Walking on Ice
Los Glaciares National Park, Argentina
The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the most iconic images of Patagonia. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1981, it’s the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water (following Antarctica and Greenland), four times the size of Manhattan, and one of the few glaciers that is actually increasing in size.
Most tourists only view it from a distance. Los Glaciares National Park has walking paths and platforms that provide spectacular views of its northern and southern faces. A boat ride can get you to the foot of the glacier, but its somewhat more dangerous. While we were on the platforms, we heard loud thunderous crashes of ice falling into Lago Rico.
A third option is to hike on top of it. While Riyad and I had seen many glaciers in Antarctica, walking on top of them wasn’t an option. So our decision to hike was an easy one.
Arriving before the hordes of tourists, we had the viewing platforms to ourselves before we taking a short fifteen minute boat ride across Lago Rico to the southern face of the glacier. From the pier, we hiked for forty minutes through mountainous terrain, green wooded forests, and around a small waterfall to the starting point of our ice trek. The trek was easy and surprisingly warm considering our proximity to the glacier. At the small camp, we were supplied with safety harnesses and crampons to attach over our hiking shoes.
The multiple inch long spikes that provided traction on the ice looked like a medieval torture device.
Walking in crampons required basic training:
1) To get the best traction, we needed to walk with a flat foot while stomping our feet into the ice.
2) To walk forward, we had to waddle like a penguin while keeping our legs hip distance apart to ensure we didn’t trip and injure ourselves or others in our group.
3) To move down a steep slope, we had to descend straight over the ice similar to that of a downhill skier, keeping our knees lightly bent.
4) To walk uphill we had to similarly keep our feet in the direction of the incline.
We stepped onto the glacier and the temperature immediately dropped.
The experience of walking on the glacier was unlike anything Riyad and I have experienced along our journey. What appears to be soft powdery snow from a distance is solid ice filled with sediment from the surrounding mountains.
Our group walked along single file behind two mountain guides who cleared a path with ice axes.
The color of the ice was brilliantly blue and reflected light in the most beautiful way.
Within the ice were cracks and crevasses, beautiful lagoons, and flowing streams of water just beneath the surface.
The water was so pure that Riyad and I both dipped our hands into the small pools for a quick taste. It was delicious!
It was an eventful three hour hike that left us completely exhausted.
As our boat took us back to the viewing platform we were presented with one more memento – a beverage chilled with freshly carved pieces of glacial ice.