Argentina:Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate & 5 days trekking in El Chalten (Fitz Roy)

Except from a few small escapes to Chile here and there, Argentina managed to keep us within its borders for almost 6 weeks by now. How and why would you ever leave a country with so much beauty which makes shooting breathtaking post card/screen saver worth pictures so easy, and describing it in words somewhat challenging. I have to apologize for again, some excessive usage of words such as Stunning, Beautiful and Amazing. I hope you can forgive me, but you just have to name it what it is. These words definitely also apply to our latest destinations, El Calafate and El Chalten. We spent about a week in El Calafate, during which we explored the town and visited the stunning Perito Moreno Glacier. Afterwards, we headed for El Chalten where we hiked through the beautiful national park for 5 days. We challenged ourselves with 65 kilometers of hiking through the mountains, and were lucky enough to find the famous Monte Fitz Roy high up in a blue sky during this adventure which took place in a mix of rain and sun. It has been amazing. Hit Continue Reading.

Right after Ushuaia we headed for Punta Arenas, a city in the Chilean part of Patagonia. We did not know much about the location, but with the hostel staff literally saying that there is nothing to do in town except from some penguins we soon decided to just take it easy. Initially, we planned to head for Puerto Natales afterwards and do the famous W-trek around Torres del Paine. However, like many other travellers we simply had to let this one go as all the campsites around the national park are always fully booked and we are not really keen on booking way ahead. We did hear that El Chalten offers a great alternative for a multiple day hike and campsites are freely accessible. It really turned out to be absolutely incredibly beautiful and rewarding! But first, El Calafate.

El Calafate

Although mostly famous as a base for visiting the beautiful glaciers in the national park, El Calafate is a city with many charms based along Lake Argentina. We ended up staying in El Calafate much longer than we anticipated as we really appreciated the relaxed atmosphere and the beautiful surroundings.Our hostel, America del Sur, was just something very unique. Yes we have a shared dorm here as well and there is a kitchen available for guests where we cook our meals about every day, but for the rest it very much feels like a great hotel. It´s located on a hill which makes that the view from the hostel is just amazing. You can see the city, the surprisingly colourful lake and in the far distance even the high mountains with their white ice caps. Simply put, it´s not too difficult to enjoy life here for a while. During the days we would just walk around town and just see whatever we encounter. Twice we found ourselves on a terrace with the sun on our heads enjoying one of the local microbrews. Another day we were just walking around but sensed that there was something going on at a stadium like arena, and we later found out that this would become an actual rodeo. Not the most animal friendly sport, but it is very impressive to witness how these guys who are to our best guess mostly between 15 and 18 y/o get thrown of their horses. For my Birthday we ate at a lovely trout and ravioli at a nice restaurant that we discovered and tried our luck at the casino (we even won a bit of money!). The absolute highlight of the week? This absolutely has to be my birthday present from Anne, our visit to Perito Moreno, where we did a great tour around this glacier.

Pertio Moreno Glacier -Los Glaciares National Park

If ever you find yourself sitting in the sun in the middle of summer with a lovely and refreshing drink with ice, and you wonder where all these ice cubes come from while it’s so warm outside, then the answer is most likely not Los Glaciares National Park. It is true though that this park is home to the largest ice cap in the world after Antartica and Greenland and it has some very unique features to it that definitely make it one of earth´s treasures, and with that one of the most dangerous ones if we were ever to lose it as a result of climate change. A glacier is a very large area of ice that exists throughout the year and which moves overland, basically pushing itself forward by immense force by growth in higher regions. Normally, glaciers exist from 2500 meters from sea level and higher. Here, the glaciers get down to 200 meters,  making them relatively easy to visit.The park counts 47 large glaciers and we got the chance to visit the most famous one, Perito Moreno, which is quite unique as its one of the few in the world that is still growing. All these facts promise a very impressive day.

We get picked up from the hostel early in the morning and set out for the one and a half hour journey. We drive along Lake Argentina and slowly start to ascend. The further we get, the more ice caps we see in the water along the road which of course adds to the excitement. At some point the speaker announces that we are about to first see the glacier, and once getting around the corner, many impressed sounds go through the bus which I guess are all variations of “Wow, this is really amazing” in multiple languages. I am not sure what we were expecting to see at this point, but this thing is just massive. Even from a few kilometer distance this is easy to conclude.

