Brad and I had waited a long time to see this place, and now, as we sipped our Nescafe, we peered into the distance in awe. Butterflies raced in my stomach and my mind was filled with anticipation. The feeling wasn’t so much caused by the view, but by the set of vocal pipes on this thing. It creaked and moaned yearning for our attention, attempting to resist the pressure of the ice pushing its massive body forward. Creak, pop, crash! We were teased to come closer.
We followed the catwalk through the forest until we broke through the barrier of green and were left with an open and uninterrupted view of the glacier. We were dumbstruck. It was truly like nothing I had ever seen in my life. As far as the eye could see, it stretched back into the nethermost regions of the mountains, eventually coming to a standstill before us, bold and beautiful. It was hard to grasp its immensity; it seemed impossible that it could be any larger. My central and peripheral vision were at capacity. Yet, from a bird’s eye view, we were only seeing the very tip of this glacier.
This massive tongue of ice stretched 18 miles into the mountains, its width 3 miles, and it towered into the sky like a solid row of 22 story buildings, having an average height of 240 feet. I felt like an ant on the sidewalk; small and insignificant; in an instant I could be swallowed whole in one minor crevasse of its mass. And the colors! The glacier was a swirl of white and blue; the blue formed from densely compact ice, while the white from trapped air bubbles after numerous melting and freezing cycles. If the glacier hadn’t stolen the view, surely the milky grayish blue water of Lake Argentina would have. The strange color was the result of the sun’s rays diffracting against unsettled sediment of “glacial flour” in the water. Simply spectacular.
Perito Moreno is famous in the world of glaciers. It is a fighter and one of the few glaciers in existence that is still advancing; stretching forward an average of seven feet a day. However, while it is advancing; simultaneously, building-sized chunks of ice are breaking from the face. Its growth, counteracted by the ice sloughing off of its face, make this one of the few stable glaciers in a time of global warming.
We watched for hours, unable to pull away. We listened to the creaks and pops while we waited, frozen in place, for the glacier to calve off 240 foot high chunks into the water, releasing an instant rippling tidal wave. Like lightning and thunder, there was always a split second between the belly flopping of a hunk of ice and the explosion of sound in our ear drums.
Amazing views in Patagonia were not exclusive to Perito Moreno; they seemed to exist in all directions. In the South, on the Chilean side of the Andes we visited Lago Grey, where chunks of pockmarked icebergs floated in the water, and where Torres del Paine’s 3000 foot tall vertical shafts of basalt jut up into the sky. At its base, shiny rock faces stream with water, draining into a crisp blue glacial lake below.
Farther North we visited the other half of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, with Mount Fitz Roy stealing the show. We met up with wonderful friends, hiked in the mountains, camped, and explored the many eating and drinking establishments in the tiny town of El Chalten, which serves as a basecamp for Fitz Roy. Before we left town, Brad assisted some of our new friends in the age old tradition of a Vanagon push start.
Finally, after having our fill of glaciers and National Parks, it was time to finish this thing off. We boarded Nacho and pointed his big white nose southward.