Big Ice Trek on Perito Moreno Glacier, Nov. 24, 2011
For our one full day in El Calafate we signed up for the longest tour (~3 hours with a 45 minute approach trail) on the Perito Moreno Glacier (route marked in red below).
We started with the usual bus tour to the overlook at the end of the glacier.
It takes about 45 minutes to cover the walkways extended down and to either side (south here) for closer views.
North side of the glacier
Direct view from lowest walkway
Note the glacier reaches the lake shore, damming the small upper section to the south from the rest of Lago Argentino. The south side now has about a 3 foot higher water level than the rest of the lake. Eventually the pressure builds and the water breaks through in spectacular fashion. Poster of one of these breaks in March 2004.
The breaks are not predictable, the upper lake can rise as little as 6 feet or as much as 22 feet before breaking through the glacier.
We cross the upper lake to the trailhead on the south side of the glacier.
The glacier is abut 130 feet high when it reaches the lake, dwarfing the tour boats. Note the the first ~20 feet of shoreline is scoured to the rocks from temporarily higher lake levels.
After a brisk hike trial hike they hand out crampons for us to use on the ice. Guide tightening crampons here.
The Big Ice trek is on a relatively flat section of glacier so we see many more water features than I saw on the steeper toe of the Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand in 2010. Here's a guide by a small but deep pool.
Glacier is overall flat but of course uneven.
Here Liz and the guides overlook a river cut into the glacier.
Closer view of the river
Here a surface stream pours into a deeper hole.
Farther out there are much bigger pools
We stopped for lunch by one of these.
Coming back we cross over some surface streams.
Back on the trail we pass a waterfall.
We stopped for awhile on the beach at the foot of the glacier.
One of the reasons Perito Moreno Glacier is such a popular tourist attraction is that the center of it moves 2 meters per day, very fast for a glacier. This results in frequent calving of icebergs into the lake.
We were not disappointed in this regard:
This piece (seen halfway broken off in the second picture above) was the full 130 foot height of the glacier. The waves eventually reached the beach here.
The Big Ice Trek is operated by Hielo y Aventura in El Calafate, which restricts the tour to those under age 50. We booked via Chalten Travel and despite online appeals documenting the Ice Axe cruise and my Mt. Shasta trip Hielo y Aventura would not budge. So we finally contacted the Argentine guide on the cruise, Jorge Kozulj. He knew the owner of Hielo y Aventura and successfully intervened to get us on this tour. Many thanks to Jorge, and for those interested in serious camping/mountaineering adventures in Patagonia (both near his home base in Bariloche as well as the far south), check out his site http://www.andescross.com.
The Big Ice trek requires wearing crampons and walking carefully in them over uneven footing for 2-3 hours. I did shred the cuff of one of my ski pant legs and needed to get that stitched when I got home. But it was not as strenuous as the hike to Laguna de los Tres or any of the 4 days hiking the "W" trail in Torres del Paine.