A Travellerspoint blog

Los Glaciares and El Chalten

¨The national capitol of trekking

7 °C

The Argentine town of El Chalten sits near the famous and beautiful Mt. Fitz Roy. Upon crossing from Chile and especially the remote Carretera Austral part of Chile, the first thing I noticed was how developed and modern the town is. Before the 1980s, the town was only a few government buildings to keep Argentinas claim on a disputed border region. Now it exists almost entirely for tourists. Big hotels and brand new restaurants and gear shops line the streets. Each town on the Carretera in Chile had only a handfull of tourists, but El Chalten has dozens of hotels, hostels, b&bs and campgrounds- all open and busy with tourists. All this and still its a tiny town not much bigger than Villa OHiggens.

The first full day I was there the weather couldn´t have been better so I went straight into the mountains with my backpack and tent. I´m glad I did because in the week since, the weather hasn´t been nealy as fine. I hiked straight to the base of Mt. Fitz Roy and up to Laguna de los Tres, which is an aqua blue lake with postcard viewpoints of the mountain. The weather was so fine and sunny I hiked in shorts and a short sleeve shirt. A pair of Aussies were so inspred by the sunshine that they disrobed entirely and went for a naked swim in the lake for about 30 seconds (it´s all glacial ice melt). I set up camp at Poicenot, near the base of the mountain and had big plans for waking up pre-dawn and watching the sunrise on the mountain and seeing the beautiful red color that the moutains take on for just a few moments at sunrise. Not to be. At some point in the night a fierce wind picked up that at one point collapsed one of my tent poles. Not long after a hard rain started to fall and combined with the wind to blow a lot of moisture into my breezy and flyless tarptent. The rain lasted until after the sunrise, and a good portion of my gear was damp.

Despite this foul weather I decided to hike to the closed off Laguna Sucia. The trail is unmarked and unmaintained, but I read that you can see a glacier cracking and splitting with chunks falling into the lake. It was an adventure getting there in the wind and rain, crossing bolder fields and scrambling up and over roackfaces. It was a big contrast going to this little-visited place which is just a few kms from Poicenot and the main Fitz Roz trail which have hundreds of hikers everyday. I made it to the lake and was lucky enough to see some chunks of glacier crack off and splash down into the lake. It seemed all the more raw and powerful with the driving wind and rain coming down. When I returned to camp the sideways rain convinced me to bail out and head for town.

I stayed for the next 2 and a half days in El Chalten waiting for the rain to stop. There is only painfully slow and expensive internet in town, so with not much contact to the outside world I talked to other travellers, upgraded hostels, dried my gear, did some trip planning and drank lots of tea. Finally on Thursday the weather got a little bit better and I hoofed it up to Laguna Torres- another large lake at the base of a glacier with big icebergs littering the lake. There are fine views of Cerro Torres in good weather, but I only had fine views into a cloudbank that covered the mountains. The temperature had dropped enough for snow to fall instead of rain. At the lake the ground was covered in a few cms (1 inch) of snow. It was a winter wonderland and made for great pics despite the lack of view of the surrounding mountains. Another bonus of Patagonia at this time of year is all the trees and bushes are turning bright reds, oranges and yellows. Now is the October of the southern hemisphere.

The weather was better again on Friday so I pushed my planned departure back and walked up towards Fitz Roy again, but this time turning off to an overlook of the massive Piedras Blancas glacier. The sun was shining directly on the glacier, which gave it an icy blue color with many shades between blue and white in all the crevasses and uneven faces of the ice mass. With the sunshine on the glacier face, many cracks and rumbles sounded out across the valley. I was most impressed.

I arrived back in town in the late afternoon and took a bus to Calafate, 3 hours to the south. The time is getting close for when I meet Mirja!! From here I am making a bee-line for Ushuaia where Mirja is scheduled to arrive on Wed. This town is also a big tourist center for glacier viewing and visiting Torres del Paine in Chile, but I will save all that to do together with Mirja. I have about 16 hours on a bus ahead of me which starts at 3am tonight.

Posted by ichbinmatt 12:51 Archived in Argentina Tagged hiking el fitz roy chalten Comments (0)

Southern Carretera Austral

Cerro Castillo, Cochrane, Villa OHiggens

sunny 15 °C

I have made it all the way to the end of the Carretera on a somewhat hurried schedule to catch the last ferry of the year across Lago OHiggens and then cross by foot into Argentina and El Chalten. It was a long trip filled with dusty bus rides, mistly skies, turquise lakes and rivers and lots of meat empanadas. Here are just a few highlights:

Hike of Cerro Castillo. This is a moutain that looks a bit like a castle. I hiked up as far as I could in one day and found a couple of Minnesotians camping up near the tree line. The weather was fine and the views were amazing, so I stayed out until sunset, trying to soak up as much of the mountain as possible. The highlight of the day was seeing the elusive grey fox (zorro gris). Instead of instantly running away and hiding like most foxes, this one growled and approached me barring its teeth. I was busy getting pictures of it, but soon had to scare him off with some rocks before he went for the jugular. I imagine he or she had a den nearby and was trying to scare me off.

