El Chalten, Argentina
49° 19' S 72° 53' W
Dec 28, 2003 19:48
Distance 120km

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Text written in: English

El Chalten (28 December 2003 - 1 January 2004)

The gravel road from El Calafate to El Chalten was in good shape for the first 130 kilometers or so. Just dusty and a bit bumpy here and there. The last 90 kilometers were a bit rougher as they were reconstructing the road. The drive along the enormous Lago Viedma with its beautiful azure colours was nice and made a nice contrast with the endless barren and rocky countryside. After 5.5 hours we approached the Fitz Roy mountain range and arrived around 13:00 in El Chalten.

El Chalten is Argentina's youngest town and was slapped together in 1985 to claim the land before Chile could do it. Right in the middle of what normal people would call a desert they build this village in an extremely windy and dusty valley. There are no paved roads and it does not look like it that there will be one soon. In winter the town is inhabited by about 50-75 people only and in winter about 400 people try to make a living out of the tourists. There is no bank in town, the nearest is 220 km away in El Calafate, the nearest town, but amazing enough there are three medium sized supermarkets in this dustbin town. The Fitz Roy mountains are well known and famous for climbers and they come from all over the world to climb in this fabulous scenery that ranks as one of the most beautiful in the world. Yes it almost matches the Torres del Paine National Park in Chile.

I camped at one of the three campgrounds in town and found a nice green and very quiet place with a river and snow capped mountain view. Sometimes life is good. There where about ten more tents but all far from each other and strategically set up behind the pre-erected wooden windbreaks otherwise no tent would survive the strong winds in this valley.

Parque Nacional Los Glaciares/Fitz Roy (28 - 31 December 2003):

The rest of the first day in town I relaxed and had a look around the 12 streets that El Chalten has. It had a small locutorio with an incredible 4 phone lines to the outer world so at least I could try to make a phone call to the folks back home on New Years Eve. The following day I left around 11:00, taking my chance to catch up with some sleep and try to forget those horrible past days when I had to get up at 6:00 am. The destination of the first hiking day was Laguna Torre. A beautiful trail that started with a short climb that was quite tiring because of all the sunshine. Yes, it was a hiking in shorts and T-shirts only day. Beautiful skies stayed all day long and after an hour and a half I reached the first major mirador, or panoramic view point. Incredible views of the three Torres that strangely peaked out of the mountain range, all three over 3000 meters high and of course the whole range was covered in snow with glaciers running between them ending up in the freezing grey Rio Fitz Roy.

It was another 1.5 hours and a short scramble up the moraine of the glacier to see the Laguna Torre and the three towers behind it. It was very windy up here so I stayed a short time, had a lunch and walked the three hours back to town. The day had been unusually clear and the view was very clear. A local guide told me that he had only seen it like today for just a few times. La Casita was one of those great restaurants and needs to be recommended on my website. Very friendly service with a smile, excellent food (best papas fritas on the continent so far!) and acceptable prices, all in one. A nice ending of the day The second day was a hell of day's hike. Destination Cerro Fitz Roy himself, towering at 3405 meters, can be seen from town as a small peak over a few lower mountain ranges. The walk was 4.5 hours up to the Laguna de los Tres but the last hour was extremely steep over gravel and rocks. The first three hours or so where quite nice along small lakes, through more beech forests and past two very basic campgrounds. It was another very warm day again and I got sunburn even more than I had already. Pre-burning for the weeks on the beach that are coming up in about two weeks so to say. At the end of the trail, on top of the moraine you looked down on a small glacier lake that was half frozen and covered in snow and the other half was like a mirror reflecting Cerro Fitz Roy. This was worth the scramble and a scramble it had been! The sky was clear once more and the guidebooks and brochures telling you that it is very difficult to see Cerro Fitz Roy or the Torres because it is ALWAYS cloudy seemed hard to believe. I guess I was very lucky again. What a great day!

The last day of the year was dedicated to the third major hike of the Fitz Roy area of the Parque Nacional de los Glaciares, where it is the northern part off. Indeed the same park as the Perito Moreno Glaciar near Calafate, 220 km away, is in. The planned 8 hour hike of today was (un)fortunately not going to happen. The steady uphill hike to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, 1298 meters high, was indeed quite steady uphill. There was more wind on this trail so at least it cooled me down a bit in the ever burning sun. About halfway the trail became very muddy and it was difficult to get through this part as with every step I sank until over my ankles into the mud. What a mess. The trail also deteriorated and it was hard to see where the trail went through the muddy forest.

Finally I came to the junction with a sign that the top of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado was two hours away. However there was no trail at all and the barren and steep hill did not look too inviting either. The view from the junction was incredible enough I thought. Azul Lago Viedma about a kilometer down in the barren rocky valley on one side and the Fitz Roy mountain range on the other side with a big white glacier to top it off. I returned to the mud fields and returned in El Chalten around 18:00, six hours after I had left. My feet were quite happy with the 6 hour walk today instead of the eight to ten hours I had planned but my feet don't know that it is still a very long way to Aruba and back to Santiago.

Around 19:30 I had to walk again. To the other side of town, about a kilometer or so, to the locutorio, to make the New Years call to the tiny country in Europe. There was a queue in the street in front of the small locutorio, which has only 4 lines. Surprising enough most people actually called before 20:00 already. Strange because there is 4 hours time difference with Western Europe and it does not make much sense to call to early, well that is my opinion. I have called home from different countries in the world on this evening, but I never got through so easily as this night in El Chalten, of all places.

Photos / videos of "El Chalten (28 December 2003 - 1 January 2004)":

Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains El Chalten El Chalten El Chalten El Chalten El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten Fitz Roy Mountains near El Chalten