The Fitz Roy Hike – Exploring Southern Patagonia

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Mount Fitz Roy wouldn’t qualify as a small mountain under any circumstances, but by that same token, it’s not one of the world’s greats…size wise that is.  At a hair over 11,000 feet the mountain has earned a ferocious reputation for it’s sheer cliff faces and near-impossible climbs.  With sleepy glaciers resting at its feet, not unlike hunting dogs warming before a hearth, Fitz Roy stands tall and imposing over the surrounding countryside.  In truth, as I reflect on the mountain and region at large, I can’t help but imagine authors from several hundred years previous taken by flights of fancy,  creative minds compelled to write about Fitz Roy and its siblings the Cerro Torres as the jagged, sharp teeth of some sort of sleeping titan.  A creature at rest with giant maw or spiked carapace protruding violently from the icy snows that decorate the range’s slopes.

Valley Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

The howling winds that had terrorized us the evening before had died down slightly leaving the three of us to dress, shower, and prepare for our hike.  A light rain threatened but had temporary submitted to the buffeting winds and splotches of sunlight which burst through the clouds in ragged spurts.   Eager to begin the adventure we grabbed our maps, identified where the trail left El Chalten, and began our walk.  We paused briefly at a small market to pick up a tin of spam, several loaves of bread, other small snacks, and three victory beers.  The plan was to hike along the 12 km (24km round trip) path which cut through the foothills and led to a base camp at the foot of Mt. Fitz Roy. The weather was mixed and threatened to deteriorate further, we weren’t in the worlds most amazing shape, and it was already 11 o’clock. I suppose in retrospect, the decision to pack beers with us was a solid indication of the relaxed general approach we were taking to the outing.

Start of Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

We wound our way across the town and past a small corral which serves as home to a small group of gorgeous horses. Fit, stout, hearty and a little wild, they fit the region perfectly.  Unfortunately, the closest we’d come during our hike to a pack horse was whomever ended up lugging our sole backpack. True to form the pack was loaded down with our beverages, food, and camera gear.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Once on the trail proper we wasted no time cutting towards the heavens in a steep zig-zag pattern. Legs burning we trudged along enjoying the scenery and refreshing sharpness of the cool, clean mountain air. Before long we found a small overlook and paused to take in the river as it spread out and slithered its way out of El Chalten.  The water was a wonderful blue-gray and the clouds teased at a break in the weather.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

It wasn’t long before we reached the next break in the trail.  A large, open gravel space in the saddle between a small hill and the main one.  The small gap offered a great view down the valley and left us grinning at the pure natural beauty of the vista. It also left us grunting in surprise as the wind blasted our faces, tore at our clothing and ripped off one of the guys aviators, blowing them along the ground back the way we’d come. With an anxious lump in our throat we also noted the visible haze of wind-blown rain drifting further down the valley. As it turned out, it was only a matter of minutes before it found us.  As we continued on from the gap the trail cut across a meadow and clung to the steep sides of the mountain. It was then that a light rain began to tease at our jackets and dampen our hair. Undeterred we continued on, smiling and waving at hikers who had struck out early in the morning and were now finishing their hike having given in to the weather.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

As we crested our first major foothill we entered moss-covered forest.  The slightly muddy underbrush consisted mostly of mixed grasses, blooming wildflowers, shrub, and moss-covered earth. The trees were a mixture of squat, ragged, scraggly things and slightly taller healthy trunks which supported a splotchy canopy.   Luckily the trees offered some protection from the light rain and blocked most of the wind, allowing us a brief respite and the opportunity to pause and enjoy some of the wildlife.  At one point we stumbled upon a gorgeous woodpecker with a raven-black body and scarlet red tuft of color around his beak. He clung leisurely to the side of one of the trees pausing periodically to evaluate us disapprovingly before returning to his war on small bugs and and ragged tree bark.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Shortly thereafter we came across an amazing sight. As you’ll note in the photo above, one of the trees had literally been twisted to the point of shredding. Set to the back drop of Mt. Fitz Roy, I couldn’t help but imagine the hands of some massive giant reaching down and twisting the tree in its fingers as one might a water-logged pair of socks or piece of straw. It was yet another reminder of the ferocious and temperamental nature of the weather that periodically sweeps across Southern Argentina.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

As we continued along our path we paused from time to time to evaluate the weather and our condition. Though damp, windblown and cold we decided we had plenty of daylight, warmth and spirit and that the weather didn’t threaten further deterioration. So, with the invigorated spring of exploration in our steps we struck down and across the valleys which separated us from Fitz Roy’s base. The mossy terrain gave way to tundra-esque peat and incredible views of the mountains and winding glaciers they feed.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

