Middle Earth? Nope, Just the Perito Moreno Glacier!

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

**This post is Part II in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. View Part I or skip to Part III.
As the ferry blasted across the lake’s smooth surface, deftly dodging floating icebergs with the appearance of giant sized ice cubes floating in an oddly colored martini, I had to chuckle. Our dock, if it can be called that, was little more than a rock outcropping with a series of old tired tires chained along its face. I watched our approach, pondered briefly the probability that I’d end up getting shipwrecked again, then shrugged and went back to staring at the glacier.

Landing On Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Our docking procedure was as flawless as one might expect. Closely watched by our guides we transferred onto dry land, formed up for a brief orientation and then split into smaller groups. We bid goodbye to those going on the minitrekking trip, and our smaller and more dedicated band set off towards the glacier.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The glacier was massive. It is a glacier after all. That said, it wasn’t until we paused and watched small groups of people make their way out onto the ice that it really struck me just how massive and awe inspiring the glacier was. From afar the groups of people looked more like small specks of dirt than people.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Our trail led us down and across the coast towards the glacier. The path wound over rock outcroppings  and along stone beaches backed by a few skeletal trees with rich forest and vegetation further inland. In the distance incredible snow capped mountain walls faded away into the clouds.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

It’s hard to say why, but the clean white and rich blues of glaciers always surprise me. Given the pollution caked onto and often staining the white marble of major Cathedrals and statuary the fact that the glaciers manage to remain such a pure white excites me.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

While not always ideal for photography, I love seeing certain types of locations on misty days. A periodic light rain, and the lack of wind is ideal for wetting down rocks and vegetation while leaving things with a richer look and feel. My voyage along and eventually out onto Perito Moreno was one such occasion, though for obvious reasons the rain didn’t do much to bring out the color once actually ON the glacier!

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

After reaching the base of the glacier we passed a larger base camp where the minitrekking people were suiting up and preparing to head out onto the ice. We paused briefly, then turned and began up along a small path, just wide enough for one person. It traced its way up along the glacier’s edge and alternated between being sandwiched and carved into the cliff face.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound along the path I was taken off guard by the number of waterfalls which were visible. In retrospect it makes sense, with snow melt up on the mountain’s peaks, the water would have to melt and run down. Still, with snow and ice surrounding us I was taken off guard by the large falls each crowed by lush vegetation and blooming flowers which cut across our path.  Though not tramping through snow, I could not help but fancy myself climbing into a dangerous mountain pass as part of an intrepid company of stalwart explorers of Tolkienesque fame.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

A mile in our trail climbed up and into the moss covered vegetation, but not before a steep and muddy switchback. At the top we found a small base camp built to survive hearty weather. Our guides quickly explained that we’d be donning our safety harnesses and would be issued our crampons before heading back down and out onto the ice.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

What is a Crampon? It’s a re-sizable metal shoe, not unlike strap on roller skates. You sandwich your shoe onto the top of the crampon, then carefully strap and clamp it down. The crampon itself is little more than a flat shoe base with large spikes protruding down and out from it.  Made for icy conditions, they allow you to dig into the ice and turn otherwise difficult walking conditions into leisurely strolls.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Crampons attached, we struck out and began our trip across the ice. As we prepared to travel up and out onto the glacier we split into smaller groups of 8-10. Though wearing harnesses we did not need to tie ourselves together or ever really approach anything nearly dangerous enough to feel as though it was necessary.

The path our guide took us down wound up along the edge of the glacier for a while and then down through large fields of dirty ice that looked like massive ant colonies.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Our guides explained that what we were seeing was the stone which had been carved off of the mountainside, then gathered together as the top levels of the glacier melted. As other parts of the glacial ice melted away, the areas underneath the accumulated stones and dirt remained protected and cool creating small rock covered ice hills. All in all a pretty fascinating process which left deep blue, rock hard ice underneath the stones.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