The bus brings us down to a dock where we get on a boat. We stay on the deck as this of course gives a better view. The boat slides through the water attempting to avoid all the floating chunks of ice and we get closer and closer to the glacier. In all your enthusiasm you take pictures, only to realize that a few seconds later you are a few meters closer so you take pictures again. This pretty much sums up the ride for us, together with just admiring the view and keeping ourselves from blowing away in these heavy winds. Once we get of the boat, there is a small walk through a forest and over a beach and we get an explanation of how everything will go and some facts about the glacier. All the ice on these glaciers has been compressed over centuries and starts its journey up in the mountains as snow. The glacier moves on average 2 meters towards the lake, which is a very fast if you think about it. With a total length of 30 km, this means that it takes 40 years for the ice to get from the top to the bottom.

Once we get to the foot of the glacier, we get put on our crampons. Its quite impossible to walk up ice with regular shoes. Crampons, metal frames with spikes which you wear over your shoes, make it a lot easier. It feels a bit like walking with skiing boots on, which is as some of you may know not incredibly comfortable. This adventure can only be undertaken as part of a tour, and we are with a group of about 10-15 people of which we are by far the youngest; there is a certain type of humour that you won’t really find among travellers of our age. Everyone is luckily very friendly. Our guide is great too, but what makes the tour the greatest is of course the epic scenery which hopefully the pictures give a bit of an impression of. We start walking up the ice and soon we are surrounded by high ice walls and natural sculptures. We walk up and down, pass massive cracks, holes and waterfalls. What is very interesting is that right next to the glacier, a very lively forest is located, made possible only by the low altitude. While walking we are careful not to fall or slip away, as the spiky ice is not very fun to fall on. We have to wear gloves to prevent us from cutting ourselves when touching the ice, it’s that sharp. Interestingly, the path that we walk on needs to be changed about every week as the glacier is constantly moving. Half way through we have a break to drink from the water that collects in the cracks, which is perfectly clean and of course very refreshing. The moving ice really creates beautiful sculptures around the glacier, from big peaks to bridges between ice caps. After a bit over an hour we reach a table where the guide magically gets a bottle of whisky out of nowhere, and we get a taste of a real whisky on the rocks with glacier ice. Which is were we end the first part of this beautiful experience.

From here we walk back to the base camp where we have lunch with a great view on Perito Moreno. Afterwards we take the boat back and the bus brings us to the other side of the glacier. The Northern side. This is where a number of observation decks have been built from which can see the massiveness of this thing perfectly. The wall of ice reaches a height of 70 meters! We now have a perfect panoramic view on the full front with a stone grey lake on the south end and a perfectly blue lake on the north, cut of from each other only by the ice. The pictures are beautiful but do not really do it justice. Even when standing there it’s basically impossible to comprehend that you have a 250 square kilometer ice formation in front of you, with an end that is as high as a +/- 23 story building or simply put 38 times my own height. Every now and then chunks of ice break of the glacier and create a crazily loud sound when crashing into the water below. Its a bit difficult to estimate but some of these are of the size of a car or even bigger, and sometimes chunks as large as houses or even bigger than that break of, but we we were not fortunate enough to witness this too. And then its ready to leave again, going back the same we came, but then accompanied with an incredible memory of this amazing place..

El Chalten

If a place is known as “The hiking capital of Argentina” you sure go there with some expectations. Already on the bus from El Calafate we could see the famous peaks rising above the horizon. Before getting to this area El Calafate and El Chalten always seemed like twin brothers to me, as for the similar names and as we often find them mentioned in one sentence. Reality is more in the direction of El Chalten being the small brother of El Calafate. They have similarities, as that they have both grown up in the Los Glaciers National Park on opposite sides but, there are differences too. The first obvious one is the size of the town, El Chalten only has 600 inhabitants (excl. tourists). The second is the fact that El Chalten is located in the middle of the mountains. From here, you can directly start exploring the park making it very easy to do day hikes. As we have our tent with us we do a multiple day hike and only stay in El Chalten one night before we head into nature. Right on arrival at Los Pioneros Hostel, we start sorting all our belongings to make sure we only take what we we need, including 5 days worth of food which we brought from Calafate as supplies are very limited and expensive in Chalten. Our food supply includes (among others) multiple risottos, granola, bread, crackers, lots of nuts, chocolate, cookies, soup, tea, herbs, dried fruit, sausage, energy bars, candy, butter, cheese, toppings, boiled eggs and delicious banana pancakes prepared by Anne. Afterwards we head into town for a good meal and go to bed early.

