How to Walk Across a Glacier
Trip Start Apr 08, 2012
28Trip End Sep 25, 2012
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I could tell you that it's more than 30 km long and 250 square km and it rises 70 metres above Lago Argentina. I could tell you that one of the deepest measured places in the glacier is 170 m, from the top of the ice to the moraine underneath.
But you can’t visualise those numbers and they don’t do this ice giant justice anyway.
Before we started our trek we stopped at the balcony viewpoint. It was cloudy and raining and we could only, apparently, see about 10% of the glacier. The glacier has pushed itself into Lago Argentina and occasionally even cuts the lake in half when the ice meets the jutting piece of land where the viewpoint is. This of course causes the lake to rise and the one side has been 30 metres above its average level.
The weather here seems to be the exact opposite of most places in the world. The top of the glacier is known for getting one of the highest amounts of snow in the world at 60m in one season. This is due to the fact that it snows, on average, 360 days of each year. And, strangely enough, those last 5 days are invariably in the winter months. During the summer it is almost constantly raining at the lake and snowing on the rest of the glacier and the clearest days occur during the winter.
To start our trek we took a short boat ride across the Lake where we stepped onto the lateral moraine. We walked about an hour along the moraine until we got to a tent filled with crampons and harnesses.
The glacier was visible the entire way, and its jagged crests and deep crevasses made me wonder how exactly we were to accomplish this. But once we had all our gear on – I was wearing 4 layers on the top and 2 on the bottom plus a hat and hood – we stepped out of the trees and descended to the glacier.
And suddenly the glacier was smooth. Relatively.
The sharp peaks became rounded hills and the endless fissures became shallower and narrower.
We had a quick lesson on how to walk up and down the hills using the crampons and then we were off.
There is a lot of running water throughout the glacier, some just flowing across the surface and others in deep gaps that we had to jump across – which I might add is very difficult with the spiky accessories and I caught my own shoe more than once.
There are drain holes all over the place and while most of them are so small that you hardly need to step over them, others are wide and seem to go down forever.
To be allowed to peer into this one 2 guides situated themselves on either side of you and held onto your harness. They seemed very wary and I wondered how many people had fallen into these things before. Or perhaps it was just how obviously uncoordinated I am that made them look at me so nervously.
When we stopped for lunch the guides showed us a narrow cave that had been dug out by water. But the water was gone and we could fit in part of the way. The deep blue of the ice is just as remarkable as the water in Torres del Paine.
This glacier is one of very few in the world that is actually growing in size and it’s not really understood why. It’s also a relatively young glacier with the ice at the end, falling into the lake being about 400 years old. I thought this was a reasonable age until our guide told us that the ice falling off Antarctic shores can be 500,000 years old.
We spent about 6 hours on the ice and while it was freezing with occasional rain and a brutal wind that threw sharp ice into our faces, it was unforgettable and I recommend the Big Ice tour to anyone who makes it down here.