April 2009: 6 days in the deep south of Argentina. Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, El Calafate, Glaciar Perito Moreno, El Chalten, Cerro Fitz Roy…
Day 1: it took us most of the day to get from Buenos Aires to El Calafate; we finally arrived at our hostel around 4:00 and then explored El Calafate. It looked a lot like Bariloche or any other touristy town in the south of Argentina: lots of fake-swiss looking alpine architecture and chocolate shops and souvenirs. The view from our hostel was awesome, out over Lago Argentino to the mountains beyond.
Day 2: a visit to Perito Moreno Glacier and Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. We woke up bright & early and had a scenic two-hour bus ride through foothills and pastures and lakes, out from El Calafate to get to the park.
There’s an impressive series of boardwalks and platforms from which to admire the front edge of the glacier, watch little icebergs calving off from the icy mass and crashing into the lake below.
This ice is 400 years old! These spires of ice began as humid air moving east over the Pacific ocean and over Chile they condensed to clouds and then over the Andes they became snowflakes which fell on the Patagonian continental ice field and slowly made their way down to Argentina a few hundred years later. This is one of the only glaciers in the world that’s not receding. Between the melting and the giant icebergs constantly crumbling off the front end, it’s not really advancing either, but it’s more or less holding its own and neither advancing nor retreating.
After an hour or two of walking & admiring the glacial action, we went to the tourist center and had a hot chocolate, then headed out for our hike across the glacier! We took a boat across the lake, then hiked along the lakeshore and up alongside the edge of the glacier.
Our herd of tourists split into smaller groups and we all strapped on crampons over our boots and gingerly marched, single-file, up onto the side of the glacier. From across the lake you see how massively wide it is, but from this vantage you realize how tall it is, like a giant ice mountain and all of the climbers are little tiny ants on its side.
The ice was all pebbly, just like crushed ice. Every now and then we came across crevasses where you could see deep into the ice, and it glows bright blue inside. The sun was surprisingly warm and there were rivers and lakes of melted glacier-water running all over the place.
Our guide told us to fill up our water bottles and drink from the puddles, it’s the purest water in the world! With the crampons it was really easy to climb up and down the ice. We had sweet views of the lake and mountains from atop the glacier. After clambering around for a while, we arrived at a little wooden chest nestled inbetween two great ice-drifts. Inside: a pile of hand-made chocolates, a bottle of whiskey and a dozen glasses; the guide scooped up glasses full of glacier ice and we each had a whiskey on the rocks and a tasty chocolate.
We were sleepy on the bus ride back to El Calafate but I was glad I stayed awake because it was an excellent, epic sunset over copper-green water.
Day 3: bus ride to El Chalten and an afternoon hike to Laguna Capri brings us face-to-face with the mighty Cerro Fitz Roy.
Day 4: Blustery buckets of rain. Stayed inside the hostel knitting a scarf and cooked a pot of pea soup.
Day 5: hiked the Laguna Torre trail, a long but easy trail through amazingly bright fall foliage, and at the end a spectacular view of the laguna, Glaciar Torre, and the cloud-covered Cerro Torre. Snow flurry at the summit.
Day 6: bus back to El Calafate, had a few hours to relax in Calafate and then flew back home to Buenos Aires.