Iceberg Ahead – Day 224

Thu 13th Sep

After travelling 24 hours I’m excited to arrive in El Calafate. I’ve been looking forward to coming here since I started looking into Argentina. The guy at my hostel is so informative and gives me great advice and what to see and do starting with the Rios de Hielo Tour.

It’s an early start and I’m picked up at 7am and after a few more pick ups we drive the 50 mins or so to the port of Punta Bandera. The trip cost 2100 pesos but you still have to pay a 600 entry fee to the Glaciers National Park. Los Glaciares National Park is located in the area known as Austral Andes in Argentina, in the south west of Santa Cruz on the border with Chile. By his magnificent natural beauty, it constitutes a wonder in the world, and was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1981. The park’s name refers to the giant ice caps – the largest outside of Antarctica, Greenland and Iceland which feed over 47 large glaciers.

From the port, in the cold, wind and rain, we board our rather luxurious boat and set off across Lake Argentino.

It’s the largest lake in Argentina and the third largest in South America. It is 60 km long and between 14 and 20 km wide. Its depth varies between 35 and 1000m. It is also said to be around 15,000 years old. It is fed by glaciar meltwater and flows through to the Atlantic Ocean.

From the lake we sail up through one of the many channels, this one called the Canal of Icebergs and it’s truly incredible.

I have never seen anything like this before in my life. Large fragments of ice here there and everywhere as we sail past.

We’re approaching an enormous iceberg and our boat makes a stop to take in this magnificent sight and of course get some photos.

Most of the icebergs here have broken off the Upsala Glacier….some enormously bigger than others and some of the larger ones like this, broken off under the water.

We leave this impressive sight and sail on towards the Spegazzini Glacier. I’ve never seen a glacier before and the sight before me is nothing short of incredible. I am speechless!

The Spegazzini Glacier isn’t the biggest here but it is the highest…it’s walls reaching a mighty 135m.

It has an area of ​​66 km² and an average width of 1.5 km. The area of the glacier has remained almost the same, being an exception to the general retreat of glaciers. From 1968 to 2008, the decrease of its area was only 0.03 km2. This glacier is grounded to the bottom of the lake with a depth of about 150m. The glacier is named after an Italian-Argentinian botanist Carlos Luis Spegazzini who was the first to study fauna in the area.

A bit of science….

Glaciers begin to form when snow remains in the same area year-round, where enough snow accumulates to transform into ice. Each year, new layers of snow bury and compress the previous layers. This compression forces the snow to re-crystallise, forming grains similar in size and shape to grains of sugar. Gradually the grains grow larger and the air pockets between the grains get smaller, causing the snow to slowly compact and increase in density. After about two winters, the snow turns into a firm – an intermediate state between snow and glacier ice. At this point, it is about two-thirds as dense as water. Over time, larger ice crystals become so compressed that any air pockets between them are very tiny. In very old glacier ice, crystals can reach several inches in length. For most glaciers, this process takes more than hundreds of years.

It’s not just the enormity of this glacier that strikes me, but also the colour. Different ranges of blue from a lake baby blue to a deep royal blue in some of the crevices.

Why are glaciers blue? It’s because water is very good at absorbing light. Only the strongest light with the most energy is able to escape. Blue is the color of light that has the most energy. Because of this, blue is the only color of light that can escape without being absorbed. The thicker the glacier is, the more blue it appears.

As I stand here gazing into this natural wonder, what an amazingly beautiful world we live in. It again hits me how unbelievably lucky I am. Despite the bitingly cold temperature, I simply stand, state and admire.

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