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Day 1

The day starts with a short bus trip up to a drop-off point in the north of the region. We do this as it makes that we can extend the track by including some other area and campsite not belonging to the national park without to many repetitive kilometers. After being dropped off we find ourselves next to a river which we seem to have to follow upstream. At some points we have to cross a river with the water level so high that it’s challenging to keep our feet dry, despite the waterproof hiking boots. At some point we see two Austrian guys who started just before us cross the river barefoot with water up until their knees. We just check out the situation a bit better and luckily find a much easier passage without all this hassle. After this the walk up to the campsite is relatively straightforward and easy, though beautiful with its peaceful forest, giant rocks and powerful stream. At some point it starts raining just a little bit and I find here that I was stupid enough that forget my raincover for my backpack. Luckily the rain does not pull through. After 2-3 hours we reach Piedra del Fraille, and we are happy to see that the weather is good. A welcome surprise as from the drop-off point weather in the valley seemed to be very depressing. We put up our tent and then walk up to the lake which is about an hour more away from the camp. The sun is still out, but the winds in this valley are incredible. This campsite is the only one on our journey which is on  private terrain. This means that it’s the only one we need to pay for as the campsites in the park are freely accessible, but it does come with some advantages. As we are in a valley between two big mountains its gets really cold when the sun leaves us, but the camping has a nice little shed were most of the campers gather and warm up close to the fireplace. Here we read a book, play a game of 30-seconds (great game for camping trips ), relax and eventually move to our tent and wrap ourselves into our sleeping bags.

Day 2

The night was quite cold so we are happy when the sun decides to wake up and shine down on us again. We have some breakfast in the sun with a view on the northern side of Fitz Roy, which mostly exists of a boiled egg on crackers. During breakfast we talk to the ones of whom we thought they were the owners, but they apparently go around managing campsites like this and then move on to the next one. Seems like a good life to me, living in the middle of nature.

Then its time for us to pack our bags and move on. We walk the same way back to the point where we got dropped of the day before and head into another valley. There should be some kind of catering here where we attempt to buy ourselves a cold drink, but it turns out to be closed. The nights are damn cold out here, but when its sunny and you are carrying about 15 kg on your shoulders, it surely gets warm. We do decide to have an early lunch at this point, and instead create some sort of lemonade with ice cold water from the stream and a powder we brought. Not bad either. The highlight of this part of the day would definitely be the Mirador Piedras Blancas. When travelling South America, Mirador (viewing point) easily becomes one of your favorite words as it always promises an amazing view. This one surely delivered. From where we have a perfect view on an impressive glacier and the peaks of the Fitz Roy. This glacier hangs over a high cliff meaning that the waterfalls created by the glacier land in the lake below, if not blown away by the wind in the long fall. We take a rest here while enjoying the view, have a snack and then take on the last part of the day. Rather exhausted, we get to the campsite (Poincenot) an hour or so later. The campsite is not much more than a space for tents below the trees, but if you walk just a bit further down to the river you will get a good view on the Fitz Roy. The sky is very clear and it looks amazing, and plan to do trip to the top early in the morning to be there at sunrise.

Day 3

Alarm goes at 5, it’s raining. Another alarm at 5:30, raining. 6, rain. This continues for a while untill I am not sleepy enough anymore to fall asleep in between alarms. Don’t think we are afraid of a bit of rain, but it’s heavy rain and if it rains so high up in the mountains it means that if you make it up to the top you won’t see a thing. We don’t lose hope though as we have witnessed multiple times already that weather can shift in minutes around here, for the good as well as for the worse. We patiently have breakfast and read a book in our tent and once in a while one of us gets out to walk down to the river and check if we can see the top. No luck. At some point we do notice that the East, where El Chalten is located, is clearing up a little. This gives us hope. We do get a bit tired of waiting and as we were planning to head there anyway but then the other way around, we decide to head for Laguna de Capri, about halfway between where we are now and El Chalten. Initially we planned to stay there for a night as well, but we didn’t get all this way to not see the highlight, Laguna de los Tres.

We leave all of our stuff at the camp except from some food, wearing our rain jackets. It still rains, but sun seems to be getting through slowly and sometimes we even see a bit of blue sky. We look back to the top where still no peaks are visible, but a perfectly full rainbow is taking form in the fields in front of where the mountains should be. After about and hour and a half we reach the laguna. We managed to escape from the rain (rain can be very local here), so we sit down along the lake and relax for about an hour while eating a pancake and a bunch of nuts together with a refreshing pineapple lemonade. After a few days of not showering it is very tempting to swim or wash yourself for a bit in the clear water of the lake, but its so damn cold that you immediately change your mind when touching it. We walk around the lake some more and then start walking back up to our campsite. We notice that the rain is almost gone and the clouds are lifting a little bit, so our hope grows. We decide to chill for an hour more, then see that the clouds are really going up. The top is almost visible and we estimate that in about an hour more the sky maybe clear, which is exactly what we need.

