The glaciers are a big deal. Figuratively and literally. The word itself sounds intriguing and scary. And while everybody has studied about them, we never would have thought that we’d have the opportunity to experience one first hand and first foot.
Because glaciers are a big deal, it is very difficult to see one in its entirety, not to mention to hike its whole surface. An example of such a big glacier is Viedma, which we were lucky enough to visit first. We were definitely surprised by the Ice Field of South Patagonia. We’d formed our expectations from things we’d read or heard – a boat ride, taking some photos, enjoying the view of the place where glacier and water meet in the lake, which it supports. This plan in itself would have been an amazing experience. However, after a trip to the local agencies and clubs, we found out that we could broaden the unique experience and improve it in an ethical way – a trekking trip with professional guides.
Why glacier trekking is respectful to the environment? This is the impression we were left with by the rules of the national park. 30-40 km away from Viedma, in El Chalten village you couldn’t find a plastic bag in the stores. They are none, they are banned. The garbage is recycled, smoking is prohibited almost everywhere. Getting closer to the glacier, rules get even stricter – there are no toilets, nor anything. Once you step on the ice you forget all your needs, if you generate trash you slide it in your pocket and transfer it to the nearest bin, which could happen hours later.
We are coming closer to Bahia Tunel harbor by boat. The day is gloomy and we are praying that it won’t be windy, because our trekking plans could go to waste. The jagged edge of the glacier welcomes us, we swerve around it and dock on the rocks nearby. It doesn’t seem too hard from here. The condition was that we should bring sturdy shoes. We warmed up well the previous days by hiking around El Chalten, we had built a confidence. The way up the rocks turned out to be steep but we scurried up the sedimentary rock at maximum speed because we were, lightly put, cold. I don’t know how to estimate the level of difficulty of glacier trekking but for our group of 16 there were 4 guides. They were always in the right place in the right moment – they would give you a hand, push you in the needed direction, save you from slipping and so on. We admired the enthusiasm they put in their work.
We passed the rocks successfully. We warmed up, took pictures of the views of the lake and we arrived at the ice, ready to slip on the crampons and continue.
They put the crampons on our feet, instructed us how to walk like professionals and we formed a line behind the senior guide. The difficulty of walking with crampons didn’t come from the lack of practice or technique, but from the psychological discomfort of climbing steep hills in the wind while you are on an edge between two ravines. When you combine it all with the wonders all around you, how can you watch your step when there are lagoons in the ice or huge blue holes emitting strange sounds?
Our guides hopped around like mountain goats. We drove the spikes in with heavy bear steps and glided slowly and majestically. You feel quite stable. Beneath you there are meters of snow, which moves, but only barely. Two hours have passed before you realize it and after the last hill in the endless ice our agile guides surprised us with liquor with ice, the cleanest and maybe the oldest ice there is.
We congratulate ourselves for the long walk along the ice of Viedma. Several meters before we take the crampons off I step on thin ice and it collapses beneath my foot.
I got myself bruises as a keepsake but also it made the experience all the more real. The fun didn’t end with taking the crampons off. We had about 20 minutes climb down the rocks. Easily done, but it started raining. The colorful limestone became an ice skating rink and we had no skates. The agile guides couldn’t dry the rocks, they only managed to soften some falls.
It turned out to be an exhausting adventure, but it was also much more impressive than our expectations. When you have all your senses and muscles working in their full capacity you can enjoy this wonder of nature, the glacier. There several wrong moves can turn you in a permanent part of the illusion of the blue abyss, there you can capture the most magnificent moments in life with the most accurate of cameras – the eye.
This article was brought to you in English by Marta Petrova.
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