Patagonia Pt. 3: Trekking the Perito Moreno Glacier

In recounting our glacier trek in Patagonia, I should probably share that I had only a vague idea of what a glacier is, much less what “trekking” on a glacier would entail. I just pictured myself on giant iceberg, freezing my ass off. But if I’ve embraced any mantra on our trip thus far, it’s “jump first, look later” — or something like that — so I forked over the $250 and recited a silent prayer.

Before we arrived in El Calafate, Argentina, Jeff and I had to get through a 27-hour bus ride from Bariloche. El Calafate is verrryyyy far south in Argentina (as in, not that far from Antarctica!). Unfortunately, flights to the region were super expensive and not direct, so we decided to buck up and sit on a bus for a full day and night.

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Jeff, journal-ing on our long bus trip

And…the bus ride wasn’t bad! The scenery on Argentina’s famed Route 40 was quite beautiful during the day, and between reading/writing/listening to podcasts/eating road trip snacks, the trip went fairly quickly. Jeff even managed to snag some wine during a quick pit stop, so we were both able to get some sleep, albeit induced. I’d never been so happy for boxed wine.

We timed our arrival in El Calafate to coincide with our friend Katie’s flight, which worked out perfectly. Katie, Jeff’s friend from UVM, happened to be traveling in South America while we were there and decided to join us in Patagonia for some outdoor adventures. We rented a little A-frame house on Airbnb just outside of town for three nights, which was pretty adorable:

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Jeff outside our A-frame in El Calafate

El Calafate has a few local trails to hike and a cute downtown area with lots of restaurants (we particularly enjoyed Parrilla Don Pichon for typical Argentinian fare), but ice trekking is kind of the main event there.  

So the next day, Jeff, Katie and I got up early to catch our bus to the Perito Moreno glacier. (Technically, there’s only one company that operates ice treks on Perito Moreno, which is Hielo & Adventura.) After a two hour drive, we all got out to take photos from the glacier “viewing point,” which is as far as most tourists get; however, as you may remember, we each paid $250 for the *special* privilege of trekking on the glacier itself — so our adventure was just beginning.

After another short bus ride, we hopped on a water taxi, which brought us to a trail head. Our guide Luis led a group of about ten of us on a brisk hike through the woods, and an hour later we were upon the glacier itself! It’s hard to describe what this massive, sparkling field of ice looked like up-close, so I’ll just share the photos:

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Approaching Perito Moreno on foot
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Our hiking terrain

We were all fitted with crampons (shoe attachments with metal spikes which provide traction on ice), and the next thing we knew we were hiking out onto the glacier.

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Katie and Jeff, outfitted with crampons and ready to go

While parts of the glacier are somewhat flat, the vast majority of the surface is covered with steep peaks and valleys. We quickly learned that best way to go up the icy inclines is to walk duck-footed, or with our feet turned out. Going down the peaks could be a bit scary — again, all ice and very steep — but our guide instructed us to walk like “an angry monkey,” by which (I think) he meant short, stomp-y steps.

One of the coolest things about the “Big Ice” trek (that’s actually what it’s called), is that there is no established route or path through the ice. Luis seemed to make spur-of-the-moment decisions, ushering us to and fro based on what looked traverse-able. So that’s how we spent about 3.5 hours — meandering up and down the crevices in the ice.

About halfway through, Luis brought us to a flatter area for lunch which he jokingly called “the restaurant.” I can’t describe how surreal it was to be eating a sandwich in such an extraordinary setting. I know I’ve said it before on the blog, but hiking Perito Moreno was one of the most rewarding and unforgettable experiences I’ve ever had. I get chills just thinking about it now, and not just because it was cold! [ha-ha-ha]

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View from “the restaurant”

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We also made a couple of friends on the trip! Allie and Nick are also doing a long-term travel thing (their blog here), and the five us went out to dinner together back in El Calafate, which happened to be Nick’s birthday. After an exhausting but exhilarating few days in El Calafate, we were excited to continue our Patagonia adventures a couple hours north, in El Chalten. Patagonia Pt. 4, coming very soon!

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A glacial pool
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Another glacial pool (Luis pictured)
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Katie and me, cheesing big after a great day on the glacier!
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