One of the main reasons most people come to this part of Patagonia is to visit some of the spectacular sights offered in the Glaciers National Park (Parque Nacional Los Glaciares). Yes, that’s plural, glaciers. Mountains, glaciers and lakes abound in this beautiful part of Patagonia.
We visited the northern region first and based ourselves in the colourful town of El Chaltén. Only new, being founded in 1987, it has the feel of a frontier town in say, Alaska. There is a hodge-podge of building techniques and more than half the buildings look incomplete. There’s no mobile phone service and internet often reaches the dizzying speed of dial-up circa 1997. Friendly dogs roam the streets solo or in packs and there’s a proliferation of artisan breweries, shops selling hand knitted scarves and beanies, local pottery and the ubiquitous mate gourds (gourds for drinking your cup of Yerba Mate tea). Winter is long here and many hotels, hostels and restaurants close down from April to October.
Rock walls of 100 meters or so, sort of enclose the town to the north and south and the Río Fitz Roy runs along the northern wall. From most points in the town you can see the jagged peaks of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy. We met people from all over the world who had come to climb the many rock walls, peaks and ultimately the two big ones, Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy.
Our goals have been slightly less lofty. I was merely satisfied to see the peaks from a lookout point that required a 3 hour trek to Lago Torre. The trek was not overly steep, nor did we gain more than 200 meters in elevation (from 600m to 800m). However the terrain was rough in places with littered rocks, perfect for twisting ankles, and huge boulders that we had to scale on hands, knees or bottoms! Fortunately the lookout was sunny, if a tad windy, and the glacial lake the most striking hue of pale, creamy turquoise. Fitz Roy itself had a cloud defiantly clinging to it for the whole hour we rested there. We hoped the wind would blow the wisps away but we had to wait for the walk back to see a bit more. And of course, we woke the next day aching – well, I was after 7+ hours of walking – to a perfectly clear view of the peaks.
Because the weather was surprisingly good, Roo considered hiking partway back on the trail to get a closer look at the peaks, but reason prevailed and we did a shorter walk of three hours ‘ida y vuelto’, there and back, to two lookouts on the other side of town. The first was the Mirador de los Condores, from which we were lucky to see three condors gliding over the valley, and the second was the Mirador de las Aguilas. I don’t think we were intended to see eagles, but to have an eagle’s nest view over the huge Lago Viedma and the surrounding Fitz Roy river valley.
No post is complete without some comments on the food we ate. I’m glad to announce that the hunt for good empanadas met with success on two occasions. We can recommend the spicy chicken and the spinach & cheese empanadas from a bakery on San Martin called Que-Rika! And the Patagonian Cordero (lamb) Empanada went down a treat at La Cerveceria (extra kudos for free popcorn with your beer)!
All up, we had a brief, but meaningful relationship with El Chaltén and I recommend it highly to anyone who wants to hike and climb. There’s a hippie vibe (we spotted 3 geodesic domes) and plenty of locally brewed cerveza. The locals are mostly young and friendly, the air clear and you can refill your water bottles from the streams. But if you want to send a postcard overseas you’ll have to wait till Wednesday for the international stamps to arrive…
Click an image to enlarge and view as slide show.