With each step my crampons dug into the surface of the glacier with a satisfying crunch. The cold wind off the ice made this Argentinian summer feel like a winter's day in Newfoundland. The ice field stretched ahead of me for over 30 kilometres, reaching to the snow capped Andes ahead. It's in these mountains that the ice under my feet began as snowfall hundreds if not thousands of years ago. Each year's snowfall is compacted by the winters that follow, turning it to ice. Gravity does the rest as the ice is pulled and pushed down the slope of the mountain, feeding the base of the glacier.
I'm walking on Perito Moreno glacier, deep in rural Patagonia. It is one of the few glaciers in Patagonia that is advancing or stable, and for this reason it is often cited by those seeking to disprove global warming. Its unique position in the rain shadow of the Andes ensures huge snowfalls feed the glacier each year. It's one of the over 40 glaciers that flow from the South Patagonian Icefield, the largest in the world outside of Antarctica.
I had spent the previous afternoon with a few fellow travellers from Sweden, Belgium and the U.S. We watched from shore as the afternoon sun warmed the front edge of the glacier and huge chunks of ice plunged into Argentina's largest lake, Lago Argentino. At its front the glacier is four kilometres wide and 80 metres high. Throughout the afternoon thunderous sounds echoed through the valley just before skyscraper sized ice chunks caved from the glacier. They first disappeared below the surface, creating a massive wake, before exploding back through the surface with the same force they sank.
Experienced guides lead the hike on the glacier. To reach the more stable section of the glacier where it was safe for trekking we took a boat across the lake, then hiked for an hour on the moraine parallel to the glacier. Only once I stepped foot on the glacier did I fully understand the vastness of this river of ice. We were each just a dot in this massive ice field. Turquoise melt water flowed on top of the glacier and down through crevasses, creating holes well over 100 metres deep. We walked through a cave that was high enough to stand in and wide enough to brace yourself on each wall as we straddled a fissure deep enough to swallow a man. Frigid melt water ran down the sides of the cave disappearing into the fissure.
Back on the boat I sipped on a Jameson over glacier ice. This is as far south as my journey in Argentina will take me. Back in town I repacked my gear and prepared to move to the village of El Chalten where the real hiking would begin.
Previously published in The Telegram
Follow Jonathan Duke on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@DukeNL