After getting accustomed to the ice, our crampons, and the rules of the road we struck out along a smoother area on the glacier. With gentle rolling ice hills it still offered access to a plethora of small crevasses and min ice-falls, but lacked the jagged, shark tooth like feel I had expected after seeing the glacier from afar.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Along the path we wound past, over, and along a series of small surface streams which cut their way from tiny pool to tiny pool before eventually diving into a crack and cutting their way down into the glacier’s inner bowels.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we neared the halfway mark I paused briefly and turned around. As i did so, I stumbled slightly and let out a sharp intake of breath. The view back the way we had come was incredible. It was one of those moments that feel straight out of the movies. Fairytale crafted into reality so powerful, so magnificent it takes you several moments to accept it as real. Was this middle earth? Perhaps not, but it sure was indistinguishable from it. A long expanse of ice, stretching out before me towards charcoal grey mountains, thousands of feet tall stretching in either direction like a massive wall. A wall cut and carved by giant waterfalls tracing their way down from the snow capped peaks and periodically crowned by small mountainside forests of a rich green so dark that it almost blended with the gray-black of the mountainside. Words fail to describe the majesty of the experience.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The falls, cliffs and general feel of the experience reminded me heavily of the Norwegian Fjords. Though in this rare case the falls were larger and the backdrop more impressive than what I’d enjoyed in Norway. Truly, this was the Andes and southern hemisphere in finest form. The fact that I was at a similar latitude to New Zealand’s south island and exploring a similar backdrop was not lost on me. I will say that for those who have a deep desire to explore New Zealand’s natural beauty, adding Patagonia and southern Chile to your list is an unanticipated must.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The ice itself fascinates me. Clean enough to drink straight off the glacier (and believe me it was delicious), it is crystal clear but with a deep blue tint to it. In some places small pools have formed on the surface creating spaces that give the illusion of walking on water. The trick quickly became judging just how shallow (or deep) that water was and where solid ice began.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

I mentioned earlier the role rocks play in protecting certain areas and raising small ice mounds. In other areas the opposite would occur. Note the above photo where a large rock is gradually sinking down into the ice. You can see that the pool forming around it is roughly shaped in the same size as the rock itself.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we neared the center of the glacier, the ice fields were something to behold. Despite the light rain the reflection off the ice and clouds was extremely bright creating an odd type of light that was half middle of the day and half twilight.

**This post is Part II in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rewind to: Part I or fast forward to Part III.

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Hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier – The Approach

**This post is Part I in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Fast forward to: Part II or Part III.
The adventure began sometime between 7AM and 8AM when a small 16 person van pulled up in front of my hostel.  I’d been briefed quickly the day before by one of the hostel staff while investigating various ways of exploring the nearby glaciers. They’d shared the three primary options available from El Calafate: A basic bus trip out to the “balconies” AKA a long boardwalk that stretches along the lake shore opposite the face of the glacier. A more advanced middle of the road option called minitrekking which tours the balconies, then ferries across to the glacier for an an hour and a half hike. Lastly there was the third and final option, the “Big Ice” tour.

The Countryside - El Calafate, Argentina

At over 7 hours long it included the balconies, ferry ride over, and then another 4 hours spent hiking along and out to the middle of the glacier.  As I read over the pricing and descriptions I groaned slightly.  The minitrekking tour was about $150 USD, the Big Ice tour right at $200.  Both of which are expensive for day tours. Still, as I thought about it, the glacier was one of my main reasons for heading south. Then I saw it – the Big Ice tour, in addition to spending 4 hours on the glacier and covering 6km, had a suggested age range of 18-45 vs minitrekking’s 10-65 age range. Game on. An extra 2.5 hours on the ice and a more rigorous adventure for an extra $50? You bet! Was it worth it? Oh, you better believe it!

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Unsure just what I was getting myself into I packed warmly with all of my backup layers stashed away in my day pack along with a picnic lunch (despite the price it was BYOL). Our shuttle took us out of town to a large 50 person bus and then sorted us out into different groups. From there it was an 80km drive through the Patagonian country side and along Lago Argentin0 to the Los Glaciares National Park.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

A unique glacial blue the lake is truly gorgeous to behold, especially dotted as it is by small icebergs and set against the backdrop of the Andes on one side and sweeping open flat lands on the other. In many ways it looks like a jagged castle forged by the gods for Titans with the mountains serving as the castle wall and the lake a long, serpentine moat.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Once at the park we headed straight away for the boardwalk where we disembarked as a group and set out towards our first glimpse of the glacier. The walk wrapped around the water’s edge and was a stout wood and steel raised walkway.  I paused often during the 30-40 minutes the walk took, and snapped photos greedily.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

