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Fire and Ice of Los Glaciers National Park

One of the reasons that I have been fascinated with Patagonia is its diverse and almost alien landscapes. One such area that epitomises this is the Los Glaciares National Park. A 7,300 km2 UNESCO world heritage site is home to unique forestry and wildlife, but also to the largest ice cap outside of Antarctica and Greenland. This ice cap is responsible for the existence of almost 50 glaciers.

Starting in the northern region, near the town of El Chalten, I was greeted expansive flat ranges of dried grass, weathered by the harsh and turbulent climate. The long straight road disappeared into the horizon, being engulfed by a wall of snow-capped granite towers. Tufted clouds blanketing the peaks and a blue haze washing the skyline, it is easy to see why this town was named “Chalten” meaning ‘smoking mountain’. It is a beautiful sight.

El Chalten was suggested to me as a gateway to some of the most impressive and ‘free’ hikes, the most popular of which is the hike to FitzRoy Massif. Leading past the Laguna de los Tres viewpoint, the granite towers are showstoppers when it comes to an ever-changing scenery. I had luck on my side when I visited as some people would wait for months for the blue skies that I was greeted with on arrival. Trekking and camping overnight along the trail allowed me to be there front and centre at sunrise. I cannot recommend doing this enough. Witnessing the sun illuminate the granite towers in the frosty morning sky, seeing the fiery colours glow against the sleepy mountain ranges and then watching the other mountains thaw in the morning sun is just magical and worth the effort to be there.

Exploring further and hiking to the Laguna de lo Tres lookout you are able to appreciate the imposing size of these natural granite wonders. Juxtapose this with the turquoise Laguna Sucia at the base and you find yourself really ‘placed in the way of beauty’.

This region represents the start of the series of Glaciers that form the Los Glaciares National Park. However, due to the effects of climate change, most of the glaciers in this region are in a state of receding and so access to and visibility of them is becoming increasingly challenging.

However, further south in the region of El Calafate is the most popular of glaciers, Perito Moreno.

Merely telling you that this is really big does not do it justice. There are so many different and interesting things to note about it. This glacier is so big that it covers some 250km2 and the weight at the northern end of the glacier is forcing it to advance at a phenomenal 1.5m a day. This movement is so fast for such a large surface area that you can actually hear it creak and moan from the observation platform. Formed by compressed snow, and not solidified water, is what gives this glacier a unique consistency and colour.

I wanted to see it up close and so decided to do go Ice trekking through the alternative terrain. Weaving our way through the forest of icy spires, stepping over the iridescent blue water crevasses that funnel hundreds of metres below and watching the diamond like sparkle of the sunlight being refracted was impressive to say the least. The ranger guiding the walk talks about the glacier as though it is alive, which is not hard to believe when you combine the ever-changing landscape being carved by the turbulent weather and water channels, with the cataclysmic sounds and glacier fragments being shaved off the face and collapse into the lakes, like an old lady having a facelift. This enormous glacier is advancing, maintaining its mass and despite global climate trends, amazing scientists and tourists everyday.

My time in the Los Glaciares National Park did not disappoint, and I feel will not be the last time I visit.

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