El Chaltén, Argentina and Glacier National Park
After two weeks of recuperating from our trip in Las Torres, we headed back into Argentina and into the wilderness. Again, we chose to skip over one of the country’s more famous sites, Glacier Perito Moreno, located outside the city of El Calafate. We made our decision based on the fact that we had seen the incredible Glacier Grey already and didn’t want to deal with the touristy crowds. Instead, we decided to head straight up to Glacier National Park to lay our eyes on the famous Mt. Fitzroy, located just outside the city of El Chaltén.
El Chaltén is a very small town, which, like Puerto Natales, mainly exists to serve as a gateway to a national park. All the same, it was cute and quaint and had a campsite in town for mochileros, called Albergue y Camping del Lago. From the campsite, it was about a 15-20 minute walk to the trailhead inside Glacier National Park. From the entry point, it was a short but uphill climb through wooded forests to Lago Capri. The forests were enchanting and quiet, except when some Magellanic Woodpeckers were tapping away at tree bark searching for grub. When we arrived at Lago Capri, were received by fabulous vistas of the mighty Mt. Fitzroy. It was then only another hour or so to the free campsite, Poincenot. This site boasts even more incredible views of Fitzroy’s towers, providing a comfortable spot to relax and enjoy a colorful sunset.
The second day in the park, Matt and I hiked to Piedras Blancas, which, as the name clearly establishes, is a location filled with white rocks. The backdrop, however, is a large glacier and additional views of Fitzroy. It was an easy hike and an overall lazy day that ended early, because the following day we woke up at 5:30 am to catch the sunrise at Lago Tres at the base of Fitzroy. The hike through the darkness was steep and took about an hour and a half to complete, but was well worth the burn. Like Los Torres, the towers are mystical when glowing a warm orange-red in the early morning sunrays. However, Fitzroy’s glow was even more vibrant. Just incredible! Although we had woken up early and done an all uphill climb that morning, it was no problem coming back down to camp and unhurriedly packing up our things for the next trek to the Agostini site. The hike there was pretty flat and was only about 3-hours long. We walked along several lakes and through forests filled with the changing colors of autumn until we reached the Agostini site, set beside the rushing waters of a river.
In comparison to Las Torres National Park, this portion of Glacier National Park, outside of El Chaltén, has short treks between destinations (no more than 4 hours walking at a leisurely pace), trails are fairly well-marked, and the level of difficulty is easy. The great thing is that all the campsites are free! I would highly recommend this to anyone who is in good health and doesn’t mind a few days in a tent. You get to enjoy similar landscapes and natural beauty seen in Los Torres but with half the effort.
We were fortunate that three out of the four days we were in the park were sunny and warm. But, you can’t hike in Patagonia without expecting at least one day of rain. Luckily, it was just a short walk out of the park to the warm refuge of the kitchen at the Albergue in El Chaltén. We didn’t stay the night, there, however, because we were catching a night bus to the famous town of San Carlos de Bariloche, located in what is known as the lakes district of Patagonia.
Day 8: Italiano - Campamento Las Torres
Longest - day - ever. That being said, it was an extremely scenic hike filled with waterfalls, wooded forests, ridges, grassland valleys, and the ever-lurking mini mountain passes. Luckily, there is a well-marked shortcut that makes what could have been 11-hour hike a 7-hour one. As we were running low on our food supply and didn’t much feel like pulling out the stove for lunch, we decided to splurge at Los Cuernos before making the long trek out to Las Torres. It became evident quite quickly that this campsite was no good. Note to all future Torres travelers: This site is, in fact, LAME. Per other trekkers, there were rats on site (in the refugio) and they made people pay a high rate to camp at spaces that were inadequate to say the least. We were also thoroughly disappointed when we found out that the lunch we were so eager to buy was none other than PASTA! After a week of eating pasta we couldn’t help but wonder why a fancy refugio would serve a meal that is so common among campers. Thus, it was another strike in our books against the Los Cuernos site. We were glad we were only passing through.
After about 6 hours, we arrived at Refugio Chileno - another posh refugio with amenities similar to that of Refugio Grey. After a very long hike, we decided to buy some confidence juice (aka box-wine) to help dull our pain and mask our exhaustion. We rested about an hour before completing the last 45-minute uphill trek to Campamento Las Torres. After a little over a week of trekking, we had almost finally arrived at the park’s main attraction.