It was my first glacier. At least up close. I had seen them in the past from above and from afar but never from within a stones throw, despite my trips to Norway, Scotland and above the Arctic Circle in Alaska.  In researching the Perito Moreno Glacier while stateside, I had only come across info from people who had done the boardwalk which had led me to believe that was as close as I was going to be able to get. The knowledge that the boardwalk was to serve as little more than a table of contents for the day’s adventure left me with a giant foolish grin on my face.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As I walked the giant circuit, I led the way with the guide. Immersed in conversation she shared exciting pieces of information about the glacier, the region and her job.   Eventually, however, I slowly drifted towards the back of the pack as I paused to take photos, video, and watch the clouds gently roll over the snow capped peaks surrounding the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The sky had traded the morning’s cloudless existence for good visibility and medium cloud cover along the mountains.  It suggested rain and mist further up the valley, but left us with a great view of the glacier’s jagged face along with a beautiful view back towards the area I assumed we would be hiking.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we strolled casually along the path and stretched our legs we would pause often.  Heads would whip around, ears perk up, eyes frantically searching and photographers drawing cameras to eye at the booming crack of ice giving way as the glacier shed a layer off its forward face. I got lucky with the above shot which features falling ice in front of the small cave.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we reached the end of the boardwalk and prepared to head back to the bus I paused and took in one final view of the glacier as it stretched away to the right and out into the lake. The scale and size is incredible. The rich blues and majesty captivating. I felt torn, eager to race towards the ice and to scale it, but at the same time caught in the moment and left wistful that I didn’t have longer to relax and watch the lake’s still waters gently tease away pieces of the glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The bus whisked us down and around the point to a small bay on the lake. There we disembarked and boarded a mid-sized ferry with a warm interior and exposed upper deck. Eager for an unobstructed view I headed to the roof with several other group members who I had befriended: An Israeli backpacker my age and an American couple from the east coast. There we watched as the boat wound past small icebergs and cut in front of the far side of the glacier towards an area which had been invisible from the observation platforms.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The view from the water helped drive home the sheer size of the glacier, but it wasn’t until we started to see people hiking up on it, and decorating it like small specs of dirt that the true size and scale struck home.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

**This post is Part I in my three part series on the Perito Moreno Glacier. Fast forward to: Part II or Part III.

A Burgeoning Love for Bergen and Norway’s West Coast

Overlooking the City - Bergen, Norway

The ancient seaside city of Bergen is one of Norway’s best known destinations.  Situated in the heart of Norway’s spectacular fjord country the city offers a rich history, pristine location, spectacular seafood, and perfect starting point for those interested in a breathtaking voyage down one of the region’s nearby fjords.  The city which dates back to approximately 1050 AD is Norway’s 2nd largest city with about 260,000 citizens and a total regional population of around 380,000. The city is readily reachable by air from most or Northern Europe, train through a rail line that connects it to Oslo, and bus/ferry which connects it to Trondheim in the north and Stavanger in the South.

Summer in Norway - Flowers in Bloom - Bergen, Norway

My experience with the city started as nearly all introductions do.  Curiosity, enthusiasm, and a bit of anxiousness over the unknown.  As I disembarked from the Tide.no ferry from Stavanger into a gentle mist of light rain I immediately noted a general approximation of my location in the small map in my Lonely Planet guide book before setting off through the city’s densely crowded harbor area.

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

I’d booked several nights in the Dorm.no hostel after an extensive search for budget accommodation in the area.  Unfortunately, despite its popularity as a destination Norway has a fairly poor hostel network which is heavily dominated by Hosteling International (HI) hostels. Regular readers of the site may recall that while I’ve had positive experiences with HI Hostels in the US, I have a very low opinion of them in Europe and tend to view them as out of date, dirty, and poorly serviced.  As a result I’d opted for the privately run Dorm.no despite a limited number of reviews on the Hostelworld.com profile and extremely mixed reviews. Luckily, what I found was completely different than what the reviews had portrayed.  The hostel was clean, fantastically located, comparatively affordable and modern with ample bathrooms/showers, clean rooms, a kitchen and decent common area.  My only real complaint was that they enforced a lockout which is a huge pet peeve.

Pink Boat in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Relieved that my accommodation not only met but beat my expectations I set out to explore.  The city of Bergen is every bit as active as it is picturesque – at least during the summer months.  Nestled between two large hills the city has a number of large open squares, a park with a large fountain and statuary and a beautiful old harbor lined by old warehouses and a fish market.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

My obsession with the ocean goes back to well before I could walk.  A cornerstone of my childhood was the month+ every year my family and I spent on the Sea of Cortez outside of Puerto Penasco in Mexico.  As a result I’ve always harbored a love for the ocean and seafood.  As one might imagine outdoor fish markets are one of my favorite destinations.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

Overflowing with fresh fish, live crabs, lobster and shrimp all accompanied by a wealth of pre-cooked and smoked seafood the Bergen fish market is a mecca for tourists and locals alike. While the prices may be somewhat higher than seafood prices in the super markets, the experience is quite an adventure.  The seafood is fresh and a great mixture between northern fish, deep water species like Monkfish and of course all of the usuals from arctic shrimp to dungeness crab.

Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

A lazy stroll through the tightly packed tents is an absolute delight.  The area is all open air which cuts down on the smell, and the combination of fresh seafood and ready-to-eat dishes encourages the vendors to maintain clean cooking conditions.

Knife Balancing in the Fish Market - Bergen, Norway

As if the wide assortment of browns, oranges and reds wasn’t sufficient to keep the curious passerby entertained the workers are also eager to put on a bit of a show. While most were not overly dangerous, I stumbled on one individual who had a pension for balancing a razor sharp fillet knife on the bridge of his nose.  Not half bad right?

The Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Located a quick hop and a skip from the fish market is the old warehouse row. A must for anyone visiting the region, the old shops have been restored and painted beautiful to create a picturesque waterfront.  Add to that, they’re one of Norway’s most famous UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

The buildings which have served a wide variety of uses over the years predominantly date back to the 1700s when most of the water front was re-built after a large portion of the city burned to the ground.  Given the close construction, wooden materials, and forms of heating available throughout the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th and 19th centuries it’s no surprise that Bergen has a long history of catastrophic fires.  In many ways I found it absolutely amazing that the city still exists after reading excerpts from its history.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

Though snugly interconnected in front most of the warehouses have small alleyways that cut between them.  These alleys are lined by leaning ancient wooden walls that show the cuts, scars, and old nails from hundreds of years of constant use and near constant re-purposing.  Many also show the signs of ancient wooden doorways or windows that have since been boarded over.  The roof-line is also a cluster of enclosed windows, doorways, and loft entry points which hang over the street and would have helped workers lift large bundles up and into the buildings.  Many are also connected by 2nd and 3rd story walkways as well which give the whole thing a disorganized, charming appearance, even if it is slightly claustrophobic.

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

As I explored the buildings immediately behind the warehouses I paused briefly to snap the above image.  It’s hands down one of my favorite shots from the trip.  The young lad pictured was exploring the area and decided to march off determinedly, leaving his parents behind as he explored the area.  I couldn’t have asked for a better contrast between young and old.

That’s it for now.  Stay tuned for more from my time in Bergen including live music, squares, cathedrals, and even a trip into the bowls of an ancient coastal fortress.

This Beautiful World: 30 of My Favorite Travel Photos

The following are 30 of my favorite travel photos.  Shots were taken on PowerShot G series cameras (G6, or G11).  All are my original photos.  Please do not re-produce them without my consent. You can view more of my photography on flickr.

Sunrise in Playa del Carmen

1. Playa del Carmen, Mexico – Canon G11

Highlands_Scotland_Lake

2. Scottish Highlands, Scotland – Canon G6

BackpackingEurope-3388

3. Southern Crete, Greece – Canon G6

Glencoe_Valley_Highlands_Scotland_South

4. Glencoe Valley, Scotland – Canon G6

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

5. Tobacco Caye, Belize – Canon G11

The Bridge in Smoo Cave

6. Smoo Cave, Scotland – Canon G6

Dos Ojos, Mexico Cave Snorkeling

7. Dos Ojos, Mexico – Canon G11

Rob_Roy_Highland_Overlook

8. Rob Roy’s Grave, Scotland – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

9. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Edinburgh_Castle_Scotland_Telephone

10. Edinburgh, Scotland – Canon G6

Breakfast Parrot

11. Flores, Guatemala – Canon G11

Coastal Village

12. North Western Coast, Scotland – Canon G6

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13. San Marino, San Marino – Canon G6

Highland Road

14. Road to Orkney, Scotland – Canon G6

Tobacco Caye, Belize

15. Tobacco Caye, Belize – Canon G11

Scottish Highlands

16. Small Village, Scotland – Canon G6

Barrier Reef - Sailing Tour - Belize

17. Belize Barrier Reef, Belize – Canon G11

Germany: Bavaria - Neuschwanstein Castle

18. Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

19. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Fijord Fronds

20. Northern Coast, Scotland – Canon G6

Germany: Bavaria - Oktoberfest

21. Oktoberfest, Germany – Canon G6

York, England

22. Cathedral, York, Scotland – Canon G6

Plitvice Lakes - Croatia

23. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia – Canon G6

Prague, Czech Republic

24. Prague, Czech Republic – Canon G6

Scottish Highlands

25. Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – Canon G6

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26. Cathedral, Italy – Canon G6

Dubrovnik - Croatia

27. Dubrovnik, Croatia – Canon G6

Florence - Italy

28. Florence, Italy – Canon G6

BackpackingEurope-3335

29. Nafplio, Greece – Canon G6

Cinque Terra - Italy

30. Cinque Terre, Italy – Canon G6