As we continued to close on the mountain we would periodically pass hikers who had obviously made the trip to El Chalten and the region specifically to hike. As more city-oriented travelers on mixed backpacking and hostel-oriented trips, we lacked the dedicated equipment (waterproof pants, hiking poles, etc.) that stuck out as an unspoken uniform among the other hikers. As they trudged past us – often heading back to town – some smiled, others shot us inquisitive glances and mumbles.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Growing tired and hungry but feeling tantalizingly close to our goal we continued to strike towards one of the nearby glaciers. Unfortunately, as we drew close and crossed through the main campground that feeds Fitz Roy, we came to the conclusion that it was time to eat, and perhaps call it a day.  The weather was continuing to nag at us and the water and reduced traffic levels had made the path nearly invisible. We decided it was time to ford one last river, pause, eat our late lunch and then begin the arduous trek back towards town and a warm shower.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

We paused for our cold lunch – a combination of candy bars and cold spam smeared across soft baguettes – before beginning our march back. As we chewed away gratefully we chatted and generally agreed that we’d accomplished what we set out to do, and more. After warming up a bit sheltered by a small grove we re-filled our water bottles from the river before turning back towards El Chalten.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

The area near the base of Fitz Roy is gorgeous. I can only imagine that there are a wealth of stunning glacial lakes and snow-covered valleys to be explored under better conditions. Despite the clouds, rain and wind we still enjoyed the small stream’s blue-tinted crystal clear waters and what we could reach/see. The view of rain-slicked, black mountains and of large glaciers slipping and sliding their way gently towards the valley below still rests pleasantly in my memory.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

The return trip was made largely in silence. Tired, cold, happy but exhausted, we retreated to our ipods and enjoyed the 12km return hike. Each relishing the feel and added mystical aura our custom soundtracks offered. It’s amazing the different emotions, connections and feel music can have when you’re traveling. For my part, the silken crooning of Il Divo and Enya served as a stunning backdrop for the remainder of my hike … all mixed in with some symphonic metal and classic punk rock to keep my heartbeat cranking.

Mount Fitz Roy Hike - Patagonia, Argentina

Back at the gap, as we neared town once again, we paused and cracked open our celebratory beers. True, we probably should have drunk them earlier but there were few things more entertaining than the bemused, startled, and periodically baffled looks of fellow hikers just starting down the trail as we approached the trailhead with frothy beers in hand and welcoming grins on our faces.

By the time we reached our hotel room we collapsed into our beds utterly exhausted. We had bested the mountain, but just barely. Legs feeling swollen and ready to burst we relished a day well spent. It was Christmas Eve. Time to find some food, drink, and celebrations.

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The Majesty of Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre

The bus was clean, modern and comfortable. The view started out fairly unimpressive. That wouldn’t last. As we cut straight across the barren desert we slid past the airport and then traced our way along the subtle ridge line that shadowed the fascinating blue-gray, almost silver, glacial waters that separated us from the Andes. The three or so hour bus ride wound up past Lago Argentino in a large lazy partial U before sliding along the shores of Lago Viedma. Eventually as foothills rose to our right and the lake blocked us in to the left we crested a final rise and were greeted with our first real view of Mt. Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and their siblings.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Contrary to what I’m familiar with, the flat lowlands didn’t give way to low foothills.  They just suddenly vanished. The flat land was swallowed by massive stone Cathedrals with majestic snow covered buttresses. Even as the bus rolled along through the flat lands I realized why the few people I had talked to who had made it to El Chalten spoke so highly of it.

The Andes Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

As our path began to gently curve away from Lago Viedma I glanced one last time and caught sight of a small stream feeding the glacier, before turning back to the front of the Bus and watching in awe as we approached Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the tiny climbing town of El Chalten.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time I’ve come to realize just how lucky I was. The weather was perfect: Mixed puffy clouds, rich blue skies, gentle wind. All things I’d take for granted back home in Arizona, but in a place like El Chalten? Rare luxuries.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

You’ve probably seen photos of Mt. Fitz Roy before. One of the most difficult mountains in the world to climb, it is the mountain that appears in Patagonia clothing’s logo and is a favorite photography destination among big name photographers. Though I wasn’t aware the specifics of where the photos were taken I always assumed that they had been edited due to the vibrant colors and reflective sheen the mountains give off. To my surprise that’s not the case at all.  It’s actually the nature of the mountains and rocks. Those photos which seem too good to be real?  They’re the real McCoy and the photos reflect their true appearance.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

As we crossed the river and entered El Chalten the bus pulled into the National Park station where we were told we would need to temporarily disembark for orientation. Once inside we split into an English group and a Spanish one, were handed a brochure on the park, and a map that outlined major hiking trails, distances and times.  They made a point of warning us that the region was prone to turbulent weather, high winds and storms while encouraging us to be careful.

