Blue Ice & Depth Charges ~ Perito Moreno Glacier

14 March, 2018

I could barely contain my excitement as we boarded the Always Glaciers tour bus, anticipating our third national park, Los Glaciares National Park, and one of Argentina’s most visited destinations, the Perito Moreno Glacier. Rain clouds teased overhead but I was remaining cautiously optimistic that the Argentina rain gods would be kinder to us. Weather is so fickle here in Patagonia, so no use expending negative energy worrying about that which I couldn’t control.

El Calafate is famous as the base for visiting this glacier and the southern sector of Los Glaciares National Park, the largest national park in Argentina. The park has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has 47 large glaciers being fed by a giant ice cap in the Andes, and 30% of its mass is covered by ice. This is the world’s 4th-largest ice cap, excluding Antarctica, Iceland, and Greenland.

The sky cleared as we paid our entrance fee to the park. I was encouraged as I had read that Perito Moreno tends to be more active in sunny weather. We were hoping to experience calvings off the face of this massive beauty.

There are several ways to see this gal – from her many boardwalks, taking a one-hour boat ride along part of her stunningly blue face, or trekking across. Try as I might before our arrival, I could not convince any of the tour companies to allow Terry to trek on the ice, their age limit being 65, and no exceptions due to the insurance they carried. 😦 We opted to stay on the boardwalks as we felt our chances of seeing calvings might be greater.

Not the largest glacier in the park but the one with star quality, Perito Moreno upstages twice-as-long Glacier Upsala, who has picked up much more debris during her advance and is not the brilliant blue that characterizes Perito Moreno.

Unsullied Perito Moreno, a jagged mass of crevasses and knife-edged seracs, is one of only two advancing glaciers in all of South America, crawling forward at a rate of ~ 2 meters per day. Most of the massive glaciers cloaking the spine of the Patagonian Andes are retreating in response to global warming, according to Andrés Rivera, a Chilean glaciologist, all except for Perito Moreno and Pio XI in Chile.  Perito Moreno, at  30 kilometers long and 5 kilometers wide, overshadows all else, sitting in the largest of Argentina’s lakes, Lago Argentino. Over 50% of her bulk sits below the sea, for a total combined height of ~ 170 meters.

Over millennia, untold numbers of storms have deposited countless meters of snow, compressing this glacier into what we see today. As the ice pushes across the channel of Lago Argentino, a massive dyke of ice cuts off the Brazo Rico arm of the lake from the main body. The water pressure builds until the natural dam can no longer bear the weight, resulting in an explosion of ice and frigid water that rushes into the lake’s main glacial trough, flooding everything in its path, including El Calafate. This phenomenon has occurred fifteen times during the 20th century, then from 1988 until March 2004, silence.

There was an arch over this section until two days before our visit.

On March 14, 2004, the dam gave way, releasing an avalanche of water and ice, a fitting metaphor for the flood of tourists who invaded El Calafate in hopes of seeing this event. It is said that those lucky enough to witness such a spectacle have found it to be one of nature’s most awesome sights. The last event of this type occurred just two days before our visit. Although this would have been the ultimate, the 14-meter wall of water that descended upon El Calafate is the reason the Laguna Nimez Bird Sanctuary was closed due to flooding. 😦

As if acknowledging our sadness at the loss of seeing all those feathered charmers, Perito Moreno stepped up and performed mightily the day of our visit. From our boardwalk perch, we listened for the sound of the glacier calving. Once you hear a sound that resembles a small cannon, get prepared for the show. Camera should be on-the-ready or you’ll miss blocks of ice, weighing hundreds of tons, detonating off the glacier’s 74-meter face, crashing into what has been dubbed “Iceberg Channel” below. These frozen depth-charges trumpet the forming of a new iceberg.

And the walls came tumbling down! Terry captured this on video. 🙂

These massive calvings occur several times daily and we were fortunate to see several during our few hours on the viewing platforms. Imagine pieces of a 24-story building being blasted away by a small cannon and this is the sound you hear. Terry got some great video footage, but internet will not allow me to upload it at this time. I see another Perito Moreno post in my future. 🙂

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52 thoughts on “Blue Ice & Depth Charges ~ Perito Moreno Glacier

  • Absolutely incredible photos LuAnn!!! My dad and I went in 2007 and we loved it. It was before my blogging so I only have a few photos but did share them on the blog later. We did do the ice Trek but the photos off the glacier are much better so I actually think not doing it is better. Glad to hear it is still not retreating. Where next?

  • OMG! I am so glad you were able to see this wonderful phenomenal event! I cannot imagine how exciting this must have been for you! Your pictures are so great. I am anxious to see Terry’s video. This was a breathtaking post! Thank you, for sharing! Take care and stay safe!

    • Thanks Joan! Our visit here has been one of the highlights of our trip so far. The colors of the glacier were so beautiful. And that we were able to see some a large chunk of the face of the glacier fall into the sea was extra special. The sound it makes is almost surreal.