We get ready quickly, fill our bottles in the river and start the hike up. It is one and a half hour of walking, but in this there is 1 km in which you rise 400 meters. This is what I would call pretty steep. We start slowly and go on step by step while our legs ache and breathing gets challenging. Once in a while we reward ourselves with a small break and enjoy the beautiful view towards the valley. Here we can see parts of the way we came the day before, where we went earlier today, as well as the route we will follow the tomorrow so that’s pretty cool. Eventually, we do make it to the top and what we find here is absolutely breathtaking. Yes we are exhausted and everything hurts, but this is just amazing. We stand on top of a large pile of rocks and look down on Laguna de los Tres, which is incredibly blue and is surrounded by the stunning peaks of Monte Fitz Roy. Some small clouds are still attached to the top, but even they get blown away soon after we reach the place. We have been waiting the whole day, but here we are now, standing in front of one of the most majestic mountains of the world, perfectly visible. We make our way to the lake and just sit down and enjoy this moment together, feeling proud of each other for making it this far already during this entire journey through this beautiful continent. After a while we make our way down again which always seems to be harder than getting up, as your legs are already shaky. We do luckily make it down safely and then have a well deserved rest.

One of the things that you normally really don’t want to happen in the middle of the night while being warm and comfortable in your sleeping bag, is having to pee. Having to pee did force me to get out this night though, and I am happy it did. I got out and walked out of the forest line and what I saw above me was the most beautiful sky full of stars that I have ever witnessed, behind a perfectly visible Fitz Roy. One of those moments where I regret not having a decent camera.

Day 4

Today we plan to take the hike through another valley along two lakes and eventually to Laguna Torre. This should again be a beautiful place and therefore plan to spend two days here before returning to El Chalten. When getting out of our tent it’s easy to sense the difference with the morning a day earlier, no rain and the sun is shining. This of course get us in a good mood, and after packing up we leave the campsite in good spirits. We do still feel our legs after the steep climb of the day before, so we decide to take it slowly. After an hour or two we make it two a point where we have a great view on two lakes which are only separated by a few meters of land, but for some reason are different in color as Laguna Madre is blue and Laguna Hija is more greenish. We sit down along the smaller one for some pancakes and nuts, and enjoy the silence and beauty of the place. When continuing our journey we find that the tracks are a bit less well maintained here as way less people come here. Most people take day-hikes to either Los Tres or Torre, but don’t take this connecting path as they sleep in El Chalten. Hence, the path is sometimes a bit overgrown with bushes making it harder to walk with a big back pack. At some point we make it to the connection of the two valleys that we walk today and the path starts to go down steeply. It takes us about 5 to 6 hours to complete this day, of which the last hour is along the wild river born in Laguna Torre, our destination.

Like every time before setting up we clear the ground of the caterpillars which live in these lands by the millions. They seem especially attracted to our green tent as they probably see it as a food source. Luckily their teeth are not strong enough to kill it. Next to where we have set up some travelers who got here before us built a small table out of stones and put some logs around it making seats, which we gladly make use of for our dinner. Today we feast on an instant pumpkin soup which is surprisingly good, and some bread/crackers with peanut butter and dried sausage. We play another game of 30-seconds and notice we have been playing it a bit too much as we are already quite familiar with most of the answers and then just relax and talk a little bit.

Day 5

We wake up and are not entirely surprised by the rain drops falling on our tent, it’s raining quite hard. Weather can change incredibly quick here in the mountains but can apparently also stay the same for a long while. It keeps raining the whole morning and it just doesn’t seem like it’s gonna stop. The idea was to see the lake today and possibly walk up to a Mirador about an hour out. Eventually we do walk to the lake. We can see the lake, which is pretty, but that’s about all we see. From a few meters above the water everything is covered by a thick blanket of clouds. No glacier or mountains anywhere to be seen. We conclude from this that there is no point in walking up to the Mirador, and at the same time that there is not really a point in staying here for another night. What was planned to be a nice and relaxing day in beautiful nature would just be a day of waiting in our tent for the rain to stop. So we pack our stuff and walk back towards El Chalten. Once decided we are really determined to get back as soon as possible to enjoy a hot shower. In record time of about two and a half hours we make it back to El Chalten, both soaking wet in a mixture of sweat and rain. Once the town of El Chalten comes into view, a big wave of euphoria runs over us. We did it, we hiked Fitz Roy and the surrounding area. Despite the rain, it has been absolutely beautiful.

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We are incredibly happy when our hostel of before our trip tells us that they have a bed for us and the receptionist brings these two exhausted ones to their new room. We shower, get our clothes to the laundry service, relax, eat some delicious foods, have some happy hour drinks and eventually sleep very, very well.

2 thoughts on “Argentina:Perito Moreno Glacier in El Calafate & 5 days trekking in El Chalten (Fitz Roy)”

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