This Glacier is Advancing

The Los Glaciares National Park is home to incredible glaciers such as Perito Moreno, Upsala, Viedma, and the Spegazzini.

The Perito Moreno Glacier extends from the Patagonian Icefields which is the third largest in the world (the largest being Antarctica followed by Greenland). When snow accumulates at the top of mountains and survives a summer season it becomes compressed into ice and can cause a glacier to grow. The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of the few glaciers still growing.

Icefields contain 77% of the total freshwater available on our planet. Many of the lakes fed by glacial melt have varying intensities of blue but some appear milky. The movement of the glacier grounds rocks into silt that are suspended in the meltwater. This gives the lake water its color.

Fresh water illustration in the ice caps of the world
Image Credit: Administracion de Parques Nacionales, Argentina

Streams coming from the glacier lakes are pristine and often crystal clear with hues of blue.

From what we’ve read about the experience of others, you could drink the water directly from the streams here in Patagonia without filtering. Rangers in the Los Glacieres National park also assured us that the streams were pristine drinking water. We remained skeptical.


We have always filtered our water from any stream. Since we have been traveling through the countries north of here in South America we even filtered all tap water for the last two years. Before arriving in Patagonia Trin and I agreed that just to be safe we would filter the water here as well. That pact didn’t take long. On our first hike near El Chalten we drank from the stream, so did all the other hikers. There have been no reports of illness from any other hikers and we have been fine as well. The water tastes great.

Growth and Calving of the Perito Moreno Glacier

Covering an area of over 250km (97 sq miles) – that is bigger than the city of Buenos Aires – the Perito Moreno Glacier is continually advancing. This advancement creates an ice dam within the Argentino Lake when the ice butts up against land cutting off one area of the lake. This causes the water to rise sometimes up to 30 meters on the dammed side. The resulting pressure eventually carves out an ice tunnel that allows water to flow into the rest of the lake.

Every few years the advancing glacier crushes the ice tunnel in a spectacular show of large ice chunks crashing into the water, and the cycle restarts. Visitors come from all over the world in hopes to see the collapse, a collapse which paradoxically represents the growth of the glacier.

Breaking the Ice

Standing in front of the glacier we could hear the loud thundering of the calving ice. Occasionally, large sections would break off and cascade into the lake causing a large wake.

Moreno Glacier
Perito Moreno Glacier

With each crack, every tourist’s head turned in hopes to see the ice plunging into the water. Usually, by the time you hear it, it has already happened, though sometimes you get lucky. Sometimes just a small piece pops off but even that creates a loud cracking sound. When large sections broke off, everybody fell into a trance watching the spectacle as an edge of the glacier cracks and plummets into the water. A wave of ice then flows out from its center and all settles down again.

I was not fast enough with my phone to capture the dramatic scenes. It’s a combination of luck and persistence. I would have had to set up a tripod and keep filming. Some people are lucky enough to get good footage within ten minutes. Others could have hours of recording with nothing interesting captured.

Perito Moreno Glacier

Icebergs Like a Breaching Whale

Occasionally a large piece of ice breaks off from underneath the lake and makes its way to the surface. We got to witness this and it was confusing at first because we didn’t know what was going on. It began with a disturbance on the water surface and the water bubbled up as if there were a jetstream underneath. Then a smooth piece of ice floated to the surface, so smooth it looked like a marine animal.

“It’s a whale breaching!” a lady behind us exclaimed. She was joking and we laughed but that’s what it looked like. These large chunks of ice would then float away as icebergs. Its color will gradually turn from deep blue to white as the water on its surface freezes to a lesser density than the iceberg itself.

Moreno Glacier

Visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier

Make sure you take your warmest coat. I overheard a number of people comment that they were not expecting it to be so cold. We made the same mistake because El Calafate, the town where we stayed, was so warm. Being that this excursion was about walking near a massive expanse of ice, logically, we should have known better.

There are a few bus lines that take visitors from El Calafate to the Perito Moreno Glacier which is 2 hours away. Tickets are purchased as a round-trip. There’s a bus option that leaves at 8AM and returns by five. This gives about four hours to enjoy the glacier. There’s a 1PM option as well. The bus prices were the same at 800 ARS each ($21 USD as of Dec 2018). The park entrance costs 700 ARS each ($18.50 USD). If you return to the park the following day, the entrance is half price by just showing your ticket from the previous day.

Moreno Glacier
These ice towers are 70 meters tall

Four hours is plenty of time to walk all the trails. Optionally, visitors can take a boat ride, go kayaking, or do a trek onto the glacier itself at an additional cost. For us, the trails already take you pretty close to the glacier near the area where the ice tunnel forms. Boats and kayaks have to keep a certain distance for safety reasons. Ice cracking and falling from the edge can throw lethal shards of ice. Between 1968 and 1988 there were 32 deaths caused by the flying ice.

A Special Glacier

The Perito Moreno Glacier is unusual in that it is advancing rather than retreating as many other glaciers are right now. It also has the advantage of being easily accessible. In fact, if you are so inclined you can take a tour onto the glacier itself for some ice trekking. If you have the opportunity to see this grand display of nature we highly recommend stopping by. Enjoy an icy cold day gazing into its deep blue crevasses.

Whatever you do I hope you find your next blue door of opportunity to see something amazing or do something that will improve your life or the lives of others around you.

Blue door from Cochabamba Bolivia, Find your blue door

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2 thoughts on “This Glacier is Advancing”

  1. ooh! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this. Between the article and the pictures, I could picture myself looking at the ice. Absolutely gorgeous!.

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