Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.
Our day started with the bus stopping in the Park Ranger’s office just at the entrance to the small town of El Chalten. We were split off into English and Spanish groups and were given a briefing of the park with a map and suggestions.
We originally thought they are stopping us here to charge us an entry fee into the park. To our surprise the park was free as the town itself is within the boundaries of the park and they choose not to administer a fee here due to the complexity.
El Chalten is known as the trekking capital of Argentina and whose existence came about in 1985 to prevent Chile from making a claim on the land. It is still a town of less than 1,000 people in 2014 and not much likelihood of that growing substantially anytime soon.
If you are going for a few days, bring fresh fruit, vegetables and food for camping such as granola bars, oatmeal, two minute noodles because the two supermarkets in town had nothing. When you walked into either store, it felt as if the apocalypse had occurred and the stores had been raided by passers-by with one packet of biscuits or one soda bottle taking up one entire shelf. We did find an artesian/ tourist shop that sold breakfast bars, nuts and even oatmeal located at the T-junction walking into town away from the bus station.
Our accommodation of choice was the Patagonia Travellers’ Hostel. This was a great hostel to meet other backpackers, but we learnt the hard way it needs to be booked in advance as it was full on our return from camping even in inter-peak season (October). As a result we stayed at Rancho Grande as well after our two day camping trip. Both hostels were good; however both had really poor kitchens with no supplies as people steal things for camping. Prices for everything changes by season but we paid 130 pesos ($10) in Patagonia Travellers’ Hostel and 120 pesos ($9) in Rancho Grande for a 4 bed dorm with no breakfast included.
An extra note for El Chalten, the internet is incredibly slow. If the hostel is full, you’ll barely be able to load up your facebook feed let alone do anything productive requiring some speed. So don’t expect too much from wherever you’re staying.
Hiking in Glacier National Park
Mirador los Condores y las Aguilas (Lookout of Condors and Eagles)
We’d arrived into El Chalten with some persistent rain forecast the rest of the day. We got lucky as it looked to break clear at around 4pm and we went to visit the lookouts over town. These can be as short or as long as you want, but give some nice views and the potential to see Condors like we did.
2 day trek – Fitz Roy and Lago Torres
We decided on a two day loop in the park that was suggested by the Park Ranger. This is a fantastic choice as you can then combine two day trips without backtracking and experience a lot more with your time. Have a look at the map below which we added some simple numbers for reference.
We had our own stuff for the trek but you can rent a tent (80 pesos / $6) and sleeping bag (50 pesos / $4) from a variety of places in town.
We started our morning with a hearty breakfast and leaving the hostel at 8am (putting unneeded gear into luggage storage for free). The trail starts at the far North of town and is clearly marked.
It was around 4km to our first stop of the Fitz Roy lookout and it started out with a fairly steep climb to get you warmed up but with some nice views.
We arrived to the Fitz Roy lookout in just over an hour of walking and were greeted with nearly completed clear blue skies (not always the case).
We then backtracked for about 20 minutes to loop around and see Laguna Capri. This was definitely worth the effort as you can see from the photo. If you do the full loop, you won’t be coming back this way, so take the extra time to see it.
Continuing on the trail we arrived at the Poincenot Campsite at 11am. There we setup camp and took a day pack onwards to Laguna de los Tres (3 lagoons). This was a tough uphill push in the hot sun and rocky trail for about 45 minutes. The reward at the top is definitely worth the effort. We were here on the 22nd of October and the lake was still frozen over. You get the full view of Fitz Roy (3,405m). You can turn back and get good views of the valley and Laguna Madre and Hija (Mother and Daughter).
We’d been lucky to get a tip to keep going down and to the left once at the top. Some other people were going back and forth anyway, but this is really worth the effort. It’s actually a lookout over Lago Sucia, which actually translates to Dirty Lake. As you can see from the photo it is far from it. The gorgeous blue colours with the white icebergs on top were stunning.
This is what we suspect many hikers often miss. It’s about 1.5 hours each way from the campsite at Poincenot and should not be missed by anyone. We initially didn’t find the start to the trail, but that was poor navigation on our part. There are few trail markers here, so just follow with the river on your right until a big gap opens on your left with enormous boulders and the glacier at the back.
We’d been told to climb and go until you get to the lake, so that’s what we did. There is no trail here, but there are times where it’s obvious where people have gone. Your end point is a lake filled with icebergs, blue/turquoise water and the glacier at the back. We were very lucky on the day as we saw 2 others on the trail and 4 others at the lake when we arrived who immediately left. A lake and glacier all to ourselves!
We returned to the campsite for dinner and sleep. It’s popular for people to wakeup before sunrise and hike for a view of Fitz Roy in a golden glow. We chose not to do this opting for sleep instead.
Trekking to Lago Torre
We got on the trail around 9am after an oatmeal breakfast. Today we would take the trail linking Fitz Roy and Torres that would take around 2 hours (7km) with some great views back to where we had been the previous day and lots of colours.
At the turn off heading out to Lago Torre we had been told to find a place in the trees to hide our packs. Here we could then be lightweight and faster covering the distance (5km each way) to and from the lake. Arriving at the lake it was another scenic view of Cerro Torre (3,102m), glaciers and floating icebergs.
We hiked a little bit around the lake as there’s a trail following the ridge line to another viewpoint. The winds were strong and cold so we only took it for about 15 minutes. We then returned to get our packs and hike out the remaining 6km to town and a warm hostel.
Day hike to Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado
With our hiking legs still working and a relatively clear day forecast, we went on the 20km return hike for more viewpoints of the mountains. This was said to be the more panoramic view which would show the wider mountain range and both Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy at the same time. We got a bit of a late start heading onto the trail at 11am with a picnic lunch packed. The climb up is a steady and long incline, so bring some energy. Depending on the season the trail can be wet and snowy, like what we got towards the top in October.
It took us just over 2 hours to reach the viewpoint. From here you can take the optional further hike up at another 1 hour or so, but we chose to just hang around this viewpoint for an hour to soak in the views.
Day trip to Glacier Huemul
We were still loving our time in El Chalten and decided on a day trip to see the “private” Glacier Huemul. This sure does some odd when you think about it; someone owns access to a Glacier? We got the feeling the locals really didn’t like how it was being managed either. Essentially the access path land is owned by someone and they charge a fee, currently 100 pesos ($7.50) to go and see it. The access is right next to Laguna del Desierto, so you can take a local transport for 200 pesos ($15) each to get there and back.
We got lucky that 2 other people in the hostel were being dropped off nearby for a day hike and the driver was able to take us there for 210 pesos ($16) each. This included pickup from the hostel (9am) and waiting 2 hours at the Glacier before returning us back to the hostel. The best thing was that we were the only 2 on the bus and at the Glacier.
The hike up took around 20-25 minutes (they suggested 45 minutes), so we got some extra time up on top to enjoy the views.
We got another 15 or so minutes at the end of the glacier to walk to the lake for a look. You can use this point to do a rather interesting border crossing into Chile if you want. It’s detailed in Lonely Planet books if you’re interested.
On the way back to town we negotiated an extra stop at Chorrillo del Salto, a waterfall around 4km from El Chalten. This was a nice bonus to end the day.
Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/
*Note that all our Argentinian values are converted at the Dolar Blue rate of around 14 pesos is equal to US$1. The official rate is much closer to 8 pesos is equal to US$1 at the time of writing (Sept 2014)