Our second section of Patagonia explorations was far more civilised in that each night we returned to some creature comforts like a private, warm hotel room with a comfortable bed that included sheets and blankets, as well as a nice hot shower. Add in a full meal at the end of a long, hard day of walking and it all felt quite luxurious after the somewhat gritty experience of the refugios in Torres del Paine.
The day after we came back from our Torres del Paine trek – a huge load of laundry and a big feed later – we took a bus across the border to the Argentinian town of El Calafate which is host to the Perito Moreno Glacier.
This fascinating glacier is still part of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field that we were amongst in Torres del Paine. The ice formation has a very impressive size of 250km2 with a length of 30km, making it the world’s third largest reserve of fresh water.
Unsurprisingly, we wanted to do an adventurous tour that would get us deep into this fantastic ice mass. One called The Big Ice sounded perfect and I must say that the experience was one that is fixed in our memories.
As seems to be the way with these grand excursions, it was a pre-dawn start, but a day whose show was never-ending.
Our first full view of Perito Moreno was just after sunrise from the viewing balconies which is breathtaking in itself to see the immense plateau of ice in its entirety. Then in contrast, to watch the finer details like the detachment of ice blocks, hearing the roaring sound they produce and seeing them turn into icebergs. It was hard to imagine that the day and experience was going to get better.
After our boat ride and an hour and a half uphill trek along the moraine, we were fitted with harnesses and crampons, then finally allowed onto the ice. Though only once we’d been given a lesson on how to walk or indeed stomp on the ice, did they finally open up
the gates to this other world and the true adventure began.
In groups of eight people with two mountain guides leading and teaching us the ways of the glacier, we stomped across, up and down the magical Perito Moreno for 3 hours. It’s a lot harder work than one might think!
Remembering we were still in Patagonia, it was highly probable the day would be a windy and rainy one. Mother Nature had other plans though and treated us to a windless day with blue skies and sun. I can’t emphasise just how rare this is, even our guides were revelling in the magic of the day telling us it happened perhaps once a month.
The entire time we could not wipe the smile off our faces. It was fascinating to explore and be in the middle of this glacier, to see it from a different perspective, as well as learn about the various characteristics of the ice and its surroundings. From the blue lagoons to the deep and astonishing cracks, the huge drains called sink holes – it all felt very surreal and like we had stepped onto another planet. To the slight irritation of one of our guides, we kept being left behind. Unable to help ourselves, we wanted to capture this insane magnificence and take as many photos as possible.
The thing that most caught our attention when booking The Big Ice tour was the chance of walking through an authentic ice cave. It didn’t disappoint and was a wondrous experience as we stomped through the blue cave, our legs wide on either side of the scalloped walls, being navigated by our guides so we didn’t slip down into the river of iced blue water beneath us. Wow, wow, wow!!
The following day was another bus ride in the remote nothingness of Patagonia, to the sleepy and wildly windy mountain village of El Chalten. Located at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains, it was these fantastical jagged spikes of barren granite that thrust into the sky from nowhere, which we came to experience.
In contrast to our perfect weather day on the glacier, our experience of the weather in the Fitzroy region was relentless gale force winds. We learnt that it is a way of life for the locals to tie their belongings down if left outdoors. In the evenings we would walk the gravel streets of El Chalten with sunglasses on to protect our eyes from all the gravel that was blowing around.
Every morning we woke and could hear that outside it was blowing a gale. It was a struggle working up the enthusiasm to wrap up and get out there. Unfortunately it was no exception in the early hours of the morning we chose to hike 2hrs in the dark to a splendid vantage point (so conveniently located in a wind tunnel) in order to capture sunrise on Fitzroy Massif.
It’s not at all unusual for this massive granite structure to remain ensconced in clouds, which is what happened on this particular morning. So we stood around for an hour, jumping up and down on the spot in order to keep warm and hiding behind bushes to shelter us from the wind, constantly glancing up hoping the clouds would clear and allow us a peep of the structure turning a rose hue, unique to this special time of day. Michael had his tripod and camera set up and weighed down with a bag full of rocks to prevent disaster. Thankfully we got lucky, our patience and resilience paid off – show time did indeed happen.
Due to the weather being far too dangerous and the trail officially closed off, we sadly didn’t make it to the ultimate view point of Lagos del los Tres. Instead, much to Michael’s considerable ire given he had been unwell and not eaten the previous 2 days, I mistakenly had us hiking the park for a further 7hrs – once again, us against the elements in this rich and equally barren environment.
The Fitzroy region was relentless with its howling winds and to quote a first time trekker we met in Torres del Paine – “gosh, it involves a lot of walking.” Stating the obvious but it does sum it up nicely and is certainly how we felt at the end of our 3 weeks in Patagonia.
Currently out of these extreme conditions and back to more ‘normal’ things in Buenos Aires, Iguazu Falls and currently looking for a home in Ecuador! I’ll save it all for next time though.