Walking on the Viedma Glacier

21 01 2012

Last night we partied! It was Patricia’s birthday and the hostel was festooned with festive decorations. We had cake and champagne. Then everybody hung out and either played board games or watched videos. Meanwhile the wind outside howled, and occasionally whistled through any cracks in the insulation.

The Patagonian Ice Cap (left) feeds the Viedma Glacier

The Viedma Glacier is our destination today. We all get those box lunches, and this time I just toss my ham and cheese in the waste basket. But it’s got empanadas too, and I like those! We’re up and out the door by 9:30. We head down to a marina on Lago Viedma.

Lago Viedma is another huge glacier-fed lake that sits right out in the high desert. It’s 50 miles long, and is dotted with blue icebergs borne from the Viedma Glacier.

We are to board a boat which will take us around a point and into the lake, and then to the snout of the glacier.

Then, we’ll disembark for a few hours walking on the glacier itself!

The Viedma Glacier is the largest in Argentina. It doesn’t look as large at its snout as Perito Moreno, but above, it’s a bigger sheet of ice.

While it’s sunny back in El Chalten, here out near the Patagonian Ice Sheet, the weather’s so different. It gets even windier, and stormier. The lake is punctuated by beautiful indigo ice bergs. It still seems weird to me to see ice bergs in a lake! But here they are.

As we round a point and the boat swings west, we’re no longer protected by the land, and we face directly into the wind racing down the Andes. The sea state instantly changes into a storm, and the captain races the engine to push through the waves. Many of us had been up above on deck enjoying the weather, but we’re ordered to stay inside now!

As we near the glacier, many more icebergs come into view and of course the glacier’s snout. I am told that boats do not get close to this glacier for views, because instead of calving from the visible end, this glacier has an underwater shelf where it calves, and massive ice sheets suddenly shoot up from below. No boat wants to be on top of one of those!

A berg near the glacier's terminusThis should be really interesting – walking on the ice. Others here have done this before, but for me, this is my first time. I’ve used crampons climbing mountains in the Cascades but nothing like this river of ice.

So I’m pretty excited to give it a try.

We disembark and walk up the rocks near the end of the ice. This glacier has retreated, unlike Perito Moreno.

We are told the ice was moving over these very rocks 20 years ago. The rocks are all smooth. They have streaks across them and deposits ground in. These streaks are scours called glacial striations. They are where rocks embedded in the glacier cut down on the bedrock.

Our guides meet up with us and we get lots of information on the glacier, the ice cap that feeds the glacier, climate change, and about the upcoming hike and equipment we’ll be using today.

The main piece is crampons.

You wear crampons over your other shoes, and it’s best to put crampons on over hiking boots.

The ice today is a bit slushy/wet. It’s full of grit from its journey scraping along, plus winds carrying dust that has settled on the ice. The ice has cracked into thousands of vertical spires of ice. It looks un-hikeable, but we’re about to find out it can be done.

Our guide! Super cute.Crampons securely tied on, we head out onto the ice. These shoes bite into the ice, giving a firm grip. It’s a bit disconcerting to see the rivers of water gushing everywhere and the deep cracks. One slip and it looks like you’d be lost forever!

We climb all over and we’re not the only ones up here.

There are others learning how to use ropes to climb the ice walls. It’s interesting to watch them. We climb up and down “trails” the guides know.

We walk all over, and after a time I realize how easily one could become lost out here.

You lose track of your trail, and everything looks the same.

The ice flows up and down, and you feel like you are walled in. I’m super thankful we have the guides here. They are really professional; they guard any spot where you could slip and fall into a cravasse.

The guides take us into a dead end, and I kind of wonder what’s up.

They start digging holes into the ice. Then, their true plan is revealed…they have a little celebration in store for us.

They pull out some Bailey’s Irish Whiskey from their packs. We are treated to a toast of Bailey’s on glacier ice! Very nice.

Glacier ice and Bailey’s!

This was a fine hike.

Some said they wanted it to last much longer, but I found it a good introduction.

After all, I’d never done this before.

I felt satisfied with my first time on a g00d sized glacier! Up close these are really fascinating natural phenomena. After all, the ice we’re walking on is hundreds of thousands of years old.

Certainly something to celebrate!

With the Bailey’s finished we lumbered back to our starting point, to lunch on those ham and cheese sandwiches (except myself, of course). Then it was back to the wind tunnel (El Chalten).

Tomorrow is the big hike to Cerro Fitz Roy! I’m stoked to tackle it! I’m really enjoying being in the moment, taking each amazing day as it comes! Bring it on!