Tuesday, July 7, 2015

El Chalten Hiking: Mount Fitz Roy

Laguna de Los Tres, El Chalten
When people think of hiking in Patagonia, many people think of the Torres del Paine in Chile, but Argentina has just as much to offer in the little town of El Chalten. It's most famous peak is Mount Fitz Roy, which on clear days can be seen as you drive into town from the highway.

Arriving in El Chalten, in Argentinian Patagonia
The town itself is very small but touristic, with lots of nice restaurants, breweries, arts and crafts shops and nice hotels, cabins and campgrounds. We stayed in a small campground run by 20 and 30 something hippie guys and a popular hang out for hikers and rock climbers. It was a fun place to stay with a surprisingly big kitchen inside the little house and hot showers, both of which were available to campers. It was also the cheapest campground in town, only 60 pesos per night (about $6 USD).

The small but fun campground we stayed at, with hot showers, a nice kitchen and non-stop reggae. 
There are a number of different hiking and camping options in town. The various trails can be done as a circuit, in which you camp in the mountains at specific sites on the trail, but you'll have to carry in all your gear and food. Or you can camp in town and do each of the trails as a day hike, like we did. This also gives you more flexibility to choose trails based on the weather.

The first day after arriving we had beautiful clear skies in the morning so we took advantage of the good weather and did the hike up to Laguna de Los Tres to see Mount Fitz Roy. This is easily one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever done. It's a fairly gentle hike most of the way, through green forests, meadows and by a few beautiful lakes and rivers. As you get closer to Fitz Roy, the trail suddenly becomes very steep and the last hour or two you will be climbing a narrow, rocky path to the top. This path is closed frequently due to strong winds or bad weather, so try to go on a clear day if possible.

View from the end of the trail, at Laguna De Los Tres
When you reach the top, the view is absolutely stunning. You can eat lunch with other hikers by the lake, right at the base of the mountain. The water of the lake is unbelievably clear and bright blue.

The next day we did the Laguna Torre trail, which goes through a lovely old growth forest, alongside a wide river and then through a valley of trees that were burnt in a wildfire. The burnt forest is beautiful and haunting, a good reminder of why it's so important to respect the laws about cooking and building campfires in Patagonia. At the end of the trail you come to a large lake with the Cerro Torre in the background and a small muddy glacier. The lake itself is very rugged and pretty, with floating chunks of icebergs. From the lake, you can continue up a trail to the right that takes you to Mirador Laguna Torre ("mirador" means viewpoint). You can only do this trail on days with good weather because of the strong winds. From the viewpoint you can see a lot more of the glacier.

Hiking through a meadow of burnt trees, left behind after a wildfire
Laguna Torre
Great view of the glacier from Mirador Laguna Torre
On our last day I was suffering from some nasty blisters (we'd already done the W circuit in Torres del Paine just before arriving in El Chalten), so we just did a small trail from the ranger station. If you don't have much time in El Chalten or you're not a big hiker, the little trail up to the viewpoint by the station has some great views of the town, and it also looks out over the highway and the lake on the other side of the town. It was a nice, relaxing way to end our time in El Chalten - and best of all we finally got some warm weather and sunshine!

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