Bus to El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Properly briefed we piled back on the bus and made the 5 minute drive around the corner and into the city’s bus station.  The town has wide, empty, streets and squat buildings built for harsh winters and strong winds. The entire town has a newness to it that makes it clear that it’s only there because of hikers and tourists.  It has that fledgling feel that suggests it’s still attempting to decide if it is willing to become a year round destination and brave the winters or content to be a tiny town that grows exponentially during the summer.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

My hostel ended up being on the far side of town which constituted little more than a 4 minute walk. Once there I paused outside and collected my materials. I wasn’t sure how it would go. The reservation had actually been made by an American and Norwegian who I had met in El Calafate at my previous hostel. The town was all booked up right before Christmas and as a result they’d had to buy one of the few remaining private rooms. That meant they had 3 beds for 2 people and were eager to add a third to help with the cost. We had chatted briefly, then I’d jumped on board. Unfortunately, they were scheduled to arrive later in the evening leaving me to check in on their reservation (if i could) early in the afternoon.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Unfortunately, the girl on the front desk didn’t speak any English and my Spanish is somewhat…spotty. It didn’t help that I wasn’t positive on either of the guy’s last names. Luckily, I was able to pull out my laptop and call up Google Translate to explain the peculiar situation and why my name didn’t match the reservation. That is, we were able to use it intermittently as the wifi signal was beamed up to El Chalten from El Calafate and tended to vanish every few minutes when the wind blew.  Despite a few small obstacles it only took a few minutes before I had the key to the room and a basic map of the town. The hostel was less hostel and more B&B but would work out nicely.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Eager to get while the getting was good, and itching to explore/enjoy the beautiful weather I paused at a small restaurant for a quick Argentinian steak (Bife de Chorizo) with Garlic fries then set off down one of the shorter paths. Aware that I only had 2.5 hours I set a brisk pace and tried to remain mindful of my timing.

Flowers and Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Before long I had wound up over and between the first few hills.  With music cranking away through my ipod I wound through forests of rugged, gnarled trees that stood as a testament to the harsh, windswept winters which mark the region. Initially I was slightly concerned that most of my view was blocked by the small hills between Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and I. Those concerns melted away as I was distracted by butterflies, blooming flowers and the alien beauty of a small river fed by glacial melt which wound down through the small gorge to my left.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Gradually stripping off clothing in the heat I continued to thread my way through forests, small hills and valleys before eventually finding the perfect lookout point. I was immediately both thrilled and baffled by what I saw. A truly unique cloud formation unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Blown by the wind but blocked by the mountain the clouds had formed a near identical, cone shaped, wind swept cloud thousands of feet tall which shadowed one of the main mountains perfectly.  As other clouds blew by, formed, and were consumed the cloud retained its shape and position. I’ve seen similar cloud formations in the past, but always as flying saucer like clouds hovering over mountains, never behind them.

Glacier Near Fitz Roy - Patagonia, Argentina

As I paused and relaxed, I took note of how perfect visibility was. Crisp, sharp, and clean the air was fresh and invigorating offering a beautiful view of the snow covered mountains, river, and glacier. All the while clouds slowly slithered their way along the mountains before being torn asunder by high altitude winds.

Mount Fitz Roy Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

While there are a number of different mountains in the area, the two key ones are Mt. Fitz Roy which is the largest and tallest and the Cerro Torre. The Cerro Torre is the highest of four sister peaks which stand like sharks teeth with the Southern Patagonian Ice Fields to their back. At 2,685 meters and an elevation of over 10,000 ft it is an impressive mountain which wasn’t climbed completely until 40 years ago.

Waterfalls and River Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

As I checked my watch and decided it was time to head back to town I paused briefly to take in a small waterfall as it joined the near by river. The multi-colored waters in the region are an incredibly fascinating and beautiful thing. One which adds a certain alien ambiance to the region.

Valley Near El Chalten - Patagonia, Argentina

Once back in town I met up with the other guys and caught up briefly before snagging a quick nap, food, and then heading out on the town in search of drinks and social adventures. By then the weather had started to change and strong winds had begun to set in. To our surprise the winds were so strong and harsh that they would buffet our bodies – knocking us back a few steps. By the time we reached one of the local restaurants we chuckled and debated if the roof would stay on long enough for us to finish dinner. Luckily it did.

The following morning promised grand adventure. We were heart set on hiking the long 24KM RT path to the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. Little did we know what the following day – Christmas Eve – had in store for us. Stay tuned! More to come soon.

