12th Dec 2015 - 13th Dec 2015 - Patagonia
Some 4 hours’ drive north into Los Glaciares National Park is the small town of El Chaltén. Originally built in 1985 to help maintain Argentinian land in the border dispute with Chile, it has a population of 300 in off peak but this swells during peak season due to 40,000 visiting tourists. The main draw is the trekking and climbing options available in and around Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitzroy. The name Chaltén means “Smoking Mountain” in the local Tehuelche language, because Mount Fitzroy was always seen circled with clouds and usually still is (aside from the incredibly clear day we flew over it). The mountain itself is named after the captain of The Beagle, the ship in which Darwin sailed around South America.
We woke up on our first morning in El Chaltén to low clouds which massively obscured the view of Fitzroy from the town. With our fingers crossed that it would clear, we set out on a 20km round trip to a viewpoint of the mountain and surrounding lakes. The start point of the trail was very near the hotel and the first 2km was uphill to Lago Capri, where we had a short rest before the cold got to us all and we kept on moving. The next 7km were Patagonian flat and were actually relatively flat. The final 1km was over moraine and scree, with some huge boulders, similar to day 1 on the Torres trek. We zig-zagged our way to the top where it was snowing and the views of Fitzroy were obscured. We could still see Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Sucia (Dirty Lake) named because the sides of the lake are dirty. They really put some thought into that one!!
After lunch at the lake, we started the long trek back down, where the weather was starting to clear but still not enough to see the mountains. It was a great trek, but it was rather disappointing not to get the views we all wanted. Dinner that night was at a very cool microbrewery, not what you’d usually expect to find in a town with a fixed population of 300!
We woke up the next morning to see much clearer skies and we could finally see Fitzroy from town. No time to redo the trek though, as I was off to the Viedma Glacier to do a walk on the glacier itself. We drove 30 mins to a wharf on Lake Viedma, then spent an hour sailing across the lake to a “natural port”. This basically meant some rocks we could scramble onto from the boat! A short walk across the rocks took us to the edge of the ice, where we were given crampons and a crash course in how to walk in them. The walk itself was relatively straightforward – a few ice steps were built on the slopes but largely it was relatively flat. We got to look down some very deep, narrow crevices whilst clinging to the guides to ensure we didn’t fall! Towards the end of the trek, the guides busted out a bottle of Tia Maria and, using freshly cut ice from the glacier, served us all a drink on top of the glacier. Our final stop was inside an ice cave which was an amazing experience although it was slightly worrying how badly it was leaking considering the amount of ice that could potentially come crashing down on top of us!
We transferred back to the boat, then to the bus for the dive back to town. On the way back, we had incredible views of Mount Fitzroy and the surrounding mountains right in front of us and after a while the bus driver got sick of the constant camera clicking and pulled over so we could get out and take photos!!
Once back in town, it was time to head back to El Calafate with a brief stop at La Leona. This used to just be an estancia (cattle ranch) but got (in)famous after a visit from Robert Leroy Parker, Harry Alonzo Longabaugh and Etta Place, better known as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (and his girlfriend). Shortly after robbing the Bank of London in Rio Gallegos, the group hung out at the estancia for a month before moving on.