I want to take you with me to relive one of the most memorable experiences of my life: hiking on top of the mighty Perito Moreno Glacier. Although I had become an avid traveller over the years, this was my first big trip all by myself so I was slightly nervous. 2018 was a rough year. I had to go through a few surgeries, faced a lot of stress at work and to top it all off, my then-husband announced that he was leaving me during our vacation in Indonesia.
So obviously, 2019 was going to have to make up for all of it!
That’s when I decided to embark on a solo adventure through Argentina and Chile.
I booked this particular experience beforehand because the company organising these hikes, Hielo Y Aventura, limits the number of group participants to ten at a time – I signed up for the one called the ‘Big Ice’.
The ‘Big Ice’ is a quite strenuous hike that takes approximately the whole day so you should plan ahead. The day of the hike, I got up before sunrise. I hadn’t slept very well because I was so excited and a bit nervous – my Ulcerative Colitis was under control but my asthma sometimes gets the better of me on hard hikes. Like I mentioned earlier, I also had endured heavy surgery on my legs a year prior to this trip. So of course, I was a somewhat apprehensive.
I stepped outside the hotel I was staying at, the Hosteria La Estepa, right outside of El Calafate, ready to take it on. Pick-up was at six in the morning, the air was crisp and the sky had a lovely reddish colour. There wasn’t a sound to be heard, until the bus arrived. I was the last one of our group to get on, the others having been picked up earlier in the city centre.
Our first stop was one of the major viewpoints everyone wants to see. To reach that viewpoint from the bus parking, there was a short walk down a stairway to an area with several platforms, offering magnificent views of the large, turquoise front of the mighty glacier in all its glory.
There I stood, getting annoyed with the people around me chit-chatting while I was trying to hear the crackling noises of moving ice masses – this parking lot is accessible by everyone, so it wasn’t just our group there. I tried to isolate myself and I did catch at least the sound of a big chunk of ice breaking off and crashing into the water.
Our group then continued the journey to the ‘Puerto bajo las sombras’ (literally meaning ‘port underneath the shades’, to get on the boat bringing us to the South-East base of the glacier.
Located in the Los Glaciares National Park, this particular glacier is actually just one out of three glaciers in the world known to be advancing rather than receding. At the same time, it’s the world’s third-largest fresh water reserve. Knowing these facts made the hike even more unique.
Arriving at the base, we had to hike for about two hours until our break-area. After climbing on roots on a rather raw path along the glacier, that break was actually quite welcome. It was also a spot where several groups of different companies offering hikes on the glacier came together.
There was just enough time to get a little sugar-dose through chocolates distributed by the guides before it was already time to measure our feet.
Yes, you read that right: the measure-tool was in order to adjust the metal, spikey crampons on our shoes. This is the only way to walk on thick ice without slipping at every single step. I threw the crampons over my shoulders and the group walked to a flatter spot on the ice itself to put them on. The guide did a quick introduction about how to actually walk with them – there’s a very specific technique, especially in order to go downhill (you go sideways) – and then we were off.
We hiked past subterranean rivers, crevasses of more than 50 meters deep (you don’t want to fall into one!) and landscapes formed by the ice that looked like as painting because it was all just too surreal.
The immensity of the glacier unfolded before our eyes.
Never have I ever seen such clear beauty before! Knowing that what lied underneath our feet was actually alive and moving put me a bit on edge, I must admit. But then again, these movements are so slow, you won’t actually feel anything on the ice itself.
Only when you hear a deep cracking sound, you know there is something going on not that far away. At least, that’s what it sounds like. Though it could be happening on the other end of the glacier – sounds spread differently and get scattered by the holes and crevasses everywhere.
Little waterfalls provided the freshest and tastiest water I ever had! I actually made sure to empty my bottle before getting on the ice because I knew that I was going to take some glacier-water with me.
We had our self-brought lunch right there on the ice. The guides continuously reminded us to be careful to not leave any trash up here. Which we didn’t, of course.
In total, we spent about 3h30 on the icy surface before starting the journey back down.
We returned to the base of the glacier and patiently waited for the boat to pick us up. While we were waiting, the coolest thing happened. Something I had hoped for but didn’t expect to actually take place.
The whole group was just relaxing contemplating the wall of ice looming above the natural glacier lake. I was just taking my phone out to film this beauty when a crackling noise got everyone’s attention. The ‘crack’ intensified and a massive chunk of ice broke off the wall to crash into the water with the most impressive sound, sending a big wave rolling over to the opposite shore. A wave big enough to heavily rock a boat if it happened to pass right there. That’s why they always keep at a safe distance from the glacier walls. Falling pieces of ice and waves strong enough to topple over the vessel are a very real hazard.
At the same time, witnessing this event makes you think about what this means for glaciers that are actually shrinking. My fellow hikers kind of were apparently all hoping to witness this phenomenon because the reactions were pretty enthusiastic.
Satisfied with what we had experienced, we all stepped onto the boat to bring us back. The reward was a golden keychain confirming our ‘mastering of the big ice’, pieces of chocolate and a smoky golden whiskey ‘on the rocks’. The rocks here were little lumps from the glacier itself.
Given that this hike was challenging for someone with fragile health like me, I couldn’t be prouder of what I achieved. Writing about it right now brings back what I was feeling at that moment: a mix of excitement, strength and marvel.
The ‘Big Ice’ hike in a nutshell:
Cost: 125 € / 150 US $ at the time of writing. This doesn’t include the entry fee for the National Park, nor the lunch that you have to bring yourself.
Duration: 7 hours in total with 3h30 on the icy surface
Difficulty: It’s advertised as a hard hike but even with my various health issues, I managed to do the hike without too much of a struggle. It is breath-taking nevertheless, both figuratively and literally.
Hielo y Aventure doesn’t operate the whole year, especially for this hike, as Patagonian winter lasts from May to September, rendering the hike inaccessible.
Follow Cynthia’s adventures here: www.themarveloustravelers.com