12 Ways of Looking at a Glacier
My time in Patagonia was punctuated by the presence of glaciers and my time spent among them. Thank you Serac Expeditions for providing me with a guided excursion in Los Glaciares National Park.
AS A WHOLE
The Perito Moreno Glacier in the Los Glaciares National Park in the Southwest of Santa Cruz province, Argentina. 97 square miles with an average height of 240 feet, Perito Moreno towers and stretches to distances that inspire a wonderful silence.
COVERED IN DIRT
Glaciers scour the landscape and transport massive quantities of debris in their thousands of years of slow transit. The surface of many glaciers near mountains is dusted with dirt and rocks that are borne on the wind and tumble from steep slopes.
BETWEEN THE LINES
Different parts of the glacier move at different speeds. This fluctuation and the flow of melt water form deep crevasses. Clear water flows through these channels, carving them deeper and forming pools like the one shown above.
Stratified ridges march along the surface of the glacier in persistent waves. Looking at these ridges straight on the sense of parallax is incredible. Scrambling over and around these ridges is a difficult but welcome exercise.
WITH A GUIDE
A guided excursion on the surface of a glacier is an experience brimming with beauty, triumph and unparalleled awe. In Patagonia a glacier trek is the perfect way to appreciate these monster sheets of living ice. Gustavo, my guide from Serac Expeditions, led our small group with stamina, confidence and an intimate knowledge of the ice we crossed.
FROM A BOAT
Perito Moreno as seen from a boat chartered by Hielo Adventura. Sailing next to the vertical wall of ancient ice gives the visitor an uncompromising perspective on the sheer mass of the glacier.
A thrilling aspect of my trek with Serac was the opportunity to rope up and practice ice climbing. Digging crampons into the ice wall and swinging the ice axes above my head I climbed steadily up the hard, blue ice. This was my first time ice climbing but it will not be my last.
I couldn’t drink enough. Tap water seemed like a misshapen mockery of water as I drank my fill from various streams and sink holes filled with the bluest, clearest, tastiest water imaginable. While hiking I delighted in filling my Camelback with glacier water from rivers, pools and streams.
This detail of the foot of Perito Moreno Glacier shows where a recent section broke off with a thunderous roar and fell into the lake. Glaciers are textured with bands of debris, stratified layers of ice and rock. Like the rings of a tree, the stratum of a glacier tells a story of millennial snow falls and weather patterns.
AS A SKYLINE
The sawtooth ridge of Perito Moreno against the granite slopes of a nearby mountain. Looking up at the top of the glacial terminus, the glacier skyline is anything but flat and dull. It is a series of sharp undulations, peaks and troughs. The texture of the glacier is in constant motion and flux, changing with new snow fall, melt and the procession / recession of the glacier as a whole.
I stood and watched the glacier for 4 hours. I heard the near constant cracking and shedding of ice. The shotgun boom of slabs of falling ice slapping the water. The size, age and reality of the glacier seemed to goad every visitor into silent watching. After a stressful day, the presence of the glacier before me moved me to a simple happiness that comes with witnessing the grandeur of natures infinite expressions.
Standing on the observation deck I close one eye and smoosh the god-like glacier between my thumb and pointer. The glacier, ridiculous in size and scope, makes me feel as expansive as the ice fields that disappear within an indistinguishable horizon.
A mountain can make you feel monstrous, the Milky Way can make you feel millions of light years distant, ancient and incendiary.
There are times to be humbled by nature and there are times to feel as an equal to its estimable forms.
They are usually the same time.