Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Perito Moreno Glacier

All photos can be accessed here ...

The awe-inspiring Perito Moreno glacier. The reason for my trip to El Calafate, with all due respect to the treasures nearby like the flamingos... I went on a full day trip today, involving a 6am start but it was well worth it. On the journey over, I realised how far I actually cycled yesterday - a cool 20km round trip. I mean, don't laugh, up hill and down dale, with gales in my face... No wonder I was knackered (if you're wondering how I know the distance I spied a sign on the way back indicating 10km to El Cal just at the point where the infamous "uphill" sign was!) Anyway I digress:

After a couple of hours in the bus we arrived at the glacier. I don't think any photos really do it justice, it's very hard to capture the scale. I suspect this will be a recurring theme on this trip! The photo you see here is just ONE side of the glacier, the southern side. The northern side follows in a bit. Now what can I remember about the technical side: well the height of the glacier is around 60 meters with another 120 metres submerged under the water. Going back up the glacier the thickness of the ice grows to 800 metres.

Here is the start of the expedition, kitted out and all ready to go. Right, back to the technical stuff. We had an interesting explanation on how glaciers are formed (packed snow and pressure) and the age of the ice (in parts up to 300 years). It is one of the few glaciers which is actually stable, not in the sense that the others wobble about, but in the sense that it maintains its size - whilst growing and receeding according to the seasons. This glacier is naturally responsible for the Argentino Lake, carving out the valley as it advanced and receeded during the last Ice Age.

Yep, its big. The glacier, not me. There was quite a lot of ice falling off the front of the glacier, enormous booming cracking sounds and then the tell-tale waves rolling out across the lake. Let's hope Europa is always moored head on in Antartica...

Ok, so then the fun bit, climbing over the ice! However, I nearly didn't get that far as they had problems fitting the crampons to my new boots. Jeez, I would have had issues with Canada (the shoes' origin) forever if that had prevented my little jaunt. But a bit of pushing did the trick and I soon caught up with the group to be given a how-to-walk in crampons talk. Not to be ignored, certainly when I had the potential for achilles issues front of mind... And then we were off, walking up the glacier. It was amazing, in a very small way I could see the attraction of this stuff on a broader scale. The photo above was taken at one of our first stop off points, although Sony can't do justice to the blues in this ice pool. We were able to eat/drink thin slivers of ice which had formed on the pool last night. That was great, and more on-the-rocks was soon to follow...

These are a couple of photos of the path we were taking. We were very lucky as a group as we were the first up there in the day so we had the place to ourselves. I noticed later that there were long lines of people trekking over the glacier, a situation we managed to avoid. The photo below was the steepest climb we had to do:

But one I survived, and was able to enjoy the view looking up the glacier as one of my fellow hikers, Greg from Australia, took this picture. He was quite a character, a former investment banker working for Kleinwort Benson back in the 1980s-1990s in Australia. He had lots of colourful stories of dealings with London. Plus ca change.

So we walked around the glacier for around 90 minutes. It was a great experience, the feel of the ice, the sensation of walking on crampons, crossing little crevasses (Mark - I see what you mean about these things ahead of your running trip - I looked down one and couldn't see any bottom, just a blue bottomless pit...), hearing little rivers running under the ice (and moving quickly on), understanding what makes the ice look blue (apparently its down to the frequency of the colour blue, it's the only one which ice reflects....)

And then we discovered another colour ice reflects - a kind of amber, warm glow. Oh hang on, no that was the whisky on the rocks we enjoyed at the end of the hike. I'm not normally a big whisky fan, but I must say this one tasted damm good - it must have been the fresh glacier ice...

Back on firm land, we enjoyed our packed lunches and the views. Every minute the glacier seemed to subtly change in appearance, as the light changed with the passing of these high clouds in front of the sun. It was spectacular and something I tried to capture in these two photos.

This second was taken from the boat as we travelled along the edge of the southern side of the glacier heading round to the northern side and the "ruptura". I took this video as we rounded the corner:

Anyway, back to the ruptura. Essentially what happens is the glacier meets land at a point where the lake is L-shape in form. When the glacier meets the land it can completely block off one side of the lake from the other, leading to the water levels on the southern side to steadily grow higher and higher. Eventually, and the increase in water levels can reach 20 meters, the pressure becomes too great and the water breaks through the glacier - hence the name "ruptura". They say this event can be heard many miles away, as far as El Cal itself (75km) and it wouldn't surprise me - the booming sounds of relatively small pieces of ice falling off were loud enough in themselves!

While the ice has reached land now, the water has already found a tunnel through so there is no build up at the moment as the photo below shows. The big hole below my hand is where the ice collapsed on this tunnel - unfortunately not while we were at this viewing point!

So El Cal draws to a close. I'm going to treat myself to Argentine steak this evening, I have been trying not to have them every day, I mean that would be too much, wouldn't it?? Tomorrow I fly to Ushuaia, the last stop for now in Argentina and where I'll join Europa on Friday....

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