Hiking in Patagonia - Part 1
A short, three hour hop direct from Buenos Aires has us arriving in the town of El Calafate, excitement building from the sights we’ve witnessed from the air and now have the chance to explore on land; the vastness of the snow-capped mountain ranges, the stark white of a winding glacier as it carves its path through the landscape, and the pristine, pale turquoise of the glacier-fed lake at the edge of town. A further three hours by road sees us drive through the flat, windswept plateau, dotted with the bright yellow and purple of wildflowers, on our way to the quaint village of El Chaltén, located in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, and home to some of the best trekking and hiking in the world. As the peaks of the mountains appear in view we stop alongside an aqua-marine lake to take in the breath-taking views, and experience the famous Patagonian winds. In places, Patagonia experiences some of the strongest winds on the planet, occasionally reaching 100km/h. Staying upright in these winds is a challenge, and it’s not unusual to see whole trees bent sideways in places where the winds howl across the plains.
El Chaltén village itself occupies only a few small streets, but they’re busy with trekkers and hikers who come in the milder summer months to walk the many trails located nearby. The buildings here are surprisingly alpine in appearance, more resembling a Swiss or French village in the Alps than a small town near the very bottom of South America.
That night we head to a cosy restaurant two streets over from our hotel for dinner. Sipping Argentinian Malbec while we wait for our meals to arrive, it’s difficult to imagine that tomorrow we’ll be hiking up to the Fitzroy Massif which towers over the town. The Patagonian Lamb Ravioli will hopefully give us the slow burning energy we need for the eight hour hike ahead.
The morning dawns clear and bright, with a few rain clouds which soon disappear, making way for a crystalline blue sky and light breeze as we set off through the forest for the first leg of our trek. Soon we spot the plunging icy slopes of a glacier, precariously perched between two mountain peaks and our guides are quick to point out tiny golden buttercup-like flowers and the red head of a Patagonian woodpecker as we wind our way through the trees.
At points the forest gives way to open meadows and we can see the towering peaks of Mount Fitz Roy, Cerro Fitz Roy, Cerro Poincenot and Cerro Torre. We begin the ascent to the highest point of our climb, where we’ll take a break for a picnic lunch by the lake near the bottom of the soaring spires above. It’s quite tough going for some, but others seem to be more mountain goat than person, nimbly picking their way up the track as the larger rocks turn to pebbly shale the higher we go. Finally we arrive around the final bend in the trail. Catching our breath we take in the spectacle before us; the craggy mountain range lightly dusted with snow, the glacier tumbling down into the brilliant blue of the lake below and the whirling flight of the massive condor family who circle overhead. It’s an awe-inspiring spectacle, and the perfect spot to contemplate such natural beauty with a sandwich in hand!
After lunch we descend once more to the valley floor and follow a meandering path through the forest again and back towards town. Along the way we stop to refill water bottles at pristine, crystal clear, icy cold streams, the glacial meltwater perfect to drink on a hot trek. Winding down the path into town there’s talk of showers, baths, dinners and rest, but most of us prick up our ears at the mention of the local brewery in town, where many trekkers end a long day with a cold local beer. Apparently it’s a tradition, and not wanting to go against local custom we flop on the grass in front of the bar and rest weary feet, toasting the day that’s just passed and looking forward to more unmissable Patagonian experiences to come.
You can have your own Patagonian Highlights trip with this 13 day small group journey priced from $5385* per person.
O'Loughlin | with 0 comments