Day 14 – Ice Ice Baby

Today we headed off to the Glacier Perito Moreño which was named after Francesco Moreno, an Argentinian hero, who despite the challenging geography of the region defined and gained international recognition for the border with Chile in the Patagonia region.  His name is associated with lots of things in the area, including the glacier.

Located in the ‘Los Glaciares National Park’, which covers 600,000 or 740,000 hectares depending on whether you read the English or Spanish leaflet!?!  This is the 3rd largest ice field in the world – bonus points if you can you name the first two? (*answer at the bottoms of the post trivia buffs)

The ice field covers 13000 square km in total with the Perito Moreno glacier itself covering 257 square km.

Our guide for the mini-ice trek is either French (from my view) or Spanish (from Niki’s) and very knowledgable.  Given that (a) Niki is better at accents than me, and (b) the two of them strolled down the beach together ‘geekily’ chatting about all things glacial I think I’ll have to concede he was probably Spanish. But maybe from a French border town 😉

Having studied Geography to A level and Degree level between us we both love glaciers.  For those less inclined you might want to skip the next few paragraphs which contain a good bit of natural geography…..

There is approximately 8000 mm precipitation per year in this part of the world, and this falls as snow higher up the valley creating the glacier.  As the snow compacts with more and more snow falling on top, it compresses and forms ice – a process that takes around 15 years.

Due to the angle of the valley and the relatively shallow lake (approx 110m deep) the % split of the glacier that is in formation / melting zones means that the glacier is not shrinking in size.

This makes the Perito Moreno glacier unusual in that it’s one of the few glaciers that not receding – in fact it maintains equilibrium, or even slightly increases.  What makes the glacier unique is that it’s the only  one in the world that creates a dam due to its expansion.

With not set frequency – but a cycle of 2-4 years seems normal – the glacier extends to the point it reaches land and causes a dam. The  differential height will reach 8m before the pressure forces through leaving an ice bridge and eventually a famous scene when it collapses.  When this occurs thousands of people descend on the area – sadly it wasn’t happening today though it did appear to have made land but water was still flowing freely (presumably underneath the ice).

We don crampons and head out on the glacier with our guides instructions of “walk like a duck” up hill, and a “marching soldier” down hill ringing in our ears.  Crampon are brilliant. We almost feel like Spider-Man with the ease you can move up and down steep slopes.

Up close the glacier is beautiful and other worldly.  The colours of the ice look an almost unnatural bright blue and the holes and crevices that mark the surface make it far more complex structure than you might imagine (similar to how we found Uluru in Australia).

The scale of the glacier may not come across in the photographs – but the front face is 6km a wide and the face is 40-60m high above the water (plus the 110 below).  And this baby is quick – debunking the stereotype – moving at 2m a day!

Even still this means the front face is still 350 years old. And therefore the glacial ice cut from the floor and used to serve us a glass of whiskey and ice at the end of the tour was older than the drink!!  Ideal preparation for a tricky final decent off the ice and back to the park 🙂

The national park is really well organised.  They manage to create superb access but at the same time manage to have a really light impact (there are no rubbish – basura – collections so everyone takes their rubbish back to El Calafate).

We drive over to the viewing platforms for an hour and get some great up close pictures – in the rain – before ordering a cup of tea in a rush for the bus and ended up with something weird that definitely didn’t benefit from the addition of milk…yuk!

Tiring day ends back in El Calafate where we buy bus tickets for tomorrow and have an OK vegetarian dinner at the accommodation.

*Antarctica is largest and Greenland is second largest.

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