Saturday, February 03, 2007

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

We ended our South American sojourn to Chile & Argentina by visiting the Perito Moreno glacier in Argentinian Patagonia.

The town of El Calafate, gateway to the glacier, formed another "reentry" step on our trip back home. We'd spent 11 days in outback mode (Torres del Paine park), then returned to frontier life (Puerto Natales, gateway to TDP park). Now we moved to the tourist town (El Calafate), with the further return to "large foreign city" (Buenos Aires), before flying back to the familiar (Los Angeles Orange County, & home).

El Calafate is still 2.5 hours drive from the glacier. The trip passes over plateaus and foothills leading up to the Andes, whereas on the Chilean side, this mountain chain seems to fall off to the Pacific much more steeply.

Eventually, our tour bus rounded a corner and brought the glacier into view. The face of the glacier is 5 km wide, spilling 30 km down from "Southern Ice" (Hielo del Sur) sheet at 2 meters per day. It's average height at the face is 60 or 70 meters above the water, with a total height of 170 meters!

In North American terms, this would be South America's answer to the Mendenhall Glacier, Alaska's "drive in" glacier near Juneau. Both Perito Moreno and its supporting ice sheet handily trump Alaska's. Perito Moreno is larger and flows down from the world's 3rd largest ice sheet, which trails only those of Antarctica and Greenland.

A brief pause for the required photographic proof of visit.

(Jolene says this looks "Photoshopped". As with many of our photos, this is true to the extent of adjusting colors and lighting, but not to the extent of cutting and pasting ourselves into these unusual locations. That wouldn't be near as much fun!)

Unfortunately, previous experience has taught me that glaciers only bear so much inspection -- at least from the usual tourist viewing locations -- before a certain boredom sets in. In order to get the full effect, one wants to be hanging around close to active calving (preferably in a kayak or small boat), descending into ice caves, or at least hiking on the glacier. At Perito Moreno, we were able to arrange to do the latter.

The view above, taken of the side of the glacier's snout, shows our approach route for the hike. Note the very tiny oblong dots on the ice centrally. These are other ice hikers who preceded us.

The guides suited us up for the purpose by lacing crampons onto our shoes.

With crampons on, Jolene felt secure scampering around the glacier, tasting 1000-year-old ice...

... crossing ice bridges ...

... and generally looking very stylish!

I mostly ambled along and snapped photos, but we did get one of both of us.

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