El Chalten — A backpacker’s haven — Not much to do in this sleepy little town with one main street of a couple restaurants and a handful of hiking/camping shops and outdoor equipment rentals. Most people use this place as a home base to gather supplies then head into the backcountry. We were told you need a week or two here in order to see everything and take advantage of all the hiking. However, if the weather isn’t on your side, there’s not much else to do here. Thankfully, heading into Fall, we had one lucky day.
Overnight Trek to Fitz Roy.
Hoping the weather predictions were correct, we set out in the pouring rain and hurricane force winds, willing Mother Nature to provide some relief throughout the day. The trek was tough, packs on our back full of rented camping supplies and food, but we muscled through. The first day was 9ks (approx. 6 miles), mostly straight up in the beginning. Needless to say, I was not a happy camper. Cold, wet, and almost blown over with a 30lb pack on, the idea of turning around was definitely tempting. However, it wouldn’t be in my nature to do so. With some encouragement from Michael, we continued onward, into the unknown, hoping the rain would let up and our campsite would be somewhat protected from the weather. He started out carrying the larger pack (my main backpack), and me with the smaller day pack. However, only 3ks in, my back was killing me (Unfortunately, I’ve struggled with back problems since I was 23 and was certainly concerned about that on this trip). His daypack had no straps for support, so I suggested we switch packs since the bigger one had a chest and waist strap. To my surprise, the larger pack was less stressful on my back and I was able to carry on the other 6ks without issue. The terrain varied constantly. From open valleys, traversing across exposed mountain faces, to forest foliage, every turn was a new beautiful view. Patagonia definitely lives up to it’s reputation.
To our relief, the Poincenot campsite was covered with trees and actually slightly warmer than the exposed areas. Michael even built up a barrier with tree trunks to ensure we were warm in our tent.
Hopeful for Fitz Roy.
The locals informed us that the weather was expected to clear Friday morning. After a very brief night of sleep, due to wind and rain (but thankfully not as bad as I expected!), we woke at 5am in the hopes of catching a clear glimpse of Mt. Fitz Roy. To our delight, we broke out of the trees and even in the darkness of dawn, we saw Fitzy, clear, bold, and so magnificent. It literally made me stop in my tracks as this was the first time we were able to see him since we arrived. Excited and energized by this sight, we set out on the 3k straight up (literally), climb to Laguna De Los Tres. Headlamps and all, we muscled our way one step at a time, over the rocks, water, and mud, racing the sunrise (and clouds).
Once we reached the top of the trail, we had a brief moment of just us and Mt. Fitz Roy — clear and powerful. We embraced the memory before trying to capture it forever with a picture. Sadly, the lighting was poor at that hour, but a picture wouldn’t do it justice anyway. As the clouds rolled in, we sat and waited, hoping for another view of the summit, but just thankful to be at the base and enjoying the moment with nature. Unfortunately, Mt. Fitz Roy decided to hide it’s beauty for the remainder of the day, only teasing us briefing in the early dawn hours with a full view.
With the winds and clouds moving in, we decided to make the trek back to camp, pack up, and continue on our long hike back to El Chalten, by way of Laguna Torre.
The connecting trail between Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre was 11ks, and besides a neat perspective from a couple lakes, the majority of the hike was through the forest with no views at all.
Wishful thinking for Cerro Torre.
However, once we broke through and saw the view of Cerro Torre for the first time, I once again, stopped in my tracks, dumb-founded. Cerro Torre was different from Fitz Roy, but spectacular in it’s own right. An enormous glacier at it’s base, leading to Laguna Torre, it was hidden in the clouds, so mysterious, so powerful, so beautiful.
At 3,128m (10,262 ft), Cerro Torre is the highest in a four mountain chain: the other peaks are Torre Egger, Punta Herron, and Cerro Standhardt. The top of the mountain often has a mushroom of rim ice, formed by the constant strong winds, increasing the difficulty of reaching the actual summit. Side note: Redbull just released a documentary on climbers summiting this massive peak for the first time, claimed to be the most difficult in the world. Be sure to check out Cerro Torre: A Snowball’s Chance in Hell.
