Making Mountains: Perito Moreno
I awoke early the following day and walked down to the bus station to catch a bus to Los Glaciares National Park, located less than two hours west of the town of El Calafate.
We didn’t get very far out of town before the landscape started to change. The once rolling hills were now climbing ever upwards and pointed, snow-covered peaks could be seen in the distance. As incredible as things began to seem in those early morning hours, they would only grow more amazing as I approached the first major sight along my journey.
We wound deeper into the mountains with the aqua blue of the seemingly endless Lago Argentino accompanying us. Maybe it was the vast and unbelievable landscape, but I began to grow increasingly pensive as we neared our destination. I marveled at the beauty around me and I began to ponder just what it is that makes something beautiful. To be sure, there is a certain awe that is inspired simply by the size of something as grand as a mountain, but what is intrinsic in an object, person or landscape that causes our eyes to be held captive by it? I was not sure, but I was sure that the things that I was witnessing were like nothing I had seen before or likely will ever see again…and this was only the beginning.
Eventually, we penetrated far enough into the park to get our first look at Perito Moreno Glacier. Seeing it from afar, I came to the realization that I was viewing antiquity incarnate. Moreover, I was witnessing an icy god at work, carving valleys, making mountains and shaping the very world on which I walked.
The first thing I did after disembarking in the park was take a catamaran across the still waters of Lago Argentino toward the south face of the glacier.
The modern boat traversed the waters with ease and, as we rounded a corner and drew nearer to the frozen behemoth, with mouth agape I reminded myself that this giant was living, it was moving and yes, it was growing before my eyes. Everyone should be able to glimpse something this amazing in their lives, but alas not everyone can. Although they can hardly do it justice, I hope some of these images can give you some idea of what it might be like to stand in awe before a wonder of nature such as this.
The glacier, always advancing, can grow to form a natural dam of ice that divides the lake. On one side of this dam, the pressure of the water builds slowly, eventually causing the icy dam to break and the glacier to rupture. There is no way to predict when this is going to happen and the time between rupture events can be many years. As it happens, the glacier had ruptured at around 3 or 4 a.m. that morning, about 6-7 hours before I arrived. Unfortunately, I missed the rupture, but I was able to see its aftermath, a large and jagged mass of glacial ice separated from the main body of Perito Moreno.
After returning to shore and reality, at least for a time, I took a short ride by bus to the other side of the glacier. From this side, I approached the north face of the glacier along the shores of Lago Argentino. As incredible as the glacier is, there is much more than ice to see in the park. The lake is tranquil and ringed with mountains and the sound of its frigid waters lapping lazily upon the rocks provide the perfect sonic backdrop.
Eventually, the glacier comes into view again and the disbelief begins anew. The north face of the glacier is wider and the view from this side is different, but equally as breathtaking.
You approach this face of the glacier slowly via a long set of metal stairs and platforms called the “balcony”. As you get closer, you also climb upward making the view exponentially better in a short period of time. Eventually, I was able to see the ruptured area of the glacier again, this time from the north.
Finally I reached what was more or less the top of ”the balcony”. I sat there, silently, wondering what it was I might have done in this life or any other to deserve to be there. I couldn’t think of anything. I gazed out at the massive field of ice in front of me and thanked whatever forces had brought me to this point. Emotions welled up in me that have no name. I shed a tear….maybe more than one.
After leaving the park, amazed, emotional and tired, I headed back to El Calafate. That evening, while relaxing in the hostel and reflecting on the things I had seen and done that day, I met a few fellow travellers who had, like me, worked up an appetite that day. I, with my newfound friends from France and Switzerland, headed out to enjoy a hot meal and a bottle of wine (or two) at a local spot called Pura Vida. The food was excellent, the wine was plentiful, and the company was interesting to say the least. It was a great end to what had been one of the most incredible days of my life. Little did I know, there was so much more to come.
The next morning, I left El Calafate and headed southwest into Chile and my next great adventure.