Argentina, Patagonia: Perito Moreno Glacier

28th October: The Perito Moreno Glacier has to be one of the most staggeringly beautiful things we have seen in the last 11 months travelling; it easily rivals Machu Picchu.
It is situated in the UNESCO World Heritage site of Los Glaciares National Park, just a 90 minute drive from El Calafate in Patagonia. Standing on viewing platforms gazing across it for a couple of hours it resembles a huge painting; the colours are dazzling and rich and the ice looks like spatula daubs made lifelike in vivid oil paint; sculptured gashes of blue revealed in the huge cracks of ice.
We took a bus tour to see the glacier with a local tour outfit in El Calafate aptly named Always Glaciers and costing 150 pesos each plus an extra 38 pesos to go out on the boat to the foot of the glacier. The views from the boat were the first close up introduction we got to it and it was stunning… but the views from the viewing platforms were even more awe inspiring as you could far better appreciate the scale of this thing and view it in context of the surrounding mountains.

The glacier is HUGE and amazingly the ice is really blue. It looks like something from the Superman movies, it is truly and absolutely breathtaking. This glacier is nearly 19 miles in length and spreads over an area of 97 square miles and refreshingly this blue-white ice formation is one of the only glaciers in the world that is actually advancing, at a rate of seven feet (2metres) per day.

If you wait and watch for long enough massive chunks of ice break off into the water with a thunderous splintering crash, creating icebergs which displace the water and create large waves. Chunks of blue ice float out along the water.

The glacier is infamous for its unique rupturing process. From Wikipedia: ‘Periodically the glacier advances over the L-shaped Lago Argentino (Argentine Lake) forming a natural dam which separates the two halves of the lake when it reaches the opposite shore. With no escape route, the water-level on the Brazo Rico side of the lake can rise by up to 30 meters above the level of the main lake. The enormous pressure produced by this mass of waters finally breaks the ice barrier holding it back in a spectacular rupture event. This dam/rupture cycle is not regular and it naturally recurs at any frequency between once a year to less than once a decade.

The small ice-bridge looking structure in the foreground of the photo below completely collapsed and broke off whilst we were watching. The cracking/rupturing sound it makes as it breaks and collapses is incredible…..and also quite scary.

At its deepest part, the glacier has a depth of approximately 700 metres (2,297 ft). The glacier first ruptured in 1917 taking with it an ancient forest of arrayán (Luma apiculata) trees. The last rupture occurred in July 2008 – wish we had been there to see and hear that – I bet it was terrifying and amazing in equal measures.

The glacier was named after the explorer Francisco Moreno; a pioneer who studied the region in the 19th century and played a major role in defending the territory of Argentina in the conflict surrounding the international border dispute with Chile.

The surrounding mountain scenery is as equally breathtaking. Driving to the glaciers you can see the Andes moutain range on the border with Chile.

Wild Patagonian sheep farming scenery out of the bus window driving to the Los Glaciares National Park.

We saw a lot of condors (member of the vulture family) on the trip to the glacier but none close enough to photograph – so I have downloaded a couple of photos below to show you these huge birds. They are found in the Andes mountains and adjacent Pacific coasts of western South America and they are the largest flying land bird in the Western Hemisphere. They have amazing fingertip like wings.

Click here for more information about the glacier:

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