El Chalten and El Calafate

Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Monday, December 11, 2006

El Chalten and The Fitz Roy Mountain Range

After a two day long haul down Patagonia's Ruta 40, through some of the least densely populated areas on this planet, on a road which is sometimes paved, but which is mostly a gravel track, we arrive in El Chalten.

El Chalten is a small town next to the stunning Fitz Roy mountain range, and which was put up quickly in the 80s by Argentina to stop Chile from claiming the land. They must have obviously seen the tourism potential in the area and didn't want to loose the land to their neighbours.

The Fitz Roy mountain ranges, along with the Torres de Paine on the Chilean side, are undisputedly, the hiking capitals of Patagonia. Several day long treks head out from the edge of town. We chose to walk two of the more popular ones, a trek to view Cerro Torre, a steep granite peak which is visible from a look out over a glacial lake, and another trek to Laguna de Los Tres, a lake in the midst of the peaks of Fitz Roy.

The Cerro Torre trek was a relatively easy walk, a 6 hour round trip, through a pleasant valley mostly sheltered from the area's notorious winds. At the end of the walk we arrive at the edge of a turquoise blue lake, with lumps of ice floating in it which had come from the Glacier at the other side of the lake. Unfortunately, it was cloudy and the view over Cerro Torre was obscured.

The trek to Laguna de Los Tres was a lot tougher, after being almost catapulted down a valley with extremely strong winds and occasional snow blizzards pounding our backs, we arrive at the base of what is a steep climb up to the lake. The wind is still high, snow showers keep coming and going, but the weather is so changeable in this region that in 30 minutes it could be clear blue sky. With this in mind, we head up the steep climb. Unfortunately, luck was not on our side, not only were the peaks of Fitz Roy partially obscured by cloud, the lake was still mainly frozen over, and just as we were about to eat lunch, a fierce snow storm started.

We decided to head down off the mountain top as quickly as possible and as we walked down, heavy winds blew us off the track several times, not only that, we had to contend with a heavy snow blizzard pounding us in our face. We were extremely glad to had made it down the mountain and into a hikers shelter were we had lunch. After that, to our delight, the weather improved which made the two hour trek back into town a lot more pleasant.

The King of all Glaciers

We leave behind windy El Chalten and arrive in El Calafate, a tourist town which is the base to view the Perito Moreno Glacier. Because of the front of the Glaciers position, directly opposite a cliff, it makes it one of the easiest Glaciers to view anywhere in the world. It is also enormous in size and chunks of ice almost continuously break off the front and crash into the lake, of which, some of the pieces are big enough to create icebergs which then float off down the lake. In addition to the usual trip around the Glacier, we did the boat tour which enables you to view the immensity of the glacier from sea level, part of which is as tall as a 20 story building.

Our next stop is the world famous Torres del Paine, back over in Argentina's favourite neighbouring country, Chile.
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