Smithsonian Journeys Dispatches

Trekking on Perito Moreno

The Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo: Allison Dale

The Perito Moreno Glacier. Photo: Allison Dale

From the plane I watched the vibrant city of Buenos Aires disappear beneath the clouds. Upon landing in El Calafate, a small town in the Patagonia region of Argentina, the bustling city avenues of Buenos Aires were replaced with milky water tributaries and imploring street vendors were replaced with knowledgeable guides. With two friends, I struck out on an adventure to see one of the world’s most endangered land masses: a glacier. El Parque Nacional de los Glaciares is a UNESCO World Heritage Site containing the Perito Moreno glacier, only one of three glaciers in Patagonia in equilibrium with its surroundings despite the change in the world climate.

A bus ride, a boat ride, and a short walk later I stood in front of a wall of ice soaring 240 feet above the surface of Lake Argentino. This wall of ice, through sheer natural force, carved its way through the surrounding mountains over thousands of years and now spans an impressive 19 miles in length. Never in my life had I seen such evidence of nature’s power and beauty. The milky blue waters of the lake reflected the morning light onto the crystalline blue wall of the glacier, exposing the swirls of sediment the ice collects as it advances and recedes foot by foot, year after year.

Suddenly, I heard a sound like a gunshot or a car backfiring. From the rickety, man-made boardwalk I watched as massive blocks of ice the size of houses calved from the glacier wall and thundered into the tranquil lake below. The sound of the impact between water and ice echoed off the valley walls. Nature was truly showing off her power for us that day and we looked on in awe.

Vista of Perito Moreno. Photo: Allison Dale

Vista of Perito Moreno. Photo: Allison Dale

The next step of our adventure led us to the edge of the glacier field where we donned spiked crampons in preparation for a glacier mini-trekking adventure. With fellow tourists we learned techniques to stabilize ourselves as we traversed the icy surfaces of the glacier. Ranging in age from 20 to 65, our intrepid group trekked single-file over the ridges of the ice, stopping only to adjust our gear or drink from the flowing streams of pure glacial water.

As we neared the end of our trekking adventure we climbed one last ridge to find a surprise treat for us Patagonian explorers. Our Argentine guides led us to a small table on which bowls of Argentine alfajores (dulce de leche cookies), twelve glasses and a bottle of whiskey were left for our enjoyment. We iced our whiskey with the ice from the glacier and raised our glasses for a toast in honor of our adventure.

In my mind, the toast commemorated much more than the trekking experience. That day I celebrated the power of nature and the opportunity to be in such a wonderful country. I celebrated the opportunity to travel, to learn and to experience new things. I celebrated the efforts of those who made it possible for me to see such a beautiful sight and I reveled in the possibility of future travels to exotic destinations. With those thoughts in mind, and in true Argentine fashion, I clinked my glass with the others and I gulped my glacier-chilled whiskey down.

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