Walking On Ice: The Puerto Merino Glacier

The Puerto Merino Glacier is a breathtaking sight, towering over 30m above sea level. El Calafate, the town where people stay in order to access it, is a different story. There isn’t much else to do there besides trips to the glacier. It’s very touristy and expensive. I wouldn’t recommend staying for longer than a day. Get in, see the glacier, and get out.

When we first arrived in El Calafate, we wanted to book the Big Ice Trekking Tour, which is a 4.5 hour glacier trek. Unfortunately, it was completely booked up for the next 11 days and there was no way we were going to wait around for that long. We ended up signing up for the Mini Trekking Tour instead, which is a 1.5 hour trek on the glacier.

Patagonia, during high season, was different than anywhere else I’ve ever backpacked. Usually when I travel, I don’t book anything in advance. I just go with the flow and book everything at the very last minute. I like this because it provides more flexibility and freedom, which is what I love about backpacking. In Patagonia, we had to book ahead for everything. It was not uncommon for every hostel in a city to fill up or for every bus leaving a city to sell out a couple days before the departure date.

Before starting the trek, we had a couple hours to sit and watch the glacier from a look out area. Every few minutes we would hear a thunderous roar as another piece of glacier ice broke off and came tumbling down into the water below. At one point we were lucky enough to see a piece break away that must have been at least 25 metres high and 10 metres wide. It was incredible.

The view from the look out area.

The view from the look out area.

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The view of the glacier from the catamaran.

Walking on top of the glacier was different than I expected. I envisioned the surface to be flat and icy like a giant ice cube. Instead we were faced with a series of rolling hills and a surface was more like hard compact snow than smooth ice. There were also streams of glacier water running down the slopes all around us. We had the chance to drop onto our hands and knees and drink the fresh glacier water directly from one of the steams. I took it to the next level and decided to fully submerge my head at one point. Wow, it was cold! When the trip came to an end, the guides brought us over to a make shift bar and we were greeted with shots of whiskey and chocolate.

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Shaun, Mari and I posing with our crampons.

Shaun, Mari and I posing with our crampons.

Right before I dunk my head into glacier water.

Right before I dunk my head into glacier water.

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They left two Canadians alone with the whiskey. Rookie mistake.

In the end, the mini trekking ended up being a really great experience and I walked away really glad I did it. At first I was a bit disappointed that we were not able to do the Big Trekking, but I believe it worked out for the best. Honestly, I don’t think I needed 3 more hours up there to see more of the same things, on a slightly bigger scale.

One thing I’ve really come to learn and embrace is that more isn’t always better. There have been several times on this trip where I’ve had the option to pay more money or commit more time for an experience that included “more.” The glacier trekking is just one example. I could have done the 8-day “O” circuit in Torres Del Paine National Park instead of the 4 day “W” route. I could have hopped on a 22-day, instead of an 11-day Antarctica cruise.

Each time, for one reason or another, I did not end up taking the option that provided “more” and each time I ended up being very happy with my decision. I’m not saying that I wouldn’t have had a great time with the other options. I easily could have ended up on the “O” or on a longer Antarctica trip and I would probably be saying that I made the right decision and it was completely worth it.

My point is this… Having and doing more can be fun, but what’s more important is making the most of what we have. By doing so we create experiences that we can look back on and say, “I wouldn’t change a thing.”

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