Until then, thank you so much for reading. Please share your thoughts on this post and consider “liking” or “tweeting” it. If this is your first visit to the site please take a few minutes to explore some of my other adventures.

Lands of Ice and Snow – The Perito Moreno Glacier

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

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

One of the most exciting stops along our route was a brief pause at a large waterfall in the middle of the glacier. Easily 8 feet across, the waterfall carved a trough along the surface of the glacier before diving deep into a dark blue hole. As the guide turned and motioned for me to ease towards the lip of the hole, I was thrilled. With him securing my safety harness, I eased up as close as I could to the edge, then leaned out and stared straight down, my eyes hungrily following the water’s course as it splashed of rich blue ice walls and carved away at white crystalline walls. The roar of the falls was mesmerizing and the cool, humid air spilling up and off the waterfall crisp and clean.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound further onto the glacier, we passed a number of large crevasses. Some of which we would skirt, others we would walk along, and yet others – those small enough – we would carefully jump across, all the while with a large lump in our throats and a sense of controlled adventure in our hearts.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Eventually we reached the half-way mark and the group settled in for our pick-nick lunches. The spot we chose? A small hollow which blocked the wind and some of the light rain. As most of the group casually sat on the ice, enjoying the protection of their waterproof paints I dug around in my bag and fished out a bag. It held a massive, bright orange carrot that stood out in an explosion of color against the grays and blues of our equipment, the sky and glacier. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I saw eyebrows raise, and heads tilt. The thoughts racing through their minds were obvious, “who is this kid, why the hell does he have a giant carrot and how’s he going to manage without waterproof pants – is that really all he brought?”.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As I contentedly finished my carrot, I took the plastic bag it had come in, kicked out a flat space in the ice, set it down, and then plopped my body down on top of it. Next up? Lunch meat. As I sat there with numb fingers, I set to trying to open two plastic packages of lunch meat I’d purchased. Largely unsuccessful, an idea eventually struck. Before long I’d leaned forward and impaled the plastic wrapper on one of my crampon spikes and had set upon the small pile of lunch meat with a voracious hunger.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Ever one to be inclusive, the third and final course was a large bag of baguettes. True, I could have taken the effort to combine the meats and bread, but my approach seemed more fun and convenient. Especially in light of the chuckles I was getting from other group members who had purchased pre-packaged lunches from the local supermarket. I quickly gave away a couple of the 6 or so loaves of bread that had come in the bag, and chewed away contentedly. As we prepared to move on, one of the guides poured a tin of sweetened matte which he passed around and a few of us shared and enjoyed. It was the ideal desert and re-heated us as we prepared for the trek home.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound back along the ice we paused briefly for a rush of excitement as one of the group members failed to step far enough, tripped and almost fell into a crevasse. One of the guides as on hand, stabilized him, and helped him the rest of the way across.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The hike back towards the mountain trail was every bit as good as the trip out to the center of the glacier. Where the view before had been of ice, white, and distant mountains, the view on the return was constantly framed by the imposing presence of the mountains.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Each new view dragged my mind further and further into a fairytale. With fresh air in my lungs, spectacular sights bombarding my eyes, and clean rain drops decorating my face I had one of those incredible moments and relished every ounce of the experience. As the thought echoed through my mind I smiled and whispered, “This…this is why I travel”.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Eventually we found our way back to the base camp where we shed our harnesses and crampons, and then wound back along the path. The end of a hike is usually somewhat boring. Not so in this instance. After the lifeless beauty of the glacier, the wealth of blooming flowers and booming thunder of large waterfalls drew my exhausted feet forward.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The view of the glacier where it gave way to rain slicked rocks was also completely different. Given the honeycombed nature of the glacier, the ice formations looked new, fresh and unique as we revisited them from a different angle.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

As we wound back down toward the lake, we enjoyed a great view of the glacier’s forward face and another reminder of how small we truly are. Can you spot the ferry, and people out on the glacier in the above photo? They’re both there!

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

The trip had been expensive by backpacker oriented day-trip standards but if looked at from a purely value oriented perspective, it had been dirt cheap. My only real regret was that there wasn’t more time.

The Photographer, Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Eager to keep us together and safe, our guides ushered us along as a fairly constant speed. While this allowed us to see more and was good for the non-photographers among the group, it left me as the constant straggler. Pausing here and there for a quick shot, or a bit of video often set to the background of one of the guides impatiently encouraging me to hurry up and stick closer to the group.

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Still, it was only a small annoyance and cost to pay for the opportunity to see, experience, and capture the Perito Moreno Glacier in all of its beauty.

Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

Argentina is about much more than just tango and great steak. If you have the opportunity, definitely add Perito Moreno and the Glaciares National Park to your list of must-see destinations.

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

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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.