A short bus ride took me from El Chaltén to El Calafate, a relatively large town at the southern end of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. El Calafate’s primary tourist attraction is the Perito Moreno Glacier, a river of blue ice that empties into Lago Argentina. Perito Moreno is one of many glaciers in the immense Southern Patagonian Ice Field, exceeded in size only by Antarctica and Greenland.
On my second morning in town I rode to Perito Moreno with a small group of tourists. We took a little-used gravel road to increase our chances of seeing wildlife, and just after sunrise we spotted a red fox running along the fence line. A little later we stopped at a sheep farm and met Lola, a guanaco orphan the owners rescued and raised. Lola, still very young, had become best friends with one of the goats on the farm, and the two were inseparable. When I kneeled down next to Lola she pressed the side of her head against my neck.
We’d planned to hike along the shore of Lago Argentina, but a cold rain started to fall and instead we decided to head straight to the network of boardwalks overlooking the glacier. Conditions couldn’t have been much worse for photography. The sky was a dull, uniform gray, and it rained almost constantly throughout the day.
Rain or shine, Perito Moreno is extraordinary. Even in the absence of direct sunlight the ice glowed with an almost neon blue. In some places the vertical face of the glacier’s edge towered more than 200 feet above the lake.
Considering that my camera had been temporarily knocked out of commission by an accidental soaking at Iguazu, I was hesitant to take it out of my backpack for more than a few minutes at a time. But during rare breaks in the rain I rushed to set up my tripod for some long exposure shots, which smoothed out the water and absorbed as much color as possible.
Unlike most of the world’s glaciers, Perito Moreno is not retreating. Every few years it even advances all the way across the lake until it reaches the rocky shore beneath the boardwalks. But Lago Argentina doesn’t appreciate being split in half. Given enough time, water will cut through anything, and the lake inevitably bores a tunnel through the glacier. Photographers then wait weeks for the massive arch of blue ice to fall, and postcards showing examples of the dramatic collapses can be found in just about every souvenir store in El Calafate.
In the afternoon we took a boat ride to the glacier’s southern wall. The weather never improved, and I had to risk getting my camera wet in order to take photos. My hands turned red in the cold wind, and after every shot I had to wipe the rain off my lens.
Boat Ride to the Perito Moreno Glacier (Video)
The clouds – in El Calafate at least – cleared by mid-morning the next day, and I decided to return to the glacier to see if conditions there had improved. But all the tours had already left, as had the last public bus. One visit would have to be enough.