¨The national capitol of trekking
27.03.2011 - 02.04.2011 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.