All the little towns on the Carretera are remote and wonderful in their own way. Villa OHiggens is at the end of the road and really feels like the end of the earth. Food is limited, internet is spotty or non existant, and the people are friendly and hardy. I met 7 bicylce riders there who had completed the entire Carretera and were headed on the ferry with me to cross into Argentina.

The crossing itself was not as challenging as I imagined, except for the thick mud and swampy bogs to get through. I enjoyed going through the Chilean and Argentine immigration on foot and taking in the views of the snowy mountains all around.

I will leave this entry short because the day is too beautiful to waste online. Mt. Fitz Roy is right outside and I want to head up on some trails while the sky is blue.

Posted by ichbinmatt 06:59 Archived in Argentina Comments (0)

Coyhaique

the real Patagonia

semi-overcast 12 °C

Yesterday I took a mini-bus for 12 hours along 400km of the Carretera Austral. In those 12 hours we only passed 3 towns, but we did take one ferry ride on the ocean where road repairs were being made. I love that the solution to road repairs is to direct traffic onto a ferry for a half km. It rained most of the day and the windows were fogged over, so the only thing I managed to see much of was the huge splashes of water that resulted in every pothole the bus hit. The ride was surprisingly comfortable because there were no more than 5 people on the bus at any one time, so we all had plenty of space to stretch out and relax and sleep. A big sign at the front of the bus read ¨No wine, no beer, no liquor, no food, no chewing gum¨. I mentally added ¨no fun¨ as I hunched down to snack on cookies and wished I had brought beer just to stick it to the man. The funny thing is that during a short stop I went into a small store and bought fruit, but had trouble weighing it for pricing, so the bus driver showed me how to do it. I immedieatly ate the fruit when I got back on the bus.

At about 6pm the sun came out and the road became paved. I didn´t know whether to look at the new scenery or read since the ride wasn´t so rough anymore. I chose to look at the high mountains and rushing rivers and broad valleys. I´ve been reading ¨The Long Valley¨by Steinbeck and there are a great many parallels between 1930s California and present day Patagonia- and I mean that in the best possible way. Life is simple and people are isolated by great distances and the isolation brings out a warmth in people.

An hour after sunset, we arrived in Coyhaique. I was amazed to see city lights from a few kms away on the Carretera. After all day of passing wilderness and small farms, a town of 50,000 people seems like a proper metropolis. After a few minutes of wandering the town a local man asked if I would like to stay at his grandmother´s hospedaje (like a home stay) which I gladly accepted.

Today I realized I have to pick up the pace of my travels if I´m to make it to Ushuaia in time to meet Mirja. I have to run a tight ship to make it to the end of the Carretera Austral in time to catch the very last ferry of the summer on Saturday. Then I can proceed to walk into Argentina with everything I own like a refugee. So I´ve been busy all day making plans and arranging the next few days to make it on time. If there´s one thing I love about travel, its rushing to catch a plane or ferry or bus.

Otherwise, the day was relaxing. Coyhaique has nice things like good internet cafes and restaurants that serve things other than hotdogs, beef sandwiches and empañadas. I soaked up some creature comforts before the next dip south into the wilderness.

Posted by ichbinmatt 17:13 Archived in Chile Tagged coyhaique carretera austral Comments (2)

Futaleufu

back into Chile

overcast 16 °C

I caught the twice weekly bus to go over the pass from Esquel, Argentina to Futaleufu, Chile. The border crossing was once again easy and uneventful, apart from my honey being confiscated. I was the only non-Chilean-Argintine on the bus, which was less than half full. I feel a lot better than Chile for some reason. Despite sharing such a long border and similar landscapes, there is a huge, immedieatly noticeable change from Argentina to Chile. Its somewhat in the infrastructure, which is much better in Chile, but mostly in the attitude of the people. A lot of Argintines act as if they always have something to prove, but there is a much more laid back feeling in Chile.

