Monte Tronador y el glaciar negro

Today was a national holiday (“to commemorate some battle,” according to Mirna), so we booked an all-day excursion to see a glacier.

The sun was shining from a cloudless blue sky as we headed out of town in a micro with our driver, our guide Mica, and several Argentines including a group of women from Buenos Aires in their 50s or 60s that Pete called “the Golden Girls.”

We headed south and west, driving through the barrios or pueblitos pequeños of outer Bariloche where humble homes—many in the midst of years-long or never-to-be-completed renovations—led to a dozen or more rudimentary shacks that were not very far from the town dump, where we saw open pit burning. Then we drove around Lago Gutierrez, which is much, much bigger than what we saw when we went to Luciana’s.

To get to the glacier we needed to drive deep into the unpopulated part of the Nahuel Huapi National Park. A two-lane highway got us about a third of the way from Bariloche, and the rest of the way we drove on a narrow, extremely rocky road. We were the kids in the back of the bus, so we suffered the most despite having a luxurious amount of leg room.

We stopped for pictures several times on the two-plus hour drive to the glacier, and during our break at a campground next to some rapids I impulsively bought a couple of Cokes. It felt like we were leaving civilization.

All along the journey Mica offered commentary about the history, geology, and flora and fauna of the countryside, which neither Pete nor I could hear well enough to understand. But the volume of information offered, the enthusiasm behind it, and occasional chuckles from the Golden Girls convinced us that Mica was a good guide.

We finally arrived at the end of the road where we were surprised to see a restaurant serving a few different entrees, beverages including hard liquor, and an assortment of beautiful desserts. (Who are the poor truckers bringing in all that food? And where do the restaurant staff live? They have to drive in during the morning and can’t leave until  afternoon because most of the road is so narrow that it is unidirectional.)

Pete, Lou and I sat under tall trees eating the lunch we had packed, surrounded by Argentines and their thermoses of hot water and mate cups. In front of us was a thick sheet of snow and ice perched on the top of Mount Thunder, and we could hear ice melt pouring from cracks and crevices all along the mountainside. After lunch we did a short, easy hike up the Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) to better see the waterfalls.

Our next stop overlooked the base of the black glacier, a glacial moraine, and a lake of ice melt turned green from pulverized rock. Several times we heard snow breaking off the ice sheet on Monte Tronador, and it truly sounded like distant thunder. Once a chunk of snow broke free directly in front of us, and it seemed to fall so slowly that I was sure I could have lifted the camera to shoot it if I hadn’t been mesmerized. When the ice finally hit the slope below it again sounded like thunder.

All along the drive Pete and I remarked that the scenery was comparable to what we have seen in Glacier National Park, except this was even better because the glacier hasn’t completely melted.

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