From the 29 December to the 15 january.
Él Chaltén is a wonderful place. It has to be one of the best places for hiking in South America, if not the world. It’s this tiny village nestled in between the mountains, with Mount Fitz Roy towering in the background. There are plenty of treks from it, easy 1 hour treks to a view point, the classic trail to Fitz Roy and advanced trails to the southern Patagonian ice fields, the 3rd largest ice field in the world. Many of the treks can be done in a single day but there are also plenty of free campsites around the trails making it possible to do circuits of several days.
But before I could enjoy all of the amazing hiking I had to relax and get rid of the pain in my Achilles tendent. It ended up taking me 8 days before I was ready to fully test it on a longer hike, and I spent the waiting time doing a lot of sleeping, cooking and watching movies. I’ve now finally seen all the Marvel movies. For waiting around, Él Chaltén is not the greatest city around, as it may be the most expensive place around, the Argentinean travelers at my hostel/campsite had all brought food from Buenos Aires, because it cost only a quarter there compared to Él Chaltén.
When I finally was able to go hiking, I did a 3 day hike to laguna Torre, at Cerro (Mount) Torre, laguna (lake) Sucia and sunrise at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. It’s a very nice hike and very similar to Torres Del Paine. I especially enjoyed the trek to Laguna Sucia. It´s not one of the official trails, and we had this amazing spot all to ourselves, and it has what I think is an even better view of Fitz Roy, than from the laguna de los tres, the Clasic viewpoint for Fitz Roy.
I love the community feeling there is on the trails, everybody greets everyone and it is so easy to strike up a conversation.
Before coming to Él Chaltén I had heard about a 4 day trek called the Humule circuit, which is supposed to be one of the most beautiful treks, and I was really keen to do it. Luckily I meet an Israelin guy and his father, who wanted to do it as well, and we joined up to do it.
The trek is one of the more challenging, and you have to go over two passes that are not passable in bad weather, so it’s important to go when the weather is good on day 2 and 3 of the trek and to bring extra food in case you have to wait a day for the weather to clear.
We set off on a day, where we would be getting rain for the first day but then would have two beautiful days with little wind, and no rain for day 2 and 3, which is as good as you are ever going to get it in southern Patagonia.
The first day was a pretty slow day, hiking over a bit of a hill to get in to the valley we would be going through to the pass. The rain started as we were walking down into the valley and soon it was pouring down.
We made it to a stream we had to cross and caught up to a few others hikers. Even though there were a rope and some support to cross the stream, there was no way we were getting over it with dry feet. So shoes off and sandals on, and out into the icy cold water. On the other side the track had turned into a stream, so there were no way about and it was a cold walk before we got to a place where we could get our warm dry shoes back on, on dry land. But before we had walked for another 15 min we came to an even bigger stream that we had to cross. With no other options than to keep going, we changed back in to sandals again and found our way across. This was quite a bit deeper and faster-flowing stream, and several people almost fell in, while we were there, and some sank down all the way to their hips. Safely across we changed back to shoes and kept walking only to come up to yet another stream. Before we finally arrived at the campsites, soaked to our bones, we had crossed streams 5 times, reaching up to our knees.
At the campsite we squeezed into a small shelter to gain cover and hoped the rain would stop, before we had to set up our tents and cook dinner. Luckily it stopped raining late in the afternoon. For dinner I made instant mashed potatos with fried onion, salami and hot sauce.
Next morning the weather was perfect, just as the forecast had said, and we set off for a long walk up the valley. But first we had to rappel across a river. It seems that it’s a kind of gateway to the harder treks that the rangers have set up all around el chalten to make sure no one goes without knowing, what they are getting themselves into. It was fun to try and rappel across and we made it across without problems.
Most of the day we were hiking up through the valley to get to Paso del Viento (The windy pass). Along the way we had to walk across a glacier. It was really fun to try making our way across, with all the pools of beautiful blue water forming from the melting-off and just thinking about the kind of prices they charge to go on glaciers other places makes it in itself worth the whole trek.
When we made to the top, after a long steep climb on loose rocks, we could look back at a view of the valley with two glaciers flowing in on the left, creating the base for two lakes and a river going down through the wally. The view is really worth the hard hike to get there.
On the other side of the pass the view is even more amazing. It’s a 180° view over the southern Patagonian ice fields. You can see it spread away in the horizon and covering everything.
We walked down and south along the ice field to get to the next campsite located next to a stream ending in a small lake behind a huge stone ridge, giving the camp good wind protection.
It was not so late in the afternoon, when we arrived, and the sun was still high in the sky, so I started building a small stone wall around my tent, like the ones I could see around some of the other camp spots, but apparently this was not allowed, as a guide told me I was not allowed to move any of the stones in the national park. I put the stone back, feeling silly and thinking about all those cows we walked past the day before, no moving stones but plenty of room for cows.
Day three was just as good as day two, still perfect weather walking along the ice field turning into a glacier before going over another pass with a view over Lago Viedma and the road I came up cycling to Ell Chaltén.
After the pass, it was a fun decent to a camping spot right on the lake. It was an almost vertical decent down through a forest with a vertical drop on a roap. All the way loose sand and stone made it fun and challenging.
On the way we got to see one of the icebergs from the glacier break. How lucky can you get?
We set up our tents on a stoney beach and enjoyed a beautiful sunset turning all the clouds into an artwork. I have never seen so many beautiful skys as here in Southern Patagonia.
We woke up early next morning to catch the sunrise over the lake as well. It was even more beautiful than the sunset.
The last day was not that much fun. It seems to me, that once all the good views are behind you, the backpack gets alot more heavy to carry.
It still was an interesting day, we lost the path and ended up just crossing straight across the land to try and get back to it. This included walking through a couple of swamps, through bushes and high grass. So much for dry shoes.
The circuit ended with another rappel across the same river, before arriving at small port for a glacier tour boat. After waiting for a while, we were able to get a ride back to town.
This trek was so amazing I’m afraid I will not find anything to live up to it, but I’m so happy I did it and would recommend anyone going to Él Chaltén to do it.
After the trek I spent a few more days in EL Chaltén. For one I had to get my shoes repaired as they were starting to come apart. Secondly I was really hoping to be able to watch some of the divisional rounds of the NFL play-offs, but I had no luck. Even after midnight the internet in El Chaltén was still to slow to be able to stream videos. Next I will head to Villa O’Higgins in Chile and start up the Carretera Austral.