Futaleufu is a tiny town, just 8km from the border. I could almost throw a stone from one side of town to the other. People are over the top friendly. I think not a person passes by without saying hello and asking how you are. I´m biding my time here until the bus leaves for parts further south, but its not a bad place to wait. Yesterday I met a fellow American who has picked up everything and moved here. She´s been here a year and has a lot to say about Chile. Today I walked out to the nature reserve and had a little adventure route finding before finally getting tired of bushwhacking, so I abandoned my intended trail and walked up a logging road along a small river. This was also a bit of an adventure fighting off dogs and meeting loggers further up the road who were amazed and very pleased that a tourist was up there walking around. Supposedly the nature reserve (Futaleufu Nature Reserve) protects minature deer called Heumel, but I didn´t see anything apart from a couple of hares and lots of farm animals.

Futaleufu is a big rafting and kyaking center in season. I went out to the river and watched some of the rapids. They look pretty extreme. The sticks and twigs I threw in there couldn´t handle the white water. They smashed into rocks or submerged never to be seen again.

If I´m lucky tomorrow I´ll get on the bus to Coyhaique. The post office/bus station/American clothing store wasn´t open today, so I don´t have a ticket, nor do I know exactly where the bus leaves from. Par for the course.

Posted by ichbinmatt 14:01 Archived in Chile Tagged futaleufu Comments (0)

Los Alerces and Esquel

Regulations and rain

sunny 16 °C

Alerces National Park was built up so much before I got there, that it would be tough to live up to expectations. Getting there is a little tough, and its not on the regular tourist circuit, so I hadn´t met anyone that had been there before I went. The Argentines seemed especially pleased when I told them it was on my agenda, plus my guidebooks really sell it hard. So I took the 5-hour bus ride with a connection in Lago Puelo from El Bolson through dusty gravel roads to get to Alerces- the one public transit option available. The bus looks the part- it´s slow and dusty and has cracks all across the windshield. Only 5 people were on the bus. At first glance, Alerces is incredibly impressive. The park is named after the Alerces tree, which is similiar to the giant sequoia in California. There are stands that are 4000 years old, but inaccessable to the average backpacker like me. What I could see was an amazing collection of expansive blue and green lakes connected by rivers, all with mountains rising 1000 plus meters directly from the banks of the lakes. Everything is green with moss and ferns since this area is much wetter than where I´ve been previously. I arrived after sunset, so I set up camp and looked forward to the long hike and sights the following day.

I woke up to a few rain drops, but blue skies dominated the skies as I packed up and headed to the ranger station. Everything is regulated in Alerces. I´m not sure why. There are no glaciers to cross or dangerous animals like grizzlys roaming around. The old growth stands of trees are impossible to reach without a boat and car combination. When I registered I found out that I was required to hike to the end of the trail I was planning. Camping halfway wasn´t permitted, and worse still was that the campsite at the end of the trail was very expensive. If you don´t tun up at the end of the trail, the rangers come looking for you. I was a little bitter at this scam as I set off down the road to the trailhead. After a couple of hours of hiking, the blue skies were clouded over and a light rain started to fall. The trail was hardly maintained and the undergrowth nearly swallowed the trail in many places. My motivation waned. As the rain increased I wondered why I was hiking. There were no views and I was getting wet and scratched up from the undergrowth. I made it to the high point of the trail to Lago Krugger, took in the limited rainy view and turned back. When I made it back to the trailhead, I turned up a waterfall trail to at least see something after hiking all day. Back at the ranger station, I unregistered and found out that the bus that day was to be the last of the summer. So much for Alerces. I waited for the bus with a bunch of French kids in the ranger station, trying to stay warm and dry.

The bus took me to Esquel, which is where I am now. I had to be here by Friday morning because I want to cross over into Chile and the bus only runs twice a week. It´s a windy, dusty town, but I like it a lot. There´s not much tourism here, unlike the other cities I´ve been to thusfar. I had the day free so asked the visitors center where I could walk to around town. Laguna la Zeta is a lake 5 km out of town, so I walked there, climbing up the steep forested cliffs on the city edge. It´s lower and drier here so pines and firs dominate the forest. I like the smell of these trees a lot, and if I found a place not to windy, I could lay down in the soft needles and relax. I didn´t see anyone all day besides a man with his dog searching for cows in the forest. It´s too bad I couldn´t see more of Alerces, but I really enjoy days like today with not much to do and exploring a big open area with sunshine and good views. The locals are more relaxed and laid back too.

Tomorrow if everything goes as planned, I´ll cross over into Futaleufu, Chile. From there it is a long, long journey south along the Carreterra Austral- an unpaved road running through very wild Patagonia that was inaccessable until recently. The road ends where glaciers and icefields and lakes make it impossible to continue. I´m planning to hike from the end of this road back into Argentina, but that´s still some time away.

Posted by ichbinmatt 14:06 Archived in Argentina Tagged patagonia esquel alerces Comments (0)

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