El Chalten 3-5 January 2014
Jan 5, 2014
|3-5 January 2014
El Calafate to El Chalten ~ 3 hours by bus
Much of the trip passed by typical Patagonian steppe - dry and flat with the huge snow capped foreboding Andes in the background. Approaching the valley where El Chalten is located and we started to get views of the peaks of granite the park is renown for. The closer we got the better the views. Just before El Chalten we pulled up outside the Los Glaciares national park office. Everyone out and the rangers gave us some information about the park, it's ecosystems and ways we can help keep the natural balance. A fabulous service provided to all that enter the park, and in English.
El Chalten is located at the northern end of Los Glaciares national park with El Calafate being the gateway to the south. It's a town less than 30 years old and as such has no cemetery, has only just gone onto town water and at first sight seems rather ramshackle and very windswept. The main roads (3 of them) are sealed but there's a lot of dirt and gravel on the side roads which, combined with the dryness, creates a lot dust when the wind blows (which it does a lot). Sunglasses seem to be a suitable solution to this. A lot of construction and plenty of hikers around. On closer inspection the town is more spread out than El Calafate resulting in less of a tourist traffic jam walking down the main street and more of a free for all to get to where you want to go. Hikers tend to outnumber the cars on the roads.
There's a very cosy cerviceria with a microbrewery out back and on fine days the beer garden is open. A chocolateria, a few supermercados and some great eating places. Have sampled a couple of local beers, some Malbec and managed to get a huge plate of salad consisting of loads of cheese, cherries (not sure where those came in from but they were good), melon and some greens fresh from the garden outside the window.
One of the shops sells hand knitted woollen goods and as we were there the lady was busy knitting a couple of beanies. Coincidence?. I think not. Having been looking for a new beanie, some inquiries were made and with a bit of Spanglish we ascertained that the finished product would be ready for trying on in an hour. An hour later a beanie purchase was made!
Hike to Laguna Torres ~ 11 km, 3 hours one way
Met by Juan, our guide for the day. Very informative, good English and bought along a couple of great maps and a wildlife guide (promptly purchased post hike).
Walking was described as flat (we have learnt this is 'Patagonia flat'). So up we went to our first great view of town and surrounding valley - all bathed in sunshine. An amazing day and the best we've had so far. Heading up over undulating hills we had a fantastic view of Cerro Fitz Roy, Cerro Solo, Cerro Torres and the glaciers in between. As we go and with each new guide, the formation of this area and it's flora and fauna are becoming clearer. Many of the hills we walked over were formed from the advance of glaciers pushing a mound of moraine ahead of them. Then they retreated leaving the mound for nature to take over. It also explains the rocks and boulders we constantly pick our way around or over. A very focused woodpecker was quite unconcerned with the media circus taking snapshots - he just kept on hammering away at the tree searching for tasty treats.
Lunch at Laguna Torres with its floating icebergs and strong wind coming off the glacier at the opposite end of the lake. A Caracara (small bird of prey) was hovering, ready to pick up any lunch remains. We got to pick up our first piece of glacier- beautifully clear. Also able to top up our water supplies straight from the glacier melt river as we have been all trip.
Our return trip passed quickly with a slightly different route that took us past a couple of native woodpeckers in some trees just off the path, rock climbers carrying their own mattresses (crash pads apparently) and a great view of El Chalten.
A couple of quiet beers on the lawn outside our hotel in the glorious warm sunshine made for a very contented couple of hikers.
Bit of shopping, dinner and bed to get ready for our next day of hiking.
Hike to Cerro Fitz Roy ~ 13 km, 3 hours up 4 hours back
We set off in rush hour to drive the 11 km to the start point along with plenty of other vans ready to disperse their passengers onto the numerous hiking trails nearby. Andreas was our guida today and spoke very good English with great knowledge of the glaciers and rock formations around the area. He's a local of nearly 20 years and goes rock climbing 2-3 days a week. He was a bit like a mountain goat the way he skipped over the rocks the rest of us stumbled over. The track started off through the nothofagus (Lenga) forest and as we approached the camp site after 2 hours more moraine appeared and the trees change to the smaller nothofagus (nire). Great views as we got closer with the cloud stubbornly hugging Cerro Fitz Roy. Clear flowing rivers and a slight wind but nothing like what we've experienced. Stopped for a snack before the last big push up a steep rocky hill to the Laguna Los Tres at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. An hour later we arrived at the top and were rewarded with a blue glacial lake at the base of the towering granite peaks. Quite a sight. The wind was picking up and given how difficult it was to balance on the rocks while moving forward let alone with wind gusts strong enough to push a person over, we had lunch in a sheltered spot then went round to view another spectacular lake at the vase of another glacier before heading back down. Good timing as lots of people coming up and wind getting stronger. Took a different route back down via Lago Capri - a non glacial lake with clear, cold water and away from the crowds. Our route delivered us back to town without the need for transport. Weather starting to come in and some rain promised. Lovely shower and dinner at El Muro just near our lodge and it was time for a relax by the fire with a lovely glass of Malbec. The visit wouldn't have been complete without some tasty morsels from the Chocolateria for desert. A fine day all round.