PERITO MORENO GLACIER
Within Los Glaciares National Park, 82 km from the town of El Calafate, Perito Moreno Glacier appears immense and majestic before the amazed eyes of the visitors. It is one of the few glaciers in the world which is in constant advance and growth. Its front is 5 km wide and its height reaches 80 meters above sea level.
The glacier and its surroundings officially became Perito Moreno National Park in 1937, with the aim of protecting the lenga forests and two important lake systems that include glaciers, waterfalls and a portion of the Patagonian steppe.
Ice blocks of different sizes continually detach from Perito Moreno glacier and fall into the waters of Lake Argentino, causing spine-chilling sounds and amazing waves on the surface that make of this view an unforgettable sight.
Once in the lake, these ice floes, which may vary from white to sapphire blue tonality, are left adrift until they completely melt.
Although everything seems static and immovable, the erosion caused by the force of the detachment continuously models the shape of the mountains. The joint action of cold weather, the sun and the wind, as well as gravity, constantly modify this impressive landscape.
Perito Moreno, unlike the other glaciers, has shown significant movements. The gigantic blocks of ice that detach from the glacier, fall into the Témpanos Channel consequently blocking it.
When this occurs, the waters of the South and Rico arms of Lake Argentino dam up outstandingly increasing their level. In 1988 a 25-meter-high increase was recorded, and a maximum of approximately 30 meters is estimated.
Due to the water pressure, the ice finally breaks and the drainage through the Témpanos Channel is restored.
This phenomenon occured every three years since 1935. At the end of last century, the glacier was as far as 750 m from the Magallanes Peninsula and it was only in 1917 that it reached the coast and blocked the channel for a couple of weeks for the first time. In 1988 the glacier blocked the channel for the last time but the ice has not broken ever since.
As a consequence of this process, there is a coastal strip along the Rico and South arms, as well as along Lake Roca of variable width, whose vegetation (originally wooded) has been significantly modified.
Since 1983, glacial research on the Southern Patagonian Ice was undertaken as part of a joint project among Japan, Chile and Argentina. One component of this project implied the monitoring of Upsala, Ameghino and Moreno glaciers, which has provided precise data about their behavior.
HOW TO GET TO PERITO MORENO GLACIER
In order to get there, you should take Provincial Route Nº 11, that connects El Calafate with Punta Bandera. A few kilometers before getting there, there is a road toward Magallanes Peninsula leading to the footbridges in front of the glacier.
Another alternative -also from El Calafate- is to take Provincial Route Nº 15, which ends in the National Reserve by Lake Roca. Halfway along this road there is a branch road to the peninsula.
It is worth reminding the importance of respecting the National Park rules at all times, mainly that tourists must only circulate along the authorized tracks.
VISITING PERITO MORENO GLACIER
This is the most popular and important excursion in the area. The glacier is a spectacle difficult to describe, that fills the visitor with amazement and admiration, even from the first sights several kilometers away on the road.
The trip from El Calafate to the glacier is a succession of lakes, streams, woods and snowcapped mountains. Visitors from all over the world are left out of breath contemplating this natural phenomenon.
This visit to the glacier takes almost the whole day. It starts in the morning and finishes in the evening.
The trip can be taken either privately (on your own car or a rented one) or through one of the varied alternatives offered by the travel agencies in El Calafate.
During the high season, organized excursions leave every day toward the glacier accompanied by qualified guides. They usually include walks along alternative tracks in the surroundings of the footbridges; stops to take photographs from vantage points during the trip; packed meals and even binoculars for the tour.
Depending on the expectations, time availability and budget, there are various options (lake trips and trekking) to get to know and enjoy this natural wonder.
Once in Los Glaciares National Park (and having paid the tariff), as you move forward, the weather and the flora reveal the transition between the steppe and the Andean-Patagonian forest: it is colder and there is much more humidity in the air.
The road surrounds the Rico arm of Lake Argentino by the southern side of Magallanes Peninsula, going up into the periphery of the nothofagus wood.
Tree species vary according to the conditions of humidity, altitude and proximity to the ice, with an abundance of lenga, ñire and coihue, and then lenga and coihue in the area near the glacier.
On the side of the road, you can also appreciate notros (red flowers), calafate bushes (yellow flowers and purple fruits) and "Chinese lanterns" (parasitic yellowish plant). During fall months, the forests turn their leaves into multiple variations of red.
Six km before reaching your destination, after an ascending bend, you get to a vantage point with the first panoramic view of the Glacier, widely known as "Curva de los Suspiros" (Sighs Bend). This vantage point, with plenty of parking space pure fresh air to breathe, is an excellent opportunity to contemplate the magnificence of Perito Moreno Glacier and the surrounding mountains.
Finally, the road ends in the western tip of Magallanes Peninsula where, with your feet on the ground and the amazing 5 km-high front of the glacier at your side you get to the footbridges.
These footbridges are displayed making up a three-level circuit, with stairs and balconies that allow the visitor to appreciate the glacier from different perspectives. An alternative for those who wish to have other views of the northern front of the glacier, is going along the Coastal Track, which can only be done in the company of an authorized guide.
Return to Calafate is along the same route.
It is essential to take warm clothes and a jacket or a waterproof anorak due to the closeness and eventually direct contact with this huge mass of ice and the changeable weather conditions at these altitudes.
In order to enjoy the walks, it is convenient to take comfortable footwear, ideally trekking shoes.
Sunglasses and sun-block are a must in order to be able to safely look at the glaciers and to protect the skin from the exposure to the UV rays of the sun.
Also, a spare photograph film, gloves and a cap can be most useful.
SAILING TO THE GLACIER
The journey starts when embarking at the Rico arm of Lake Argentino. It is a unique possibility to contemplate, just 300 m away, the bluish walls of Perito Moreno glacier and its ice floes.
It is only from this perspective that one can become aware of the height of its walls (between 50 and 80 m) and the real dimensions of this glacial majesty. One can also catch glimpse of the inner deep-blue lagoons, the rivers and the caverns within the glacier.
This excursion may also be taken from the Bajo de la Sombra pier. Being just one hour long, it can be a complement of other excursions.
Although it does not include disembarking and walking on the glacier, it does include a trip around the Magellanic forest, which is located on one of the sides of the glacier.
WALKING ON THE GLACIER
Just as sailing near the glacier offers a unique visual perspective, walking on the glacier is an unforgettable experience.
The journey starts when tourists are taken toward the Bajo de la Sombra pier, where they embark on a vessel which takes them across the Rico arm of Lake Argentino. After a twenty-minute trip, they disembark at the foot of Mt Moreno.
Once on the ground, travelers make incursions into the Magellanic forests during half an hour always in the company of a specialized guide. Next, crampons are given out in order to walk on the surface of the glacier. This takes one hour and a half and it is highly attractive due to the direct contact with the glacial ice. Here the tourist may see many crevasses, drains and superficial watercourses, as well as small inner blue lagoons.
This walk has a low level of difficulty and is suitable for people aged between 10 and 60. It is suggested to wear sports footwear (trekking shoes if possible), thick socks, long pants, a jacket, an anorak, a sweatshirt, a sweater, sunglasses, sun-block cream, gloves and a cap.
Near Magallanes Peninsula and right in front of Perito Moreno Glacier, there is a system of footbridges that facilitate observation from different points. The park rangers are in charge of preserving the beauties of the place and informing visitors about the Park.