The White Giant
A close encounter in the Patagonian Icefield
A great wall of blue ice, trapped in a valley of snow-draped mountains, rose like a fortress in front of us. Craggy fingers of crystallized snow, imprisoned for decades in Argentina’s Perito Moreno glacier, clawed at the blue sky. Just a 2-hour drive from the charming little frontier town of El Calafate, the 5km-long glacier is located in Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park. It is one of 350 glaciers in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, the world’s third-largest ice mass after Antarctica and Greenland.
Gazing at it off the side of a cruise boat, we heard a great roar; a cry of pain as an enormous chunk of ice calved off the scar-faced wall and crashed into the water, setting off a miniature tidal wave. Repeatedly, the brute hurled frozen boulders at us and thundered a warning not to get any closer. The boat’s captain took no chances and maintained a safe distance from this awesome work of art; a work in progress crafted by nature over millions of years.
Later, however, we did get to almost touching distance of this giant mass of compressed snow and ice when we walked across a boardwalk that zigzagged down the face of a hill facing the glacier. At times we were so close that we could feel its icy breath and look deep into the eerie blue caverns that pitted its face. Yes, this lumbering, slow-moving frozen blue wall was an awesome beast; a ruggedly handsome one that commanded our attention to the exclusion of everything around it.
On our return to El Calafate, we raised a toast at the Yeti Ice Bar, to the giant ice cap that we had just eyeballed.