Often done after a trip to Mirador Perito Moreno, getting to walk on Los Glaciares National Park's massive glacier is a truly humbling experience. There are ways to hike the glacier yourself, but the majority of people will be going with a guide from El Calafate. The trip typically includes a hotel pick-up, a one-hour stop at Mirador Perito Moreno, boat transport across Argentino Lake with close-up views of the headwall of the glacier, a three-hour trek, a boat-ride back, and light refreshments, including a whiskey with glacial ice for the adults. It’s quite a day that is not cheap, but it is worth the experience if you are in El Calafate.
Perito Moreno Glacier is unique for several reasons, primarily being that it is an advancing glacier whereas most of the glaciers in the world are receding. The dynamic of this advance is incredible: As the glacier enters the lake and pushes forward, it periodically meets the other side of the lake. This blocks the flow of water from the two parts of Argentino Lake, causing the southern arm of the lake to rise because the water has no place to go. It was once measured 30 meters above the surface of the rest of Argentino Lake. As the water rises, the pressure builds on the glacial dam. Once the pressure reaches a critical mass, it ruptures and sends an enormous amount of water into the main body of the lake to equalize. This happens cyclically every one to 10 years.
There are two treks that are normally offered on Perito Moreno; a short hike and the “Big Ice” hike. If you are comfortable hiking over two hours, it is recommended to spring for the “Big Ice” option. After arriving on the southern side of the glacier, a short hike will take your tour group to the crampon-fitting area. Once your crampons are fitted, a short tutorial in how to use them effectively on the ice and basic safety in glacier walking will prep you for the next couple of hours.
The guides will then proceed to take you on a unique walk on the ice that’s never the same for different groups. You can expect to get a nice, wide view of the glacier from a high-point, observing streams and caves, and a chance to drink glacier water straight from the source. For those interested in learning about the glacier, the guides typically pepper the trek with interesting tidbits about how glaciers work and why they are important to the ecosystem. For those interested in learning more, there is a glacier museum just outside El Calafate.
Once the trek is over, the guides will bring you back to the crampon area to remove them and hike back to the boat. While waiting on the other groups, you can expect some light refreshments and a chance to reflect on your unique experience on Perito Moreno.