! We came back from that hike to switch hostels to a cheaper, cozier hostel with all the frills you'd expect for 25 pesos (~$6) a night (aka very few frills).
On the third day we were starting to disbelieve the rumors that there were actually spectacular views in the mountains in these parts, but we stubbornly set off for another 6-7 hour hike. This one did not disappoint. A not-too-rigorous three hour hike led us to Lago Torre at the face of Glacier Grande. Almost immediately upon arrival the clouds began to part, leaving an incredible vista of the once-rumored Cerro Torre, Poincenot, and Fitz Roy. Surrounded by glaciers, snow, and still some red and orange foliage, we sat and stared at these mountains while eating yet another lunch of ham and cheese sandwiches. Cold, yes, but we couldn't take our eyes from it. El Chalten, in the indigenous language of Tehuelche, translates to "the smoking mountain". The views made this translation obvious, as clouds seemed to disappear and then re-collect on the tips of the mountain to be blown off and up on the other side. It seemed like the torres
(towers) were creating the clouds around them.
Other activities in El Chalten included eating the camp food we brought with the best intentions of camping. Yay, pasta and ham and cheese sandwiches for three more days
! The kitchen supplies at our second hostel left a bit to be desired. The entire inventory included 3 forks, one knife, 4 plates, 2 coffee cups, one humongous boiling pot, and a bundt pan. Yes, a bundt pan. Because so many travelers must have been demanding the ability to bake up exotic pastries. (Ironically, we met a French guy there who gave us the recipe for our new love: alfajores. They're yummy little sugary flat scone-like cookies with dulce de leche smashed between them and rolled in coconut flakes. Still not a bundt cake, though.) We did, however, find the bundt pan, which didn't fit in the oven anyway, quite useful for stewing veggies for pasta sauce.
The next morning we returned bright and early (yes, actually bright this time) to El Calafate for our flight to Bariloche the next evening.
PS- According to the ranger in the information center in El Chalten, pumas are in the area, but are only a threat to young humans. She recommended not leaving your one-year old alone in the park. Seems like a good idea for any park.
Greeted with increasing snowfall and decreasing temperature, we quickly ditched our ideas for camping and found a hostel. The very impersonal Rancho Grande housed a ridiculous number of travelers and passing tour buses. With zero views to be found, we walked up to a very nice waterfall and straight back to town to the cevezeria for a delicious microbrew made with tasty glacier water. The next day was a little better - less snow falling but no fewer clouds. We went for a nice 6 hour hike in the mountains. Despite the lack of views, the hike was amazing as we trotted through snow covered paths and bridges. Chalten is "newer" to touristing compared to what we've seen thus far, and the paths are not as well tread. This led to some very fun hiking through low-lying trees where the path was as wide as our bodies. The trailheads begin directly from the edges of town - no bus or transport needed; just hike straight out of your hostel and you're in glorious snowy mountains within minutes. Better yet, the lack of touristing and development meant you could drink all the water in almost any stream. Straight up glacier water is one of the most magnificent tastes in the world