Have you ever wondered what sound does the ice make? Sinister rumblings, powerful and ominous.
Such sounds you can hear only on a glacier, when you calm your mind, when the talks retreat into silence, even the wind stops blowing. Only then, you can hear the nature at its purest form speaking, overwhelming with its magnitude and force.
The Perito Moreno Glacier located in Argentinian Patagonia is a place where the power of nature and the powerlessness of a human get a new meaning. I must admit that seeing the glacier was one my greatest dreams during this trip.
The Los Glaciares National Park and the reserve take up around 600 000 ha in southwest Santa Cruz Province. It’s been founded in 1937 already and in 1981 it was included into the UNESCO World Heritage List.
On the day I have my trekking planned it’s raining cats and dogs and I’m praying deep inside that they don’t cancel climbing up the glacier. Later, I’ve learned it’s normal and it rains 300 days a year, so they don’t cancel the trekking for such a sitter.
The route from El Calafate, the small city where I stay overnight, to the glacier is through Patagonian flatland and it’s 150 km as the crow flies. Rain and fog create the atmosphere of mystery and I literally feel shudders on my back as I drive in a car and look at hardly visible landscape.
The road is empty. Only from time to time I am overhauled by coaches full of tourists driving in the same direction. Crazy drivers from around here speed 100 km/h ignoring the limit of 40 km/h.
Only a few tourists know that every trip, no matter a travel agent, a hotel or a website, all of them cooperate with Hielo y Aventura company. So there’s no point in wasting your time and trying to save a thin dime since it’s all the same price.
The meeting spot is on the territory of Los Glacieros National Park. You need to pay 500 pesos per person when entering this area. You can also join an organized coach trip that will take you to the destination as well as drive there by car on your own account.
A ferry that allows you to sail to the glacier leaves at 10:30 sharp. There are only young people in their thirties on the board. It’s something new and rare because in Patagonia there are lots of 60-70-year-old tourists, American pensioners and Brazilian families with children.
This time, it’s different. I’ve chosen the BIG ICE trekking and it’s the most exhausting and physically challenging one in the offer. The cost is PLN830.
The glacier can be explored in a different way – there’s a shorter, one-hour trekking or the possibility to admire it from an observation deck, just below its front.
The choice depends on the age and physical condition. One day long trekking I’ve chosen is for people from 18 to 50 years old and it requires both good physical condition and strength.
BIG ICE takes about 8 hours. After sailing to the base camp at the bottom of the glacier, the group is divided into smaller teams. Each team has two guides.
You must remember about taking your own food. Water is not a problem, you can drink directly from streams flowing down the glacier. Gloves are also a vital thing since falling down onto ice may end with a skin cut. Obviously, just after 10 minutes after leaving the base someone in my group fell down and seriously injured a hand. So, it’s not a joke.
The first part of the route is rather easy, we walk on the plain ground, along the glacier. The walk (seriously, you can’t call it otherwise) is calm and relaxing. Everybody is talking, laughing, taking photos. No one realizes that breathtaking views are ahead of us, so we’re snapping around.
After several minutes we start to climb the muddy path with some difficulty. On the right, the glacier begins to appear at its full grandeur. It amazes me, how its sky blueness contrasts with brown hills around it.
I’m trying to capture it in a photo but it’s raining so heavily that I’m afraid to wet the camera too much. What’s more, the pace is rather fast and I don’t want to delay the rest of my team. I’m the last one, by the way, because I’m stopping all the time to look, take a deep breath of wet air and feel the atmosphere of the place.
From a distance, I see other teams, already up on the ice. Seeing them gives me the taste of how am I going to feel up there, on the top. A small, colorful dot, so wrong there, ill-fitting to the landscape, as if I was photoshopped or something.
We’re climbing, step by step, about 30 minutes, constantly uphill. Finally, we reach the next base camp. Guides give us matching crampons – these are metal studs attached to boots with a tape. They allow us to walk on the glacier. We also get a climbing harness, just in case, if anyone needs pulling out we need to pull for something, right?
We reach the ice edge (it’s been an hour of walk and we barely reached the edge) and we have a quick training on how to walk in crampons. Feet must be in parallel, steps are made with all foot on the ground, knee bended, straight posture to maintain the balance. In other words, it’s not a natural position and we look strange while making first steps. Walking in crampons requires experience I don’t have, so I need to focus on every step. It disturbs me a little in admiring the surroundings. I need to forget about the camera for a while, well, too many things at once :)
We slow down significantly, making one step at a time on the ice. Guides set our route on the way and instruct us, where we should put our feet. The glacier is moving all the time. It’s two meters a day inside and about half a meter a week on the outside. So, every day it looks different. This is the reason why guides need to look for paths, cracks, pits and streams all over again. I guess it’s a huge responsibility for the guides, requiring lots of constant focus.
Once in a while we make a stop and look at new ice formations, deep cracks or teeny-weeny lakes created inside the glacier.
We’re opening our mouth in astonishment and enchantment at forms created by frozen water. They are magical, perfect. Nature is the most creative artist. The ice seems to sparkle with all shades of blue, it’s not plain, it glitters in rays of sun like a diamond.
The sun is slowly coming out of the clouds so we take a lunch break. Annoyingly enough, as soon as we unpack our sandwiches, it begins to rain and it quickly changes into a freezing hail. The weather is absurdly variable. I’m chewing my sandwich, wet after just two minutes and covered in snow. Obviously, just as we finish eating the sun is out again. It shines so strongly that it blinds us when the ice reflects it. Until the end of the day, the weather is beautiful and we are cooking in our jackets :D
We walk up to a natural spring, it’s a crack so deep, you can’t see its bottom, and it’s filled with crystal clear water. I bow to taste the glacier water. The guide explains that it doesn’t include any minerals so, in a long run, a human couldn’t survive drinking it. And actually, when I taste it, it has no flavor, nothing. Just as if you’d drink a liquid air…
I take an advantage from the moment of break and step aside, so my team is behind my back right now. I turn my face towards the glacier. It’s my one-to-one, something I’ve been waiting for a long time. I take a deep breath and try to encompass everything my eyes can see, however, my head can’t keep up with noticing all the feelings and emotions flowing through me. I see the infinity I’ve never experienced before.
Perito Moreno occupies 258 km2 and it’s 30 km long. It’s the third biggest glacier in the world.
I’m surrounded by the kilometers of shiny ice. It’s been here for 8 thousands years. The time is difficult to even imagine. I feel the admiration and humility at the same time. It’s the rare feeling in contemporary world, the feeling that empowers us to conquer barriers, fight the imperfections and achieve the impossible. Or is it so? That moment shows me the opposite. I’m only a small dot that had the honor to see something way bigger and more powerful than me, something I don’t understand and my body it’s not ready for. Here’s the limit the nature sets to humans. We can only observe in silence, we can never compare ourselves to it.
Someone calls my name from behind, it’s time to come back before it gets dark. We are returning. The way back is no easier because it’s more challenging to keep the balance in crampons.
It’s late afternoon when we sail back on the ferry. The team serves us a whiskey with the glacier ice! We make a toast while looking at more and more distant (but still magnificent) face of the nature wonder.
I’m exhausted but I cannot stop thinking about these few hours. It was totally worthy to come to another part of the world to breathing crystal clear air and experiencing a complete silence, interrupted from time to time by rumblings of the moving glacier.