  • The color of that glacier is astonishing! Such a surreal landscape. So crazy that they wouldn’t allow Terry to hike on the glacier—he’s in better shape than most people half his age! Still, the photos you captured from the boardwalk are spectacular. Can’t wait to see Terry’s video.

    • The light changed on the glacier by the minute Laurel, suffusing the glacier face with varying shades of blue. It was spectacular! I guess it would be difficult to start making exceptions for some customers, and not others. For a short time, Terry was actually starting to feel old, he said. There was another glacier in the interior of Chile we had our eyes on for a little trek, but now that I am one-handed for awhile, it would be more difficult for me to tackle as well. There is plenty more to occupy our time.

  • One of our favorite destinations in Patagonia. We got to see the arch, which collapsed some time later, and we enjoyed a trek on the ice. Rest assured that the boardwalk views were just as good if not better! If it’s not too late and you are still in El Chalten, you must go to La Cerveceria!

    • I would have loved to see the arch and I can only imagine how thrilling it must be to see it when it collapses. I’ve watched one of the videos recently. We are no longer in El Chalten but we did eat at La Cerveceria. As far as I’m concerned, it is the only place to eat while in Chalten. I am also embarrassed to say how many times we ate there, so I will save it for my next post. As for your blog, not sure why I haven’t been following it before now, as I know Nicole of Thirdeye Mom does, but it is now in my reader. I’m sure I will learn lots of travel tips from you. 🙂

  • I am speechless. The beauty of El Calafate is breathtaking! What a blessing to see the massive calvings but sad in many ways. I am not sure I would be able to tear myself away. Thanks so much for capturing the calving. I know the video is going to be marvelous.

  • So glad the weather cooperated!! Awesome glacier and new camera is amazing!! Did you take boat ride to Upsala in the floating icebergs???

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    • The weather was much nicer in El Calafate than in Natales. We loved our time there but didn’t get to Glacier Upsala. Not sure if you were sending an attachment along with your comment, but all that came across was code.

  • First of all, who says terry is over 65???
    What a marvelous story and great pictures Lu. Thanks for sharing. Isn’t March the end of summer down there? Looks pretty chilly. What a great time!

    • Unfortunately Terry’s passport speaks the truth of his age, although I still say he could run circles around many his age and several younger. March is the end of summer here but summer temps here average around 60 degrees and being near the glacier it is even colder.

    • It’s like nothing I have even seen Nina. Congrats again for selling the Beast. Looks like she went to a good home and relieved a lot of stress for you and Paul.

  • Wow! Wow! What a fantastic experience. The glacier is amazing and so gorgeous. I just love the blue ice of the glaciers. You had me so excited that I had to go to You Tube and watch a few videos of the glaciers. The arch was spectacular. I am so sorry it collapsed before you arrived. Watching the collapse was awesome. You certainly had quite the show. What a day!

  • It’s a wow and you captured the glaciers perfectly! I was speechless myself when I saw your photos and can imagine your excitement upon seeing it and hearing the calving. I have to say these glaciers are massive compared to what we have seen in Valdez, AK! Just stunning!

  • What amazing shades of blue and the massive size of the glaciers is truly stunning. You mentioned in one of your previous blog posts that your travels in Patagonia would be a “life-changing event” and, after seeing your incredible photos of the magnificent glaciers, I can understand your statement. How could you not be awed and overwhelmed by seeing and experiencing the raw power of one of nature’s most spectacular phenomena. Anita

    • This trip has been one I have dreamed about since my early 30’s Anita. Having said that, Terry and I agree that we should have done this trip long before now. Most of the travelers we encounter are young. We are thankful we are still able to do it.

    • I couldn’t believe the intense blue color, changing minute-by-minute as the light moved across its face. It may take until I get back home before internet will allow me to upload a video.

  • You’ve been on some pretty amazing adventures but this has to be the most bestest one so far. Such startlingly impressive photos. It’s safe to say that anybody who visits your site today will be more than extremely jealous of you. Thank you for sharing as always!

  • The raw beauty is amazing, so much that it prompts tears of appreciation… through your words and images, we get a very good idea of what it’s like to be there – and capturing your pleasant tourists in those candids adds a lot! so glad that you’re having a great trip! i’m suddenly curious to know if you noted the sun at noon on the 20th…. you’d capture a very dramatic shadow from that end of the globe!

    • There is so much wild, raw beauty here in Patagonia. I seem to be in awe at every turn. After reading your post Lisa, I was wishing I had been more aware of the sun’s position down here. Of course, that is if I could see the sun that day.

  • Again, Thanks LuAnn for the virtual tour. It is always a pleasure to read one of your blogs and see the pictures of places you have visited.

  • That is so amazing Lu Ann. Your photos are so impressive and having it seen with your own eyes, must have been spectacular. Thank you for sharing it. So amazing!

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