Glacier visit in El Calafate

t(December 18 – written by “Just Dave”)

Yesterday we spent the day at the glacier Perito Moreno.  It was a great experience.

Glacier Perito Moreno distant

Approaching the glacier – looks a little stormy


At one of the stops, we get out for photos and about get blown back to El Calafate

There are a couple of different ways to see the glacier – for the adventure junkies, there are boat rides and ice climbs.  For the more sedate of us, there is a walk on what they call the balconies.  You basically catch a bus in the morning 80k out to the park, spend 4 hours hanging around the walkways (which they call balconies) looking at the glacier and then ride a bus back to town.  If you do the boat ride or ice climbs, that cuts into the 4 hours you get on the balconies.

Being an official rest day for us, we decided that we would stay on the balconies.  We were worried that 4 hours would be way too much time to stare at a wall of ice “moving at glacial speed” (perhaps that line was overused during the day, just perhaps (Senior editor’s note – uh huh…)).  There are 7k of balconies that wrap around a peninsula that juts out toward the glacier.  If you walk all of the balconies you’ll see a good part of the north and south faces of the glacier.  But we could walk 7k in two hours, what to do in the other 2 hours?

Glacier Perito Moreno the whole deal 1

The whole glacier from the centre balcony

Well, rather than being bored, we were entranced by the ice.  The balconies get you really close to the glacial face and because there have been rains recently, there was lots of cracking sounds and a good number of ice calves.  It would have been easy to just pick a spot on one of the balconies and watch, listen and take pictures.  And if you are really lucky, you may see ice calving before your very eyes – we had this happen a couple times.

Glacier Perito Moreno the whole deal 3

View through the trees as you get close

Glacier Perito Moreno the whole deal 2

Sun dancing on the top surface, seems like miles and miles of jagged peaks

Glacier Perito Moreno peaks 1

Jagged front edge

Glacier Perito Moreno close up 2

The ice is clear, blue comes from the sky or water – I know hard to believe

The glacier is massive forming up in the Southern Patagonia Ice Field and flowing 30k downhill to Lago Argentina.  The face of the glacier is 5k wide at the terminus and has two faces, a north one and a south one.  During periods of expansion, the ice slowly pushes the glacier over Lago Argentina, connecting with the peninsula, damming off the south arm of the lake (there is no outlet on the south side).  In periods of retreat, the south arm of the lake rises and eventually the lake breaks through the ice barrier sending a massive flood of water back to the main body of the lake.  The breaches don’t happen every year as the glacier sometimes just doesn’t melt and retreat enough.  The last rupture was March 13, 2018 and they tend to happen every 4 to 5 years.

Glacier Perito Moreno south face 1

The south face

Glacier Perito Moreno north face 3

The north face

During our visit the glacier seems to have pulled back a bit from the peninsula.  It is interesting to note that the glacier doesn’t float on the lake as it crosses the lake – rather, it touches the lake bottom –  otherwise, naturally, a dam wouldn’t be formed.  The general trend of this glacier is growth, bucking the trend of most glaciers around the world.  Scientists are still debating why this is happening.

Glacier Perito Moreno in action 1

The next four photos show calving in action – this is before

Glacier Perito Moreno in action 3

This one is just as a chunk breaks off and hits the water – there is no wave yet as the ice literally just broke the surface

Glacier Perito Moreno in action 2

Then comes the big splash – mostly you see calving just after this because you hear the splash and look in the direction of the noise

Glacier Perito Moreno in action 5

Several minutes later the waves and ice have radiated away from the face

Without getting overly political, these things really do matter.  Only 3% of the earth’s water is fresh water.  And 77% of the fresh water is stored in glaciers.  Melt the glaciers and yes, you get sea-level issues, but you also lose a good deal our drinkable water.  Additionally, glaciers do a lot of work cooling the planet, not just because they are ice, but also because they reflect up to 85% of the sunlight that hits them – preventing this energy from warming the earth further.

We both took a lot of photos today.  My little point and shoot camera and Nancy’s phone really don’t do the glacier justice.  It was yet another day on the trip where I was envious of the folks with their fancy digital SLRs and long lenses.

Orchid 2

An orchid on the peninsula

Too early

The balconies and lodge areas are very nice, very well developed for tourist hoards.  Here the peak of tourist decadence – we didn’t try any.  It came in a plastic glass, kind of downgrading the overall idea of whiskey on ice…

Eruo pants person

Most of the tourist here are less adventure type than we saw up near Fitz Roy.  Still, even the hardcore dudes visit this glacier – hardcore or poser, I’ll not judge but the pants tell a certain story.

We are here today in El Calafate, tomorrow starting out on a 5 day ride to Puerto Natales.  We are planning on taking the “long-cut” and riding through Torres del Paine, one South America’s great National Parks.  We should be in Puerto Natales for Christmas.

Last night we had a beer with Sarah and Andy – they rode here the previous day and reported having massive winds on our big wind day as well.  We think Sarah and Joe are riding here today and hope that they are ok getting up the valley to El Calafate.  The winds seem a little lower today, but that is of course from the comfort of our lovely AirB&B.  Looking at the forecast, high winds could be coming in again on the weekend.  We’ll keep an eye on things as we evaluate our route south – we could take a shorter path to Puerto Natales if the winds become an issue.

Glacier Perito Moreno face 10

One last glacial photo – this one shows where the glacier scraped the bottom of the lake – the brown lines are rock and soil

10 thoughts on “Glacier visit in El Calafate

  1. That is one awesome Glacier. I’m so glad you took the tour and shared pictures with us! Good luck on the next part of your tour. Will the road be paved or more dirt and rocks? I can’t wait to see the pics!

    • The road surface going forward depends on the wind. If we take the planned route through the park, we’ll have more gravel. If we bail and take a shorter route due to the wind, then there will still be some gravel, but less.

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