To my disappointment, Mother Nature didn’t bless us on this trip to witness both peaks on the same day, but at least we had a feel for the beauty of it. And appreciate the time there. So those of you that are able to see these summits clear of weather, embrace it and know you’re blessed. I’m realizing that few people are lucky enough to see both while they’re here.
In total, we hiked 36k in two days (for us American folk, that’s 6 miles one day, and 16 miles the next — 22 miles total. Needless to say, we were pretty sore. I’m actually enjoying a couple mimosas while writing this post as my reward for a long, hard trek).
Sadly, with Mother Nature not appreciating our timeline, we had to cut our trip to El Chalten short by a few days. After doing two out of the three main hikes in the area our first two days out, that left only one hike to conquer if we had another clear day. But as Michael reminded me, we saw the best on that hike too, up close and personal. The final hike I wanted to complete was Loma del Pliegue which is a panoramic view of the mountain ranges of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. But on the hike back form Laguna Torre, we were able to see both Torre and Fitz together for the first time. And it was… Magical! Since we were lukcy enough to see that, I didn’t feel the need (as much), to do the last hike as it would have been the same view, just from a higher elevation.
But as we expected, the rain and wind didn’t let up and we were forced inside for our remaining two days in El Chalten, with no views of the mountains. Until next time, El Chalten…
On a clear day, you can see Fitz Roy from town!
El Chalten Recap:
Must Do List:
- Hike to Laguna de los Tres – I read on a blog to hike past the lake and check out the glacier behind it, but didn’t see where that trail would be… Maybe you’ll have better luck? Although, we didn’t feel like we missed out since we experienced the beautiful Perito Moreno glacier days before.
- Hike to Laguna Torre – You could do as we did, and spend the night at Pinocenot Campsite then take the connecting 8k trail to Laguna Torre, but to be honest, besides a cool view from a few lakes, the rest of the hike was in the trees with no view at all expect for hundreds of caterpillars in the middle of the trail that you had to avoid squishing – EWW!
- Hike to Laguna Torre – Iconic peak in Argentina, along with more glaciers. Remarkable. But don’t believe the map. This is not an “easy” hike. Lots of hills and rocks to climb over. Worth it though.
- That same blog I researched listed the following trails in order 1). Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, 2). Laguna del los Tres, 3). Laguna Torre. If you only have 1-2 clear days in El Chalten, I suggest Laguna de los Tres since you can actually see Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre together on this hike, and then Laguna de los Tres to see Fitz Roy up close. Even though Loma del Pliegue was listed as #1, it’s just a panaromic view of those mountains. Personally, seeing them up close was more interesting to me so I didn’t feel the need to do Loma del Pliegue. It is a 12k one-way hike and rated as difficult. I suppose would be worth it if you have one day, but all depends on preference. Either way, I don’t think you can go wrong here.
- Visit Patagonia in the summer/spring time. Fall is hit-or-miss. We got lucky once, but not twice. Avoid winter at all costs.
Bucket List Complete:
- Trek Patagonia for sunrise at Fitz Roy
- Camp overnight in Patagonia
- Views of Cerro Torre
- Tierra del Fuego
- Rent a car and drive/camp along the countryside
- Set foot in the Southern-most city in the world, Ushuaia
- Hikers Paradise – A quiet, beautiful town with nothing much else going on except for day trips and overnight hikes
- Only a three hour bus ride from El Calafate – Serene drive with wild llama and horses everywhere, giant lakes, and snowy mountain tops year round.
- Safest – El Chalten and El Calafate are extremely safe, and the safest we’ve felt since arriving in South America.
- Landscape – The most beautiful countryside and clouds you’ve ever seen, picturesque, white and fluffy.
- Weather – Give yourself extra days here to accommodate for fickle weather.
- No Wi-Fi – Sounds ridiculous, but when trying to keep up with the blog, especially when the weather is poor, there is nothing else to do.
- Hitchhiking is OK and safe – We didn’t attempt, but saw dozens of hikers with their thumbs out.
- You can drink the water in the streams! – But only do it if the sign says “Water is drinkable”. We were fine, it just tasted a little earthy 🙂