What I Learned Hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina

Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

A chance to confront fears and see what I’m made of.

I’ve never seen a glacier before. I mean, not up front with my own eyes as opposed to a photo about global warming. So when I arrived in El Calafate it seemed like visiting a glacier would be a good idea. But then I learned I could see it from a boat and some walkways OR I could hike ON the glacier. I’m not a great hiker. In fact, I often look for a big stick to balance on. Last year I hiked Arenal in Costa Rica and fell flat on my butt and my tour guide had to hold my hand the entire way down! (Thanks, Julio!) So, hiking on a glacier where it might be steep or I worried about narrow passages and cliff drops I was, slightly, scared as hell. But, it just seemed like one of those things I can’t do every day and that I’d regret not doing, so I signed up.

First views of the glacier.

Photograph by Heather Markel, copyright 2019

We took a boat across to the glacier and that’s when I realized I was in for something really special. I wasn’t going to just see this glacier from across the river, I was going to touch it, feel it, walk on it – something that’s been around for 18,000 years. It’s like walking on wisdom and experience – seeing the colors and touching and even tasting the glacier. You can’t do that from a walkway. We were broken down into groups of about 15 and made our way to the area where we put crampons onto our feet. Well, the guides did it for us. When we got the lesson about how to walk safely I started to panic slightly. There were several moves to be avoided or you’d twist our ankle. You have to walk with your feet wide so you don’t pierce your skin with the sharp blades. And, try not to fall because falling on ice isn’t so good. Suddenly, the woman in front of me told me to go first. Gulp! Guinea pig away….

“I was slightly petrified and somehow ended up leading the group.”

The most difficult part is that you must take very deliberate steps. Walking up, your feet must be in a V shape and I felt like I had to smash each foot down one at a time. Walking down is scary because you’re on a downward angle and must keep your feet straight down, and walk deliberately, and trust that the crampons do not slide, and keep your back straight and knees bent. I thought about those deliberate steps – in life we need to take deliberate steps to be able to reach our goals. Yet, in my case, and maybe in yours, I don’t always know exactly the direction I want to go. But as each next step or goal appears, I realize I am taking deliberate steps in my life – confident, securing my footing, and trusting that the next step will appear and I will make that one too. It is the deliberation behind the action that makes the result stick.

Receiving instructions on how to walk properly.

Photograph by Heather Markel, copyright 2019

As has been my experience, when I confront my fears I learn new things about myself. Several people, including the tour guide, said I was a great leader and I could probably be a tour guide! I had so much fun, once I loosened up, my back naturally was straight and instead of feeling like a clod I felt like it was perfectly natural to walk on ice. This relaxing into the experience happened to me ziplining in Costa Rica as well. It’s very powerful when you can relax into that which you fear. The views were spectacular. The ice undulated in every direction – sometimes in curves, sometimes in spikes. It truly was a wonderland. The sun gleamed off the surface of the ice. I had covered my face in sunblock and wore sunglasses but ended up burning my eye lids! I didn’t even know this was possible. There were pools of water here and there, one in the shape of a heart. There were holes to be avoided and rescue equipment in case we did fall down one. (!) 

At the end of the hike we got a tall glass of whisky served over ice made fresh by the glacier. Not only was it superb but it removed all my fears so I practically flew down the rest of the mountain! Now you know they say you are rewarded for confronting your fears. Well, what I didn’t know before hiking the glacier is that you’re not allowed to hike the glacier if you’re older than 65. When I think about how I might have missed this experience by choosing to sit at a corporate desk until that age and THEN begin this adventure, I am truly grateful to myself for following my heart. I look at the photo of myself at the top of this post and I see the confident, happy, powerful person I am becoming. She may have always been there on the inside, but she’s finally coming out. What you may not know is that this is the leg of my journey that has no planned end date. I had to return home last April for jury duty and a family event. In August I had to return home to pack up my apartment, and in November I returned home for the holidays and then to be with my father. Having no planned return date I now feel I have truly given myself the gift of time. I can truly stay on as long as I want in each place because I don’t have to get everything done to make a defined return date or flight. I have no idea what I will do the day after tomorrow and realize I can do anything. I am for the first time in my life feeling the deep ability to steer my life in any direction I choose. Wow.

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