After getting our breath taken away by the huge glacier Perito Moreno, we continued our journey further North into Argentine Patagonia, to arrive during Easter weekend in the very quiet village of El Chaltén.
It is only a short bus ride by Patagonian standards (a bit more than three hours), but as usual it is a fantastic one. Patagonia, at least in Argentina looks like this : there is nothing, absolutely nothing for thousands of kilometres; it is mostly flat, not a single tree to be seen, and the roads are straight for dozens of kilometres. On the sides you just see infinite length of fences, delimiting huge fields, in which you can sometime see cows, or sheep, or even horses. There are also groups of Guanacos, (a super cute and wild animal, related to the llama family. Seriously look at them on google, they are so cute), or if you’re lucky you can spot big flightless birds, similar to ostriches.
The endless flatness ends at some point to be met by huge mountains, glaciers and high peaks. This is the Andes. And this is were things are happening, at least for us so far.
That is the reason we’ve come to El Chaltén, it is located within the Glacier National Park, and it has several famous hikes that we intend to walk.
Our first day here was half a day, since we arrived around lunchtime with the bus. We decided to take it easy, and as the weather was splendid, decided to do some of the small hikes around town. Typical us, we ended up doing ALL the small hikes available around town, and the small day ended up being a 16km + of walk! But we got to see some nice waterfall, some nice lookout points above town and the surrounding pampa.
And also we spent a bit of time in the microscopic shops in the village to gather food for our lunches the following days.
Second day, first real hiking day. We leave the hostel just as the sun is about to rise and we start to climb up away from the village. Actually, we almost start to run, as it seems Fred had taken too much coffee for breakfast. He says it is because he wants to see and take a pic of the rising sun on the high peaks, but there is actually one hour and half of climb before we can actually see the mountains. So halfway through this madness, Merima calms him down, and we then take a more steady and reasonable pace as we need to save some energy for later.
Good idea, because the hike is long, 11 km one way. It goes up for some time at the beginning, but after that is flat for 6km. The views are wonderful, we walk into an upper valley, between old forest with incandescent coloured trees, torrents, and high grass fields that are still frozen. And in the background the mountains, the high mass of rock, that is the Cerro Fitz Roy, dominates all the others peaks.
As the sun is rising at the same time as we are climbing, the valley lights up, and the colours are changing fast. From an all white, frost covered vegetation to a wonderful array of autumn colours. A bit of green, but mostly yellows, oranges, and red trees everywhere. And the heat is rising as well. Revealing to us one of Patagonia mystery : at this time of the year, if you stand in the sun it is 18°C, if you are in the shadows, it is max 3°C. We spend a bit of time taking away, and putting on different layers of clothes throughout the day.
Finally we almost reached the end of the hike for the day. One kilometre left to go, and it is a biggie ! If it was mostly flat for the last 6km, this one is going up. Only going up. 400 meters up exactly. To climb that is like climbing a stair were for each step you take, you have to go up 40 cm. That makes each step much higher that your knee level. Needless to say it was an intense climb, and with the boiling sun in our backs we did sweat a bit ! But the reward was worth it as we reached the Laguna de Los Tres, the final point of the climb. Up there, a little lake was formed at the foot of the peaks, below the glaciers. The views are stunning, and as the sky is completely cloud free, we can see every single of the summits around us. And identify them. There is the huge Fitz Roy, but also the smaller ones, Saint-Exupery, Mermoz and Guillaumet! The panorama is beautiful, even though Merima’s after the climb was more like : “What?, that’s it? We just climbed and sweat that much for this? We could see exactly everything looking the same from down there. There is just a little lake more”. But after a bit of rest and some well deserved lunch, all seems to go better. We spent a bit of time just chilling out enjoying the views and the sun and resting our knees for we would need them for going down the crazy hill.
The way back went well, even though at the end of the day we felt pretty tired and had sore feet. The fact that now we were turning our back to the magical views also took away a bit of the motivation obviously.
Third day, second big hike. We start on the same basis than the previous day, a similar distance to walk about 20+ km for the day. Departure at the same time as the sun rises and brings a bit of warmth, or at least we thought so. Because today is actually far more clouds than yesterday. And we are walking towards another upper valley, with a different sun exposure and because the sun is hidden by the clouds, it is much colder than the previous day. Everything is still very frost, even when we get closer to lunch time. Today again, we have a small first climb up to get away from the village, then a long flat part until we reach the Laguna Torre. Another little lake at the end of a glacier, surrounded by other high mountains and more glaciers.
