One trek down and we didn’t let much time pass before ticking off another. From Torres del Paine on the Chilean side of Patagonia, we crossed over to Argentina, bypassed El Calafate and the famous calving Perito Moreno glacier, ending up in El Chalten by the end of the day. We set up our tent at a hostel in the dark and it wasn’t until morning when we woke up to clear skies that we remembered what El Chaltén is famous for.
The Fitz Roy massif and Cerro Torre. The former, 11 badass diorite peaks that dominate the horizon (as well as the Patagonia company logo), and the latter, one of the most formidable alpine climbs with a controversial history. More on those later.
Similar to Torres del Paine, Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is a must-do for trekkers visiting Patagonia in order to see stunning alpine lakes, incredible mountain formations, and of course…glaciers. Unlike its Chilean counterpart though, there are no private refugios, entrance and camping is free, it is accessible by foot from town and not nearly as difficult. So we had a lazy morning and eventually, for lack of anything better to do, we broke camp and set off for 3 days to explore Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
It’s only a 2 or so hour hike up to the Poincenot Camp situated a short but steep hike below Lago de Los Tres, which is where everyone goes for views of “the Fitz”. We left El Chaltén mid afternoon so by the time we had set up camp there was still plenty of light left to rip up to Lago de Los Tres in time for sunset.
No entertaining stories from this camp. Poincenot was much smaller, quieter and there weren’t tents set up on top of ours, just some friendly Argentinians loving experiencing their own country as much as the rest of us. Again, similarly to Torres del Paine, sunrise is a popular time to go and watch the towers turn orange and pink with morning alpenglow. Even though we had been there less than 12 hours earlier we grabbed our headlamps and trudged back up to the lake.
From Poincenot Camp we made a quick trip to get a different vantage of the massif and the Piedras Blancas glacier even though a few people had told us it wasn’t that amazing.
We spent the afternoon hiking to the nearby valley that leads up to Lago Torre, another glacial lake that provides an ideal place to sit in awe of the areas peaks.
Cerro Torre takes centre stage here, a narrow finger of rock that extends above Glacier Torre to a height of 3,128m, as if to flip the bird to any alpinist with hopes of reaching the summit. Several of the climbers creating the controversy, flipped the bird right back at Cerro Torre and the climbing community. Aside from being one of the world’s most challenging peaks to summit, it is also one of the most controversial amongst the climbing community. It all started almost 60 years ago when an Italian alpinist, Cesare Maestri, claimed to have made the first ascent of Cerro Torre but his partner was swept away and killed by icefall on the descent. A great mountaineer, Toni Egger, lost his life but with him also went the camera and proof of the ascent, according to Maestri. The ascent wasn’t doubted at first, but years later a rival alpinist attempted and failed on a similar route, but found no evidence of any previous attempts. Egger’s body was also eventually found without a camera. Determined to prove the naysayers wrong, Maestri returned to Patagonia and ascended Cerro Torre, reaching the top of the rock but refusing to climb the massive ice mushroom to reach the absolute peak. Unfortunately he didn’t silence any of his critics, and didn’t make any friends with how he made the climb. His team used fixed lines and a hand winch to raise a gas powered compressor along side them and drilled bolts into the wall every few feet. They left over 400 permanent bolts on their route and even left the compressor anchored to the wall a hundred odd meters below the summit. The Compressor Route, as it came to be known, became the primary route for ascending Cerro Torre and remained unchanged until 5 years ago when an American duo added further fuel to the controversy surrounding this peak. After successfully climbing the Compressor Route, they chopped 125 of the bolts from the top of the route as they descended, essentially making the last portion impossible for even the best of climbers. Again the climbing community exploded in debate over who has the right to add or remove bolts and climbing ethics. Then, less than a week later a young Swiss climber extended a middle finger to everyone and climbed the route, using no aid or fixed protection on the final section, something that no one had ever done and was considered impossible. Neato eh?
We were enjoying the relaxed pace of this hike so we set up camp and didn’t stray too far that evening, soaking in the view from atop a boulder at the edge of D’Agostini Camp.
On our third and final day the Torre was hidden by clouds so we didn’t bother hiking to a closer lookout. Instead the sights came to us. Two Huemul’s, an endangered type of Patagonian deer, waltzed right through our camp.
And just to hammer home the point that we were being lazy, an annual trail race was finishing at our camp as we made breakfast. The trail race was part of the festivities for El Chaltén’s annual Trekking Fest, a big party for the little town.
We had our own little shindig with the fellow travellers camping at our hostel. A fishing guide staying at the hostel had offered to cook up a massive salmon which turned into an impromptu potluck. Smoking salmon is an all day affair which gave us enough time to burn through a few trips to the grocery stores worth of boxed wine.
After the feast we joined the rest of El Chaltén at the community centre for a night of live music and local beer.
One more night of live music with slightly less boxed wine and we were ready to get back on the trail. We had learned about a trek that was much more challenging and less travelled than the others around El Chaltén. Our next post will look at our 5 days on the Huemul Circuit to the Southern Ice Field.
¡Lo pase bien!