Day 6 - Viedma Glacier Trek!
Went out early to catch the dawn light on Cerro Torre and Fitzroy. Emerging from a spectral grey the 3100m granite spire of Cerro Torre reddened as the sun rose in the sky, Fitzroy echoing the performance. Magnificent and a real bonus!
After breakfast we took a ferry south from Pt Bahia Tὐnel to the point where Glacier Viedma empties into Lago Viedma. Just as we arrived a section of this fast moving glacier ‘calved’ into the lake, a hundred metre ice wall collapsing into the water before us, and creating the next generation of icebergs we had seen floating away from the glacier cliffs on our approach.
On landing we clambered up the rocks below the snout of the glacier, exhibiting marvellous striations and colourings after emergence from the base of the glacier.
Crampons on, then easy walking on glacier in a small group with attentive guides. For over two hours we viewed the glacial depths and finally entered an ice cave directly under the snout of the glacier, a somewhat spooky experience…the roof dripping prodigiously, and an awesome blue light coming through the ceiling above a small lake.
A quick lunch overlooking the lake, then the ferry and bus to get back to El Chalten for a much-needed chill out afternoon. The final part of the day was then spent on a transfer bus back to El Calafate, a drive of over three hours in the bright evening light.
Thanks are due to our local guide Santiago Arias for the brilliant trekking in El Chalten. It was a noisy night at the hotel, a combination of Valentine's night in the hotel and firework displays in the town. Ho hum.
Day 7 - Perito Moreno Glacier!
El Calafate is a sprawling town established in 1928 on the south bank of Argentina’s largest lake, Lago Argentino. An attractive setting, but as is usual in South America, no cohesive planning, so the town has a multitude of architectural styles and an almost random layout.
It has a huge dependency on tourism, with an estimated 5,000 visitors to the nearby giant Perito Moreno Glacier each day during the high season, and this rises to 10,000 per day when the glacier is expected to breach. Needless to say, the town is modern and very geared to tourism, with many hotels now producing significant over-capacity.
After breakfast we drove west for about 75km in brilliant sunshine under a clear blue sky, passing through the arid scrub so typical of the rain shadow area to the east of the Andes. In the distance the mountains were resplendent ahead of us, many with fresh snow down to quite low levels.
The vegetation had the usual bush grass, bushes of Calafate (a form of berberis), complete with its tasty berries, neneo and the yellow flower Don Diego de la Noche in places.
Our objective for the day was the Perito Moreno Glacier, 5km wide at the point of entry into Lago Argentino at 200m above sea level, and 30km long, flowing down from the South Icefield of the Patagonian icecap, the third largest mass of ice after Antarctica and Greenland. It flows at about 1.7m per day at present and is stable, not retreating like some other glaciers in the region. As we approached the glacier we entered, once again, Magallenic Forest, with the now familiar woods of lenga and ńire. Eagles, carancho and condors were spotted at frequent intervals.
We drove along the southern spur of Lago Argentino to gain access to the glacier. About every two years this section of the lake is dammed off by the glacier and its level rises about 20m as other glacial rivers flood into it. Eventually, a dramatic breach of the narrow Canal de los Témpanos occurs, swelling visitor numbers as people throng to see this natural spectacle.
The Perito Moreno glacier is impressive on many counts. The sheer number of visitors for one thing, today with the addition of the Argentinean President who was flying in to open some new viewing platforms over the glacier. The scale and whiteness of the glacier is truly impressive, quite unlike most other glaciers I have seen as it receives frequent fresh snow, so the usual grey/brown rubble that adorns most glaciers is not evident here. And the fact that it regularly ‘calves’ large masses of ice from its 60m front wall into the lake along the whole snout of the glacier, something we were to witness several times during the day.
We took a one hour boat excursion to the face of the glacier, although there was not much calving to be seen at this time. The glacier became much more active in the early afternoon in the heat of the day. We trekked along the north walkway (several kilometres long now with recent additions) and spent an hour or so watching the ice walls collapse, some events occurring under the water’s surface, so a large crack would be heard and a blue/green iceberg would appear like a re-surfacing submarine. Others collapsed in the more traditional fashion, causing a huge bow wave to flow along the face of the glacier. By mid afternoon, the lake in front of the glacier was littered with fresh icebergs.
At around 1600 we set off back to El Calafate, stopping en route to view Chilean flamingos in the bay just east of the town. A good parrilla (grilled meat) restaurant called Mick’s in the centre of town produced great value and sumptuous lamb and sausages, before another noisy night in the friendly Hosteria Posta Sur, the evening this time enlivened by a live concert at the far end of the town. In with the ear plugs again…Tomorrow Chile!
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