Today we were picked up at 11am; a chance to have a sleep in which seemed very civilised and a little surprising for us. We were collected in a small mini van which then took us to a central point where we all disembarked and got onto a larger 52 seater bus. Given that we were going on an ice glacier hike it was interesting to see the attire that people arrived in. There were those who thought we were hiking Mt. Everest (massive walking boots, camel pack hanging over the shoulder, and definitely everything in a khaki colour). Then there were the pretty people who no matter where they were going were still going to have the matching ensemble – shoes, jacket, hair tie and even handbag… hopefully we were somewhere in between.
The bus took us to the part of the Perito Moreno National Park that road transport can access. This is one of the great things about this glacier – you can see it without having to get on a boat. We paid the entrance fee again 130 Pesos but this was done a little more easily in that the rangers came onto the bus, we bought the ticket and they stamped it. Yep nice and simple.
Following the road further we reached a look out point and the Cafe and Gift Shop. It has a certain “Wilsons Prom” feel about it. Even the landscape driving in was full of scrubby under storey and then moments of trees invading the canopy. As the mountains rose up the vegetation became much less until there was snow at the very tops.
The difference between Wilson’s and here is that once you reach the look out point what you see in front of you is the most extraordinary glacier that you will ever see. You can’t help but mutter words like “wow” and “oh my god” over and over again. For some reason, some of the pretty people who speak Spanish (we think these tend to be Brazillians) must have thought that the glacier was going to melt at that very moment because wherever we went, whether it be trying to get off the bus, listening to the guide give instructions, getting on a boat… they just had to push past everyone else and get there first. Not even an “uno momento” (one moment) from the people in charge seemed to make much difference; yep I’m sure the glacier was fading fast!
We had two hours at the top of the lookout which looked out at the entire glacier both the north side we saw yesterday and also the south side we will be scaling today. Two hours sounded like a lot but there were a large amount of boardwalks that could be taken, all with expected with walking times. Claire and I took a trail that led to the closest point 300 metres from the glacier whilst Philip stayed at the top waiting to catch a glimpse (and subsequent photo) of the glacier calving (pieces falling off and crashing into the water).
At 3pm we got back on the bus which took us about 10 minutes back along the road to the boat mooring pontoon. Again our pretty people rushed and got on the boat first. They then headed up on the top deck only to return a few minutes later when the boat began to sail – windswept, cold and not looking so in control. A few adjustments though such as putting on the matching jacket and beanie, or in the case of one man using his wife’s compact mirror to check that each strand of hair was in place and they returned to the prime deck position.
The boat trip from one side of the lake to the other side took about 20 minutes and we sailed past the front of the glacier (not too close in case calving took place). We then disembarked and were taken to a refuge point where we were told that we could leave any unwanted items that were not required on the hike. Again an interesting range of possibility abounded and it was fun to see what other people thought was “essential”. It was also here that we met our guide Carlos as we had been put in the English speaking group… kind of important that you can communicate with your guide when you are standing 60 metres above the ground on unsteady and slippery ice!
After leaving our packs we then walked about 10 minutes through the forest to the side of the glacier where our crampons (or clamp ons as Philip calls them) were attached. These are strapped around your foot and look like giant rabbit traps; metal things with spikes hanging out to hook onto the ice.
From there we were off, now being joined by another guide who later said he was my “guardian angel” and I his “Australian”. We were given a lesson on how to use the crampons and what to do going uphill and down. Then we proceeded to stomp our way over the ice for the next one and a half hours. It was windy atop so Carlos suggested that we needed for stomp like we were killing a cockroach. I didn’t need a whole lot of prompting so stomp I did although at one point I was told not to miss any steps or “I may die” and it was my guardian angels job to keep me alive. Good plan!
The view from atop when not watching the path in front of you was glorious. The white of the ice, the blue crevaces, the lake in the distance and land in the background made for an awesome sight. It is astounding to think that one ice chrystal joined to another and then another can produce something so big, long lasting and amazing. It is also in places like that you feel incredibly small in the world almost like one of the ice chrystals that you can pick up and feel. The sheer magnitude of the size of this thing is mind blowing and all you’re left with is a wonderful sense that you have been able to not only see it but for a small period of time be part of it.
It’s also these kind of activities that remind you to keep pushing yourself even when unsure. I was hesitant about whether I would be able to do if and also a little concerned given that I had fallen over on the ice in Norway. It would have been easy to opt out and miss the experience but yet there wasn’t a physical reason why I couldn’t do it, more a mental concern. Pushing yourself past what you think is possible (without being stupid about it) means that you get to experience so much more. You also have a sense of accomplishment way beyond doing the easy. Things such as glacier hiking remind you to do this not just on holidays!
When we started heading back down to the huts using the crampons we were taken around a curved part of the ice and an area that we hadn’t been able to see in all our time on the glacier. There in front of us was a trolley with glasses, a basket ŵith chocolates and a water jug. There on the ice, 60 metres above the water, on one of the world’s most famous glaciers, a group of 18 tourists and two guides stood and had whiskey or water on ice and chocolate. How incredible and a memory to hold forever.
After making it back down off the glacier, we returned our crampons and caught the 6:30 boat back to the mainland. Here the bus was waiting for us and took us the 45 minutes or so back into town.
We decided to return back to the first restaurant where we had had a great steak, lamb and chicken dinner. Tonight Philip went for the steak again whereas Claire and I chose homemade pasta which was really enjoyable. Claire’s favourite at this place though was the constant assortment of breads that were brought out whilst waiting for the meal to arrive.
Lastly before walking up the hill, Claire had to return to our favourite store in El Calafate, “Open Patagonia”. She was going to stock up a little more on the beanie collection but instead bought a lambs wool pair of slippers that she simply couldn’t pass up… yep something else for the suitcase.
Today we had walked on the wild side and loved the experience.