‘Don’t hike to Laguna de los Tres if it’s really windy. You risk being blown off the mountain.’ – Los Glaciares National Park Ranger
El Chalten, Argentina’s self-proclaimed National Capital of Trekking, is everything I had hoped El Calafate would be. The small little town with a population between 500 and 1000 is quaint and incredibly charming. As I walked off the bus and into the streets, there were kids everywhere, running around and playing soccer. Everyone just seems genuinely happy in this small mountain town.
I’m staying at the Nothafagus Bed and Breakfast which is incredibly posh compared to the hostels I’ve been staying in recently. I have a large private room with double bed all to myself, for only about $40 a night CDN. The staff speak fluent English and are incredibly nice and welcoming.
My first day in town, I did some laundry, took a nap and waited for Julie to arrive. Julie was one of the girls that I did the glaciar tour with and when we realized we were both heading to El Chalten, we decided to be trekking partners.
The weather in Patagonia is incredibly unpredictable. When I first arrived in El Chalten, it was cloudy and a little rainy. The ranger at the National Park Office had said that it would be like this all day and likely into the next. However, by the time Julie had arrived, the clouds had cleared and we had blue skies, sun and clear views for our first hike, a short run up to Mirador Torre, a viewpoint looking out onto Cerro Torre, one of the two massive peaks that folks come here to see.
The next day, I awoke to equally perfect weather and Julie and I decided to lay siege on Cerro Fitzroy, the other of the two peaks. Fitzroy, named after the captain of the English vessel which found the Beagle Channel, is incredibly imposing and can be seen looming over everything right from town, or for that matter, the window of my bedroom. The best views though are from Laguna de Los Tres, which sits under three glaciers at the base of Fitzroy. The very Laguna referenced by the Ranger on my way into town. The climb to the Laguna is roughly 1000m over the course of about 4-5 hours one-way and the last 500m is the windy zone. Daunting to say the least, but the weather could not possibly have been better so off we went.
The ascent was probably one of the most physically demanding things I have ever done. We’d climb ridge over ridge and every time we thought we were done there would be a bigger ridge behind the one we’d just climbed. And the ranger was not kidding about those last 500m. The mild wind that we did have was enough to make you think twice about every step. But it was so worth it. When you climb over that last ridge and see the majestic, stunningly beautiful lagoon at the base of the glaciers below the massive granite face that is Fitzroy, it’s like there’s an orchestra of angels shouting ‘Hallelujah!’ from the heavens over and over again.
Exhausted, we found shelter behind some rocks and ate lunch while we soaked in the view. After exploring the area for an hour or so, we started the descent. Though not nearly as demanding technically, the descent was so much harder physically. I hope one day that my knees will forgive me for the pain I put them through on the way down. When we finally got back to town, we collapsed inside a pub and celebrated our achievement.
The next day, I was on my own as Julie had to hit the road again. Feeling surprisingly agile in the morning after the climb of death and seeing that, once again, it was a perfect day weather wise, I decided to tackle the full Cerro Torre hike. Thankfully, by comparison to Fitzroy, Torre was a walk in the park. Though the view was grand it wasn’t the same, possibly because I didn’t have to work as hard to get to it. Near the end, I went off-trail just a smidgen and found a glacial waterfall careening through the forest. It’s a neat feeling to know that I may be one of a select few people who have ever seen this waterfall given that it’s not on the main trail.
Next stop: overnight in El Calafate before flying to Ushuaia, the end of the world.