Hiking up a glacier – Perito Moreno, Argentina

Now that we know summer is well on its way, I figured why not bring you back to something nice and cool. Let’s hike up a glacier!

Coming from the tropics, I have only seen glaciers or icebergs on the TV. Of course I could stare into a glass of ice and imagine I was a penguin slipping down, but of course I digress. On my trip to Argentina, my friends and I decided to stop by El Calafate. A small city in the South Western part of Argentina.

The city itself is cute, but most people head to El Calafate to be able to go to Perito Moreno, a glacier park/ wall (?). Most of the tours you could take to the glacier would be easy day trips. You can catch a tour bus and in less than two hours go through the Los Glaciares National Park to get to Perito Moreno. There is an entrance fee to the park, so be prepared to shell out some cash for that. I would tell you how much it is, but it doesn’t seem to be published online for now. You can check out the official park website here.

The bus will drop you off at the visitor center, and the guide will give you a bit of history on the glacier. Once they’re done, you typically can roam down the ramps and pathway to get as close as possible to the front. It’s a wooden/ steel boardwalk, so it’s quite easy to access and walk around.

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Head on down and enjoy the great big wall of ice coming right at you. Some interesting facts I picked up while I was there:

  • The glacier grows at the rate of two meters per year until it finally connects to the land bank
  • In one corner of the wall, you would see where it eventually connects and locks to the land bank. Water still flows beneath which causes erosion from the bottom and the forming of a tunnel. Eventually the tunnel itself will collapse. The last collapse was in 2008 (I travelled there end 2010)

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  • Keep quiet and listen. The smaller pieces that crack off seem to make a louder sound than the bigger pieces. You do actually hear a crack and then a crash.
  • The wall seems blue in some points because the more compact the ice, the longer the path that light takes to travel, and the bluer it appears
  • It’s also the only glacier in the world with a constant size. It measures 5 km!! across and 30 km!!! deep. Insane!

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If you’re heading there on a hiking tour, you typically get one hour to check out the platform area before you head over for a hike. They do have a restaurant area and small gift shop for you to get a munch and buy some postcards.

We used Hielo y Aventura as our tour operator for the day. They offer two different kinds of hikes – the Mini Trekking (~2 hours) and the Big Ice (~3.5 hours). You need to be in pretty decent shape to do the Big Ice trek, so of course in the interest of time! *cough*cough* we opted for the Mini Trek =)

  • Mini Trekking : ARS 670 (Argentine Peso) (does not include transfer fee)
  • Big Ice : ARS 1070 (does not include transfer fee)

To start the hike – you will be brought over to the ferry dock area by bus (once you’ve completed seeing it from the viewing platform). You’ll then hop on a ferry boat and cross the lake. The close up views is pretty spectacular!

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Once there, they will split you into smaller more manageable groups and give you some advice on using the crampons and hiking the glacier. You will then head over to get your crampons put on. (Crampons rentals are already included in the price). They’re not as easy to put on as you think, so be prepared to sit down and have the guides really strap you in.

And then! You start walking on ice! Its incredible! The ice is decently easy to walk on, but you can definitely lose a grip or two while walking. So please go slow and be careful. The glacier also has small pockets of water holes that has been cause by sunlight and erosion. If you fall into those holes, you might be a goner, since they’re likely to go all the way down through, or end in the middle of the glacier somewhere. The difficult part of the hike isn’t so much going up, but more so on going down. Your biggest challenge will be the slippery ice (I had mental images that if I fell I would continue sliding on over all the ice until I eventually fall into the lake).

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The landscape is breathtaking. It felt like you were on an ice cold planet. It felt like something out of an insane Star Wars or Sci-fi movie. Enjoy the silence of the area and watch the cool patterns of the ice. Do follow the path that the guide tells you to since not all areas are stable and can hold weight.

We even got to enjoy a drink of water while hiking. It was pretty easy to just bend over and catch a drink from the stream. It tasted like what I imagine water companies try to describe. Cool. Fresh. Icy. (Mountainy? ).

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After about an hour forty to two hours you will finish the tour – and usually with a nice surprise right at the end. I’m not one to give away the surprise, but it’s a fun simple thing. You return your crampon (and feel happy to be back on solid land), head back on your ferry, and onto the bus to go back to El Calafate.

Expect to set aside an entire day to travel to, see, hike, and travel back from the Perito Moreno Glacier. Maybe keep an extra day to walk around El Calafate itself. It’s a very cute city area and has small market lanes and cute restaurants as well.

And as to the million dollar question – “What do I wear??”

You don’t have to dress like you’re going to the Arctic, but do dress in comfortable clothes or layers that will keep you warm. Even better if you wear some form of waterproof warm outfit (like ski pants and jacket) since you may end up getting a bit wet. When I went it was raining, and I was in jeans and a light jacket. Hiking on a mountain of ice. You can imagine how cold I felt.

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You have to wear proper shoes (hiking or sports shoes) to be able to put on the crampon. No high heels (even though I know technically they may work just like a crampon) Rubber boots are also not allowed.

If you must carry something, bring a backpack. No cross body bag or messenger bag is going to cut this. You need to have your arms ready and free to help you balance out while you’re walking. I didn’t even bring my DSLR – only my smaller point and shoot camera.

The Perito Moreno is a must see! And even though right now it’s the only glacier in the world that has kept its size constant, with global warming, you never know how much longer it will last.