The main difference,appart from the fact that the mountains are different, is that today the lake is frozen! There are even some icebergs stuck in the ice in the middle. Ironical no? Probably because the walk was almost too easy to get here, we decided to continue a bit and climb one side of the lake. It is steep, and it is pretty unstable path as it is mostly a big pile of small rocks. But, again it is very much worth it as when we arrive at the end of the path, we can have a much better view on the surrounding glacier, as well as the Cerro Torre, the tall rocky tower.
Similarly to yesterday, the walk back to the village is a little less interesting, even though Fred decided to take an alternative way, that happened to be a mistake at first, but a good shortcut in the end. And also a beautiful walk into one of the most beautiful forest we’ve seen so far (and we have seen and walk through some everyday, and we live in Sweden!).
After a final look backward, we continue down and soon we’re back in the hotel, the legs and the knees are a bit more painful than the previous night and we decide it is time to eat some carbs, so we order huge plates of food and french fries at our hostel.
The following day, the weather has worsened and we get to experience the crazy and infamous Patagonian winds. We decide to take it easy, wake up late, enjoy our breakfast and then just do pretty much nothing, but some picture editing, blogging, and also planning a bit our next adventures. We go out a bit to buy food and bus tickets for the next leg of the journey. We will return to Chile soon (or as Merima calls it, the country with less worse yogurts! 😂). We went into town flying, with the wind in our backs, we came back facing it and it probably took three time the amount of time. Also, it is not easy to walk with almost closed and crying eyes, and with the hoods of our jackets serving mostly as parachute. Sometimes it is very good to do nothing, but drink coffee and eat pie and be cosy inside and see the elements unleashed outside.
Another day in Patagonia, and this time we get up early again. We have another hike planned for the day. We have to cross the whole village before reaching the start of the path, and again as we start, we climb up. Actually today, we only climb up. The idea is to reach the summit of a mountain, located a bit further away from the previous day, but to climb much higher in order to have a 360° view of he area. So we have more than a thousands meter to climb up today. But it goes quite well as it is not as steep as the previous days. We can feel that the day is much colder than the previous ones, mostly because it is still very windy. Half of the climb is in a forest so we are protected, but the moment our feet leaves the trees protection, we are feeling like being blown away. We are climbing up, above the tree line so there is nothing to slow down the tempest and we’re facing it. Merima just hates it from the inside of her bones, Fred enjoys it, laughs at it, and decided that all of that just was making the day more epic. He even started to sing epic music from movies such as The Lord of The Rings, because it was very appropriate!
As we are above the tree line, it also means that now the views are getting more and more epic by the minute. With the dark clouds, playing hide and seek with the sun, it creates a very dramatic atmosphere and the sun beams of light coming down onto the mountains participate grandly in that theatrical epicness.
We continue to walk up for another half an hour until we reach a first mirador. It gives a very nice view of the two valleys and lakes we hike to the previous days, but it is not the 360°C view promised. For that, there is a final climb, on a very steep path going all the way to the summit of this mountain. No cover from the wind, nor from the ice bits that are starting to fall on us. (Actually they are more flying horizontally into our faces, they must come from the glaciers,and tops of snowy mountains around us). It is an epic climb, and when we reached the summit some minutes later we feel happy, relieved and also cold! But here it is, the 360° view, at 1500 m above sea level. On one side, the mountains, not all of them as some are hidden in the clouds. On another side, more mountains, not in the clouds and some glaciers, and on a last side, the pampa, flat, empty and with no limits, but yet with brilliant colours. We take a bit of time enjoying the moment, looking in all directions and taking pictures, but the wind is still very present and we start to head down.
After the steep descent, it’s back on the path, and even though it is lunch time and we’re hungry there is no shelter to take a break. So we just start to walk back down to the valley. Actually we almost start to run, as it is going down, and the path is easy and not steep. And because it is Merima leading the way, she accelerates more and more, just running towards the shelter of the forest. Once we make it we can breath a bit, sit down and eat our well-deserved sandwiches. And then continue our walk down to the village, still facing the wind, still fighting the elements. Once we reach town, we decided to recover some more energy Argentine-style and decide to stop for some waffles and their buckets of dulce de leche.
We really enjoyed our time in this little village. We feel that we’ve been very lucky with the weather the first days, and even the windy day we went out, it was the less worse of the bad days, so we could definitely enjoy the full epicness of the landscapes and the panoramas of the region. We did three long one-day-hikes and we were happy to find a warm hostel and bed every night when we got back in town.
And now for some more adventures, we will be taking our first night bus to continue the journey into Patagonia. Heading once more towards Chile.