Glacier Trekking

My big task of the day was to go grocery shopping and checking out a natural/organic food store in Las Cañitas neighborhood.  The natural food store didn’t have anything interesting but I did confirm the location of a yoga studio I am going to visit.  As for groceries, I went to Argentina’s version of Wal-Mart called “Jumbo” where you can find everything from washing machines to roast chicken.  I stocked up on some basics, including eggs, cheese, lots of fruits, and vegetables.  It’s just three blocks away from my apartment so I’m sure I’ll be going there frequently.  The store is so enormous that I wandered around for well over an hour poking around and only left because I was getting so hungry.  I love grocery stores in general and can spend hours in them especially in foreign countries.  You can tell so much about a culture and habits of the natives by observing what grocery stores have.  Today I saw the largest case of fresh sausages and meats at Jumbo (Argentinians consume 60+kg of meat per person per year) as opposed to aisles and aisles of spices and rice I used to find in India, or rows and rows full of olives I coveted in Spain.  Of course there is no shortage of wine here; you can’t go a few steps without tripping over yet another giant display of wine…

Now that I have enough to eat for a while, back to where I left off in Patagonia.

Glacier trekking or ice hiking.  Sounds a bit dangerous and crazy, but that’s what I did on January 5, 2012.  After a difficult but incredible hike the day before I had a few options to choose from.  Do another hike, lounge around, or go glacier trekking.  I really wanted to hike, especially the Cerro Torre trail, but the opportunity to put on crampons and go trekking on giant blue glaciers was too good to pass up.  So at 8AM, I found myself in front of the Fitz Roy Expeditions office in El Chalten with some of my new friends eagerly waiting to take a ride over to Lago Viedma.

The lake wasn’t too far away from El Chalten but from there the glacier was about an hour away by boat.  We settled in comfortably on board and enjoyed the view as we sailed.  Outside it was another fantastic day with sunny blue skies but you could tell that the winds were picking up as we neared the glaciers.  And when we saw this from the deck below, I ran upstairs to feel the cold winds in my face and see the beautiful ice sculpture floating over milky green waters.

And soon enough, we were disembarking to hike up a few enormous rocks towards the Viedma glaciers.  Our leader, Laura, told us that the glacier stands 80m above water, and under water it’s 100m at one end and reaches down 300m on the other.  It is the 3rd largest glacier in the world after Greenland and Antarctica, and this particular glacier is slowly shrinking.  The lake is largely the result of the melting ice and its milky color is due to the fine sediment from the glaciers that do not settle to the bottom.  We were then instructed to sit while the guides came around and put on crampons on our feet for us.  After a quick lesson on how to walk on the ice with the spiky contraptions, we were on our way to start hiking on the mountains made of ice.

Laura, our guide, showing us crampon basics

Just as I was getting a hang of taking small deliberate steps, using all the sharp spikes to claw onto the ice to walk, we were led to a spot where we got to take a full view of the glacier.  With absolutely nothing between us and the open space, we could really feel the gusty winds that at times kick up to 120km per hour.  The wind whipped me around and almost pushed me over, but our sturdy glaciologist Antoine happened to be right next to me so I took refuge behind him, using him as a shield.  After I recovered from the initial shock of being whirled around, I remembered to turn my body towards the wind and bend my knees to steady myself, the way the guides told us to do.  Whew.  This is what we saw on that cliff.

Glacier Viedma

Then we went hiking up and down, in and out of icy blue peaks.  I had always imagined the glacier ice to be snow white but in fact, the surface of the glaciers were quite “dirty” and black.  Antoine explained to us that it’s because Viedma glacier is getting smaller, i.e. the water is evaporating and leaving the sediments and dirt on the top layer.  Every now and then we stopped to look into a large crevasse, where you could barely see the bottom of the abyss.  On a couple of those occasions, our guides stood next to us and physically held onto us for additional safety.  I remember hesitating a bit as I took timid steps forward and peeking over the edge…

Ice trekking

As fun as that was, the best part of our ice adventure was waiting for us at the end.  Our guides had us walk down to a valley floor (made of ice) and with sheepish smiles told us there was a surprise waiting there.  Lucy, a young Australian in my group, jokingly said how nice it would be if they had some hot chocolate.  Well, it was even better than hot chocolate.  They’d found a natural crack in the glacier where the walls have melted down enough for a human to squeeze through.  We were all giddy with excitement and one by one we walked into the glacier to see what it was like inside.  While I was waiting for my turn, one of the guides handed me a cup with some glacier ice in it.  I thought it rather odd that we should be crunching on ice, and then I realized that the other guide (whom Lynne and I refer to as “glacier hottie”) was coming around pouring Baileys into our cups.  Yes, please.  Lucy and I locked eyes, grinned ear to ear, toasted to our amazing glacier day, and downed the creamy liqueur.

Then it was my turn to go inside the glacier.  The ice was opaque and white at the beginning but as I inched my way in, the walls became translucent and I could see it glisten and glow.  A few more steps in, I was enveloped in the most beautiful shade of clear blue.  I must have stopped breathing because everything became silent.  I know that I was only in there for a few seconds but when I close my eyes, I can still see and feel the crystal blue ice.  It was wonderful.

Inside Viedma glacier

We had our lunch on the rocks by Lago Viedma and returned to El Chalten with a spring in our steps.  To put a sweet finish to our icy adventure, all of us stopped at Domo Blanco, the only ice cream shop in town, to enjoy some homemade/local helado.  My two scoops were dulce de leche and calafate, a blueberry like local fruit that they say if you eat it you’re destined to return to Patagonia.  At 5PM we loaded up our van and returned to El Calafate (named after the berry), which was to be our base for the next two days.  As we headed out of El Chalten, we looked back to see that all the jagged spires of Fitz Roy were gleaming under the afternoon sun.  I think they were telling me to come back soon.

Until next time!

Lynne and I were high on glaciers, mountains, nature, and life (not to mention all the sugar); too elated to have a proper dinner even after a 2.5 hour ride to El Calafate.  We walked through the main streets of El Calafate and settled for some carrots, apples, half a bottle of Malbec, and this glorious sunset.  A fitting end to our day…  more glaciers and Patagonia tomorrow!

Sky on fire over El Calafate, Argentina

This entry was posted in 2012, Argentina, Travel and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Glacier Trekking

  1. Eric Murtaugh says:

    This is so awesome.

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