El Chalten, the sleepy quaint town 215 km (2.5 hours) north of El Calafate, is home to the awe-inspiring peak of Cerro Fitz Roy, whose famed silhouette helped inspire the logo for the outdoor clothing brand Patagonia. As we approached El Chalten in the fleeting sunlight, we were able to witness the spectacular outline from the best seats of our bus:
Upon leaving the bus terminal, everyone is welcomed with this sign:
Food in both restaurants and markets are expensive because everything is hauled in, and lodging can be equally as expensive as lodging in El Calafate. We originally booked a private room at the Rancho Grande Hostel, but because they overbooked, they sent us over to their neighboring Poincenot Hotel instead…for the same price! Win! We looked forward to returning to this room after an exhausting day of trekking:
Despite the price markups, it was quite the trailer trash/hippy town, with a number of small trailers scattered throughout the streets. We also found internet in El Chalten to be worse than internet in Myanmar; do not expect reliable internet anywhere in this town. (Tip: We were able to find an exchange rate for $11.5 ARS to the dollar at La Waffleria, but we were later told that a hostel closer to the bus terminal had a rate of $12 ARS to the dollar. We didn’t know which hostel it was, but we imagine if you searched a bit more off the main San Martin strip and more along Lago del Desierto, you can find the rate of $12 ARS.)
We squandered our first full day ice trekking on Glaciar Viedma with Patagonia Adventura, and we reserved our second day for trekking. Because clouds and rain were projected for our third day, we decided to combine two treks into one: El Chalten to Laguna de Los Tres/Cerro Fitz Roy, then down the shortcut through Laguna Madre e Hija, to Laguna de Torre/Cerro Torre, and then finally back to El Chalten, a total of ~35km roundtrip. It was a beautiful day for hiking, perfect for fantastic photos, but our feet definitely felt as if they were going to fall off by the end of the day. Worth it? Of course!
Shortly before 9am we set off north for Laguna de Los Tres. After about 45 minutes of a decent uphill, we were rewarded with views of the valley. The sun had only recently climbed up over the hills, indicating the start of a beautiful day.
There were plenty of lookouts along the trail that offered fantastic views of Cerro Fitz Roy. The bright, warm sun highlighted the splendor of autumn in Patagonia; the golden hues of fall foliage were eye candy for the soul.
I’ll admit the final 2 km up toward Lagunna de Los Tres was no easy task. Everyone trudged along painfully and slowly in a single file line.
But look at the reward on the other side of the rocky hill!
Shortly after eating lunch, we reunited with a couple of friends from Torres del Paine:
And on the way down, we ran into more friends!
Along the Laguna de Madre e Hija shortcut:
Hiking toward Laguna de Torre:
Who knew such a beauty could exist?! Just the sight of the bobbing icebergs in the lagoon and the sound of the gentle, milky waves were soothing for the soul.
After a relaxing break along the lakeshore of Laguna Torre, we stood up one last time for our return back to town. It was a fairly quick and easy trek back, and the trail ended with a view of El Chalten from afar:
We dragged our feet across town in search for a hearty dinner (soup, mashed potatoes, bife de chorizo, and beer!) before finally staggering back to our hotel room. After ~35 km of a full day’s hike, our legs and feet were heavy with pain, but our hearts were filled with joy and accomplishment. Most stories of El Chalten and trekking to Cerro Fitz Roy involve cloudy skies and frigid days; I’ve even heard of people waiting around for days and even weeks for decent weather in El Chalten before leaving El Calafate.
With the conclusion of our days in El Chalten, our days in the far south of South America/Southern Patagonia were finally at a close. We’ve experienced tumultuous winds, chilly days, warm days, seemingly endless rain, and a bit of snow. Still, there is more trekking in Bariloche (northern Patagonia) and Machu Picchu in June to look forward to, but the bulk of our hardcore trekking in the wilderness was over. As we venture further away from the remote south and head closer toward the equator, our concerns for escaping winter will subside. Until then…just one more stop in Patagonia…San Carlos de Bariloche!