Climbing a glacier in Argentina

7th Mar 2012
Photo of Climbing a glacier in Argentina 1/4 by Nutterbugg
So white it's blue...the glacier up close
Photo of Climbing a glacier in Argentina 2/4 by Nutterbugg
Horse riding in a beautiful Estancia
Photo of Climbing a glacier in Argentina 3/4 by Nutterbugg
Trekking the Perito Moreno Glacier
Photo of Climbing a glacier in Argentina 4/4 by Nutterbugg
Dulce De Leche Liqueur with 1000 year old ice

A pretty little town in the Argentinian side of Patagonia, the first thing that strikes you about El Calafate is the turquoise blue water. And then you look up and you can see that the sky has its own shade of blue. Most tourists come to this town to see the Perito Moreno glacier which is about 100km away from the city’s centre.

Use up all your energy and hike through the Perito Moreno Glacier. Make up and relax at any of the ranches or estancias.

The ranches are beautiful old structures in the midst of beautiful natural surroundings like brooks and little lakes, these ranches usually have options like horse riding, archery, mountain biking. All are great options, but I would recommend horse riding which would be fantastic to take in the beautiful scenery. Estancia Christina is the prettiest ranch and a must visit if you have the whole day. We had less time so we visited a ranch closer to the city.

Perito Moreno Glacier:
Words, pictures, videos would all fail to do justice to one of the most breathtaking sights I’ve ever seen. The 3rd most important ice body in the world after Antartica and Greenland, the Perito Moreno glacier is a natural marvel that grows even in the summer.

The glacier, which can be reached by car and then boat forms a huge national park which is beautifully maintained.

While the glacier is simply beautiful to look at and take pictures, the most exciting activity you can do here is a glacier walk. There are two options- the mini trek (approx 2.5 hours) or the Big Ice (6 hours). We chose to do the big ice, definitely one of the most rewarding and tiring experience of our lives.

The Big Ice starts by climbing up a mountain for about an hour. The weather while cold, did not affect us much- since we were constantly walking.  Once at base camp, they fitted us with crampons which we would use once we started walking on the ice. After an hour and a half of an exhausting hike up and down the mountain, we reached the ice. It was incredible – suddenly white, calm, cool and beautiful. With our crampons on out guides trained us how to walk on ice. (Its pretty simple- feet apart in a very wide ‘V’, and step hard in the ice. When walking on a steep slope, one foot straight ahead, the other at 90 degrees to keep your balance. )

Trekking through the ice was a beautiful experience. Often the path is not fixed even by the guides, so it is important to stay close to your group while they figure out the way forward. At times they used their shovels to break the ice and create steps/paths as required.

While walking through, we found dozens of deep blue crevices, no one could tell how deep.

After walking for at least 3 hours with minimal break time, we reached a spot we found suitable for lunch. My favourite part was when they broke 300 year old ice to put in the liqueur we carried in our little hip flasks.

The way back was equally tiring, but well worth the exhaustion. We encountered quite a few streams and filled our bottles with the most refreshing water- the only thing that could tackle the exhaustion.

If you are a hiking novice like me you will need:

  • Stamina (lots of it)
  • A bagpack
  • Hiking shoes (don’t compromise on these, your feet need all the support they can get)
  • Optional winter clothes (light and heavy jackets/ perhaps a ski jacket- the best advice we got- dress like an onion, when needed pull off or add layers)
  • Packed lunch- something light and portable- perhaps a ham and cheese sandwich
  • A bottle of water (remaining water can be filled in the stream)
  • A hip-flask of whisky/baileys (to drink with ice from the glacier)

Since the glacier is the main highlight of the town, you can rent all of the above at any of the stores in the area. All hotels do a packed lunch for you

We chose Design Suites Calafate, a beautiful property overlooking the lake, just a few kilometres away from the city centre.

The staff was very helpful and booked all our outings for us

Look to spend about USD 600 for the Big Ice hike per person, or USD 200 for the mini trek. The ranch visit cost us USD 150 for each person, and staying was not so expensive at approximately USD 150 per night