Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Moving Ice

Magazine article Americas (English Edition)

Moving Ice

Article excerpt

"Ice walking is the only way of experiencing the glacier firsthand," says Luciano Pera, as he guides us, equipped with crampons and pickaxes, on the ascent along a ridge of the Perito Moreno Glacier. Pera is a pioneering figure in these parts; he made the first ascent of nearby Lautaro Volcano in 1964. So, when he adds: "It's a challenge that imposes calm," I have a feeling of having found inner balance, even though we are walking on an uneven surface that crunches beneath our feet like hail and dissolves into folds, crevices, and rivulets or ends abruptly in vivid sea-green ice.

Located in Glaciers National Park, at the far southwestern end of Argentina's Santa Cruz Province, the Perito Moreno Glacier is part of the Natural Heritage of Humanity, designated by UNESCO. The park covers nearly 1.5 million acres and includes thirteen major glaciers, from north to south: Marconi, Viedma, Moyano, Upsala, Agassiz, Bolado, Onelli, Peineta, Spegazzini, Mayo, Ameghino, Moreno, and Frias.

The Perito Moreno Glacier was named for Argentine naturalist Francisco Moreno, who devoted his life to the exploration and collection of species. Moreno envisioned the true integration of Argentina's vast territory, especially the unknown lands of Patagonia, unifying the land and its inhabitants beyond considerations of race or customs. He believed that Patagonia could be a paradise where mankind might coexist with animals and plants. The Indians gave him the name of Huinca Toro (brave Christian).

We had started out at dawn from Calafate, nineteen hundred miles from the Argentine capital and almost at the foot of the Perito Moreno Glacier, on the edge of Lake Argentino, which Moreno in fact named. The village is small, colorful, and filled with poplars. It takes its name from a large, dense shrub, the calafate, a box-leafed barberry (Berberis heterophylla) with yellow flowers and sweet violet fruit, which, according to legend, ensures that whoever tastes it will return.

From a raised wooden walkway set into the slope of the Magallanes Peninsula, the glacier's great mass of blue ice appears to overflow into the lake. Large chunks of ice break off unexpectedly and tumble down with a great roar, making high waves upon the otherwise calm surface of the lake, which we are to cross by boat to reach the glacier.

Looming in front of us is the overwhelming sight of Brazo Rico, an arm of the lake nearly nine miles long and three miles across, with a vertical wall almost two hundred feet high, culminating in thousands of holes that give it the appearance of a gothic cathedral or perhaps a fantastic ice city. A virgin forest of oaks and winter's bark provides a backdrop for the advancing blue ice. Here, the strongest winds on earth scourge the glaciers' summits, which are covered by a sea of ice, a veritable continent of ice, encompassing 11,500 square miles.

Even as we watch, a series of transparent blue pools suddenly drain away through a fissure that may be over two hundred feet deep. Despite my uneasiness as a novice ice walker, I cannot escape the magical effect of the shapes of ice against the light, under the iridescent brightness of the sun, more intense than ever upon the glaring white around me. …

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