We arrived to El Chalten after midnight tired, hungry and having to set up our tent in the dark with a strong wind. Our bus broke down twice en route and we got into town hours past when we were supposed to. Too tired to make any dinner, we crawled into our tent and slept in what is dubbed the trekking capital of Argentina. When we awoke in the morning we found we had arrived to one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Welcome to El Chalten, Argentina, a young mountain village sitting at the base of the massive Fitz Roy Mountain. The town was founded in the late 1970s – early 1980s in anticipation of land disputes with Chile.
With landscapes like this, it’s easy to see how this area earned it’s title of Argentina’s trekking capital. We came here to hike and were blown away by the incredible beauty that surrounded us. Although one could make big day hikes to most of the area we covered, we opted to route out a 3 day hike. There are countless treks all around the area. During the summer, climbers strap themselves into ropes and harnesses and spend weeks ascending climbing routes.
We started our 3 day trek on the north side of town hiking in an anti-clockwise direction going towards Fitz Roy first and then cutting over to Cerro Torre. For anyone looking to hike this loop, given the slopes of the terrain I would definitely recommend hiking the loop in that direction. For experienced hikers, it made the grades seemed so easy and if you are a beginner, then at least you will be going in the easiest direction.
This is the land of mountains, streams and glaciers. After we set up camp we hiked to Piedras Blancas Glacier. In the park, there are 47 larger glaciers and over 200 smaller glaciers.
By camping at Poincenot it is possible to wake up 1-2 hours before sunrise and hike up to watch the sun come up over Fitz Roy. Making the effort to do so is definitely worth it. The morning we were up there we were among around twenty fellow hikers and everyone had found a little spot to quietly watch the rays cast their morning light along the rock face. People were considerate of staying along the same perimeter line for the peak of the sunrise lighting so everyone could capture great photos without random people in them.
We were so lucky with the weather and the early morning rays colored the sides of the mountains. If you are going to try and catch sunrise at the Fitz, it’s a good idea to pack a small day bag the night before. Make sure you have your flash light handy (you’ll need that to see as you walk in the dark in the morning), at least 1 liter of water and snacks. Depending on the season, you may even want to carry up a backpacking stove to make hot tea and your sleeping bag at the top. It’s colder at the viewpoint and after hiking up a fairly steep ascent, you will be sweaty which will make you even colder. A dry under shirt to change into isn’t a bad idea to carry up as well.
Day two we hiked to De Agostini camp which we were again, so lucky with the weather. All that white you see was a glacier and every so often we could hear a massive boom as a piece fell off. To the left was a great example to view what climbers and hikers call the tree line. On mountains there is a point in altitude in which trees no longer grow and usually it’s a pretty straight, latitudial line. If you are climbing mountains, it’s always important to know how long it will take you to get back down to tree line so if bad weather does come in quickly, you can at least seek some shelter.
Our camp was on the left side of Lake Torre, up over the mini rock wall and by the dark green cluster of trees. A trail followed the left side of this photo so one could walk up and see Glacier Grande. Those little white specs in the water are pieces of the glacier floating around.
At 3102 meters/ 10,177 feet elevation Cerro Torre had it’s own climate happening around its rugged peaks. For hours over the course of the morning we watched clouds rolling in, out, over, under and all around these peaks. This was the clearest picture we got.
One of the things I love most about traveling is not being sure of what a destination will be like, going there anyway, and having the experience be one of the best from the trip. We had no idea how El Chalten would be, if we would have good weather or have to wait days for a storm to break, but we went anyway because that is what travelers do. When one starts off to travel or begins a trip, no one really knows what’s out there, but one thing we know is we must go. For without taking the chance, we may miss out on what may become one of the best experiences of our life. And for that reason, the traveler must keep on exploring.
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If you go:
Please remember Leave No Trace camping principles. One of the reasons this hike was so awesome is because the area was so clean and people genuienly made an effort to follow low impact camping skills. Not washing your dishes in running water (carry water and wash dishes at least 200 feet from water source), using the bathrooms provided, being conscious of even the smallest bits of trash, being quiet and respectful in the mornings and night made this hike awesome.
There’s a handful of different campgrounds in town. We stayed at Camping at El Refugio, Calle 3, 49-3221 for $40ARS pp.
Los Glaciares National Park entrance and camping in the park are free. (Note for Moreno Glacier side of the park, there is an entrance fee of $180ARS pp.)
We paid to store our extra gear at Rancho Grande Hostel while we were on the trail. No reason to carry what you don’t need.
Buses come and go from the town pretty regularly now. For ~$23 pp we took a bus from El Calafate. Cal-Tur and El Chalten travel seemed to be good bus companies.
Don’t go here if you want to do a lot of internet chores – at the present time there is not fast, reliable internet. So do your important internet chores somewhere else before you get to town.
Stock up on base food staples (like pasta and rice) before you get to town if you can. There are enough little restaurants to get meals from along with teas and coffee. There is a decent grocery store that does sell dehydrated food goods and last minute items for hiking.