The following morning we were waiting before dawn, clad in our warmest jackets, hats and gloves, sharing the roadside with the local pack of bedraggled dogs. The hour long drive from El Calafate to Punta Bandera took us through wide open countryside, and the barren rolling hills and icy blue lakes reminded us both of parts of the Mackenzie country back home.
The journey up the lake was long but interesting and we were able to see the changing landforms caused by the receding icecap, thousands of years ago. The narrowest point of Lago Argentino is called Boca del Diablo, the Mouth of the Devil, where the sheer scarred walls of rock, rise high on either side of the boat. The fact that we were going to be taken so close to enormous slabs of living, moving ice, was quite amazing. Even before we could see the first of the glaciers, Glaciar Upsala, the boat passed through extensive fields of massive ice floes, 'calved' from the face of the cliffs of ice that lay ahead. The depth and range of the colour blue in these massive chunks of floating ice, was breathtaking. As we drew nearer to these islands of ice, we could feel the temperature drop even lower than it already was. The ice sparkled and glittered when the sun struck the surface, and we gaped in awe at graceful arches flaring high above the lake, darker caves and melting water splashing down into the lake.
The boat approached the end of the glacier towering above the lake, and all of us on board were virtually awe struck by the sheer size and magnificence of the wall of ice stretching up across the whole of our horizon. It was a remarkable sight, the huge slabs of ice had so much power and beauty. Their sheer size and the unpredictability of their movement imbued them with a sense of menace and danger. The boat’s engines were turned right off and everyone was quiet. All we could hear was the sound of the icy water lapping along the sides of the boat. We all just stood and stared. No-one even took photos for a few moments such was our feeling of awe and wonder. Upsala Glacier is fifty kilometers long, ten kilometers wide, and many hundred of metres thick.
Further back down the lake, we visited a small inlet. Leaving the boat we walked for about fifteen minutes along a quiet track through lovely beech trees, until we reached a smaller lake bounded on three sides by blue-black, snow-capped mountains. For as far as we could see, the waters of this small lake, Lake Onelli, were filled almost to the brim with lumps of floating ice. Having broken off the face of the Onelli Glaciar at the head of the lake, these icy chunks sailed quietly across the black waters heading in the direction of the outlet into the nearby river. Len and I walked a little way along the shore and used the binoculars to have a closer look at the mountains and ice fields higher up towards the peaks. I caught sight of a pair of condors and watched in awe as they floated, spun and spiralled high above our heads in an effortless pas de deux that was a treat to see.
We made one last stop at an even more enormous glacier, the mighty Glaciar Spegazzini which in places, reached a height of 135 metres above the surface of the lake. This powerful river of ice winds its way down both sides of the valley, curling and twisting as it carves its pathway down through the rocky terrain. Away over to our right a narrow offshoot from the main body of the glacier, had wound around behind a nearby rocky outcrop before tumbling down a steep incline, to rejoin the parent glacier in its confrontation with the waters of the lake. Before leaving to return to Punta Bandera, the driver of the boat edged closer and closer to the sheer rock face down which a waterfall splashed and tumbled, until we actually bumped right against the cliff. The freezing waters of the lake dropped hundreds of feet straight down into the murky green depths below.