glacier Perito Moreno puts on quite a show!
27.02.2012 - 02.03.2012 12 °C
I have spent this week in a cute town called El Calafate. It`s claim to fame is as gateway to Patagonia's Glacier National Park, in particular, the the stunning Perito Moreno glacier (about 80km away). The glacier is impressive: about 60m high, 5km wide and 30km long. It is definitely not the biggest in the world, but what sets it apart is that the bus drops you off at a set of lookout points directly across from the front of the glacier. We're talking up close and personal. During some parts of the year, the glacier actually advances enough to attach itself to the peninsula where the look out points are located! From this series of well designed walkways, you can view the 5 km expanse of the glacier from various angles: high above, above and directly across. At this proximity, the vastness of the thing is jaw dropping. The glacier is slowing inching forward. As it does, the ice cracks forming enormous enormous fields of crevices, which from the front of the glacier appear to be precarious, leaning towers of ice and snow. There are hints of blue in the spaces between the towers and various shades of blue smudge the front. It is summer now, the melt is on and so is the action!
Once you actually start to believe what your eyes are seeing, the next set of fun is glacier-watching. It starts with the sounds. Sometimes what sounds like a gunshot echos through the canyon, other times a growl like thunder rolls through the air, or even a slow-building rumble like a jumbo jet taking off. We wait with baited breath, scanning the glacier to see what will happen next. Sometimes nothing happens. Other times, after a milli-second delay, a big boulder of ice falls of the face of the glacier, bouncing off of the surface of the water. Sometimes, there is a mini avalanche and a wash of snow and ice chunks slides into the water below. If you are really lucky, there is a reverberating crack and then one of those precarious towers disintegrates before your eyes. In slow motion, what looks like an entire cliff splits off and tumbles into the water, submerging with a resounding splash, then popping up again to create a massive vibration of turquois blue water. These waves rock the little bergs floating in the lake, building momentum before violently washing up against the shore of the peninsula. Wow!!
Yesterday, to make the glacier experience complete, I paid the exorbitant price and signed up for something called the Big Ice Trek. Yes, I donned crampons (oddly, the technique is a lot like snow showing) and went for a 4-hour trek on top of the Perito Moreno glacier!! It was amazing. I kind of felt like I was walking on top of a giant cake with white creamy icing scuplted into scallops, peaks and ridges. When the glacier moves over uneven ground, the ice above cracks, creating a crack that can widen into a crevice. We saw baby crevices, luminescent with blue water (when the crack is big enough, the water drains away), little rivers carving their way across the surface of the glacier, waterfalls, sink holes and even little lakes! I filled my water bottle from one of the puddles and I had to laugh. The water was refreshing, but it tasted a little bit like dirt. Probably had something to do with the smudges of brown dust in places across the top of the snow and settled at the bottom of some of the water pools.
Surprisingly, Patagonia isn't just mountains and glaciers. A couple of days ago, I ventured into the desert. There is an area of badlands (loose sedimentary soil that gets eroded by wind and rain creating hills) near to Calafate where you can find fossils from the Cretaceous period (about 80-90 million years ago). We walked around and saw petrified tree trucks and pieces of "wood" lying all over the ground. They looked so realistic, you could even see the rings of the tree trunks. I had to keep touching and picking up the pieces of tree-rock (they were heavy!) to convince myself they were not just normal pieces of wood. There were also dinosaur bones some were actually in tact. We saw a femur, it was about 4 feet long. It was very cool!!
I head head to the Chilean side of Patagonia (and Torres del Paine) tomorrow. The W-trek awaits!