Patagonia is known for its rugged and jagged peaks. Iconic peaks like Fitz Roy and wondrous geological formations like those of National Parque Torres del Paine. With that comes hiking among these, getting lost in the best way possible and capturing these mountains for yourself. El Calafate on the Argentinian side of this dramatic mountain range, is known for a part of this. Even more so though, when people think of El Calafate, their mind goes directly to Glacier Perito Moreno. Sure there is viewing platforms everyone visits and they are nothing short of amazing, but take it one step further. The Perito Moreno Glacier Hike is really what you should be thinking about.
El Calafate is a small city that reminded me largely of a resort town. One main ‘downtown’ strip that floods during peak season with a few branches off of this. Ultimately, it kind of is just that. It is surrounded with serene grassland landscape. Perfect for hiking in summer months. Crystalline blue lakes beckoning for a kayak, all with a backdrop that one could fall in love waking up to. Also, on a side note, this town has a berry named after it. It’s got to be good!
While this is all unmistakably breathtaking, it all takes a backseat once you experience the calving of one of the worlds only growing glaciers. The sheer size is tremendous as it creeps forward through the valley with slow, but unstoppable force. The ice blue colour captivating, rippled across the surface disappearing into crevasses. Stunned in silence, the thunderous booms like canon fire from a naval battle echoes as it calves and your eyes scramble to find the source. I mean, why wouldn’t you want to take this to some next level action?
How to Get There
Only a short 3 hour bus ride across the border from Puerto Natales in Chile. This largely depends on how smooth the immigration building is running. My experience was quick and painless in the morning, but this can vary.
In the opposite direction it is approximately 3 hours from El Chalten as well.
There is an airport on the outskirts of town and flights are quite reasonable when I booked. I flew north to Buenos Aires in a short few hours, while on a bus this would take nearly 2 days and still be fairly expensive..
Where to Stay
I can obviously only speak for the hostel that I stayed in. America del Sur was what I would consider a boutique hostel. It had a resort-y vibe to it like I would picture a ski chalet. I say picture, because I’ve never stayed in a ski chalet. Clean, spacious rooms with lockers and bathrooms is really all I ever hope for. The staff were friendly and helpful willing to assist in booking tours and tickets. Upon check in, a senior staff member sat down with me and a map thoroughly explaining the area and its offerings without any prompting. I can only imagine how tedious this must get constantly, but it was done passionately, attentively and with a smile. A large restaurant area along with a well equipped kitchen, you need not fear hunger. If for any reason you do, get the BBQ that is offered nightly. It was a crazy amount of great food, that I seriously struggled through (and I can eat a lot). Did I mention the beautiful view from the back patio! All in all, I highly recommend America del Sur.
Address: America del Sur Hostel Calafate, Puerto Deseado 153, Z9405 El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Argentina
There are cheaper hostels in the area and if a hostel isn’t your cup of tea, there are ample hotels as well. Be sure to book ahead to some degree as it is not the largest town and can fill up during the high season.
Perito Moreno Glacier Hike – Big Ice with Helio y Aventura
Imagine the coolest thing you’ve done. Well, it might be as cool as this, but the Perito Moreno Glacier Hike is cool on a literal and figurative level. Ha ha, I know, hilarious.
Picked up early in the morning gathering the crew for the day, the start of the tour is simply getting to the glacier itself. Beating the crowds of the hundreds that flock here each day on the buses, the viewpoint platforms are quiet. Without the chattering and noise pollution of the masses, it makes the enormity that much more real and the creaking and groaning sounds that much more audible. I mean, it’s impossible to miss the thunderous calving anytime.
An hour was spent here perusing over the face of the glacier, gazing over the majesty of it all. My eyes darted back and forth trying to catch a multiple ton chunk of ice crash to the icy waters below. Unfortunately, there isn’t enough time to walk around all of the boardwalks and trails. Returning by bus or car on another day is required if you choose to do so. Myself, I was more than excited to get the Perito Moreno Glacier Hike started. This was the real hike I came for.
It was a short boat ride across the lake over to the briefing point followed by a 30 minutes hike along the side of the glacier. My anticipation was rising with every step. Luckily, El Calafate berries littered the trail side along the way keeping me occupied. Finally, we reached the point of entry onto this prehistoric piece of ice.
Onto the Ice
Geared up, I had never before worn crampons and these ones did look a touch archaic. The extra pounds reminded me of putting training weights around my ankles when I was younger and trained for soccer. Heavy metal spikes that could do some serious damage with some kung fu action. Jokes aside, I was amazed how well they gripped the ice, even if it did require walking slightly awkward at first.
Taking our first steps on the glacier was like stepping into a time machine and emerging in an ice age. The ice was vast and seemingly endless travelling back into the mountains beyond what the eye could see. There was an odd, unexpected warm breeze blowing across the top of the ice, like a tropical breeze off the ocean. Closing your eyes, you could mistake where you were.
Moving at a surprising speed of approximately 2 meters a day, this would never really be noticeable to the naked eye. Erratic rocks would ride the slow wave of flowing ice for kilometers, years before being deposited at the edge of the glacier. The guides said they could only tell themselves by markers they would set no longer matching with recognizable points.
Over the course of our large 3.5 hour loop, the ice would transform in minutes from rough and stern to stunning and curvaceous. Melt water carved channels, fast flowing. Some creating caverns with waterfalls, while others dropped into an abyss making its own path of least resistance.
Across the surface was a feeling of longing to explore this vast, insurmountable beauty. It was an alluring beauty that was severely laced with danger and an angry bite if one did not tread lightly. Staring out for that final moment, I descended reaching the edge and somewhat happily removed the metal teeth from my boots.
Time to Switch to Whiskey
On the return walk, I found myself constantly glancing to the side. Desire to be back on the ice, the El Calafate berries no longer kept my attention. The boat ride back to the bus was an extended one. We approached the glacier within a safe distance just in case of an unexpected calving. This gave a true perspective of just how high the walls really were. Even though you know it is absolutely massive, it can be hard to sometimes truly realize it from the viewing balconies.
A surprise treat was being poured as everyone watched the ridges of the glacier pass by. What do people do after a great day? A celebration worthy experience? A sad time getting through a tough moment? Hell, or just because. A drink obviously. Well, this day was all of those things. A phenomenal day. Celebrating many people’s first glacier walk, while it was slightly sad it was coming to an end.
The staff passed around whiskey, but no ordinary whiskey. Special with a chipped chunk of Perito Moreno itself. A grand cheers while I sipped away reflecting on this wondrous day.
Address: Av. del Libertador 935, Z9405 El Calafate, Santa Cruz, Argentina