El Chaltén, a small city at the feet of the mountains and gateway to the Fitz Roy, probably one of the most famous summits in Argentina…. Often hidden behind thick clouds, this summit is a dream for millions of hikers and climbers.
Not even tired
Wednesday 10th January 2017
24h of bus… this was not my first long bus trip and I am now used to it! We left El Bolsón the day before with Anne and didn’t feel like this trip was that long. I had all the necessary equipment in case it is freezing cold or too hot (and the bus was indeed sometimes too cold , sometimes too hot), a lot to do on my computer, and most of all, amazing landscapes to admire: the endless arid steppe, fantastic sunset and sunrise and a breath-taking arrival In El Chaltén. The sky was perfectly blue, the glaciers and summits were rising in front of us… and the Fitz Roy was truly visible this day! I felt touched even to see it from faraway; I was waiting so much for it…
We let our stuff at the hostel and immediately left for a hike even though we were tired after the bad night in the bus. The weather changes too much here to take the risk to wait one day more, and the only interest in El Chaltén is the hikes anyway!
Indeed, it is a small town that was created only in 1985, which kept on growing since then and only lives for and thanks to tourism. It is a remote touristic station, full of restaurants, hotels and hiking and climbing material shops.
We started the hike leading to Laguna Torre, one of the two most famous hikes in El Chaltén. It is not a difficult one as it’s quite flat, but it has such a view on the Cerro Torre… and when you arrive, this laguna, its glacier in the background, the three characteristic peaks of the Cerro Torre… simply amazing!
I let Anne get some rest along the lake and kept on hiking for an hour more so to get closer to the glacier. Going there was not difficult but on the way back the wind had started; I then had a better understanding of the difficulty to walk with this strong Patagonian wind, quite impressive!
We then slowly came back with Anne. The summits were now hidden behind the clouds and the view was less interesting so it seemed a bit long…
We took some homemade pastas and pesto in an Italian restaurant and came back to enjoy this well-deserved dinner. We then had no troubles to fall asleep!
Lago del Desierto and Glacier Huemul
Thursday 11th January 2017
We had planned to do the hike heading to the Fitz Roy that day but the weather made us change our minds. The sky was covered and the wind was strong, it would have been a shame to climb and see nothing at the arrival!
We decided to hitchhike to go to the Lago del Desierto, a lake that is located about one hour north from El Chaltén (via a dirt road). My luck with the hitchhike continued as we found an Argentinian couple very quickly and going back was as easy. The trip itself was really beautiful, with rivers, waterfalls and mountains all around us.
Once we arrived, we admired the turquoise-green lake and then went to hike towards the glacier. It normally costs 200 pesos to go there but as Anne requested a coffee at the entrance, we started talking with the Argentinian couple that was working there. The guy was eager to learn French and asked us to translate some sentences that could help him to greet the French tourists. We stayed for a while talking with him and helping him to pronounce these few sentences so he finally offered us to enter the park for free (plus the coffee for Anne, mate for me and some chocolates… it was really generous and unexpected!).
The walk to the glacier was a short but nice one. It followed a river and its waterfalls through a forest full of threatening, creaking and tortuous trees. No wonder why Tolkien was inspired by Patagonia to write Lords of the Rings; you would expect some elfs or a druid to come out of this forest!
Once on the top, the glacier and the laguna offered breath-taking scenery. As always, it was cold and windy but so beautiful! We kept on walking to get to a point where we had a view on the glacier on one side and the Lago del Desierto on the other side… we have had worse places for a lunch break!
We came back hitchhiking with a very nice couple of Dutch and had dinner in the evening with some friends of Anna that were also visiting El Chaltén. The restaurant was not exceptional but the atmosphere was nice!
Rain and Chorillo del Salto
Friday 12th January 2018
Another day where we had to postpone the Fitz Roy! This time it was not only a grey sky but rain (and of course snow higher in the mountains) and still a lot of wind so there was no point in climbing in these conditions! But the only problem is that the activities are quite limited in El Chaltén if you can’t go hiking….
We only had a short walk to Chorillo del Salto, a big waterfall located 3 km from the city centre. The rain and the wind didn’t make it easy but the falls at the arrival was more impressive than what we expected.
Back to the hostel, I talked with Paul, an English guy, who was planning to see the Fitz Roy at sunrise on the following day. I was actually tempted by this night walk but didn’t feel like doing it alone. I had finally found someone as crazy as me to do it! We then went to take some calories at the Waffleria (a paradise to eat waffles of all kinds, salty and sweet!), prepared our stuff for the hike and had a few hours of sleep before a very early wake-up.
Sunrise on the Fitz Roy
Saturday 13th January 2018
This time is the good one: let’s go to the Fitz Roy! We woke up at 1h30 with Paul and left with our headlamps to start our ascension. He had already done it by day and was quite sportive so I felt confident with him. It was quite funny to see the bars still full of life and a lot of people far from their beds as we crossed El Chaltén… there was a gap with us!
This 10-km hike is quite steep for the three first kilometres and relatively easy then, until the last kilometre that climbs steep until the Laguna de los Tres. We started quite fast and maintained this rhythm until the end, making only a few stops to admire the stars (so impressive to see such a clear sky without any light pollution!). We made the climb in less than 3h (it is supposed to take 4h), not bad for a night walk!
We arrived at 5 a.m. at the laguna, put on our warmest clothes and took shelter behind big rocks, ready to admire the show. We didn’t have a very colourful sunrise like it can often happen here (with red, pink, orange colours) but the pale blue sky became gold once the sun got out, giving incredible colours to the mountain. I let you admire Paul’s time-lapse video and the pictures, which tell much more…
This experience will remain as one of my best memories in Argentina. The landscapes were so incredible and magic! It’s impossible not to feel touched in such an exceptional environment….
We enjoyed the place for a while after the sunrise and took some more photos before starting going down. We would have stayed much longer but our hands and feet were completely frozen after these two hours without moving so it was time to move!
It was quite a pleasure for me to discover the path on which we had been walking at night. The landscapes were amazing and I enjoyed them even more as I had seen nothing by night! We also came across so many people starting the hike on our way down (everybody was in the starting blocks as the weather had been bad for two days) that I rejoiced even more to have lived this unique moment. I know how I am, it would probably have spoiled my experience to walk with such a crowd if I had done it during the day!
We came back to the hostel exhausted but still very happy of our experience. 24 km in 5h15 with 987m of altitude, no wonder if our legs were tired! We spent the rest of the day sleeping, having some lunch, sleeping again and sharing a well-deserved beer with Paul and Anne (who had done the hike during the day). A nice way to finish our stay in El Chaltén!
To be continued…
Tips & practical infos
Be careful, everything is more expensive in El Chalten as the city is remote, and it’s even worse during high season. However the hikes are free as the city is located in the National Park Los Glaciares, and you don’t need the transports to start the hikes.
Bus El Bolsón – El Chaltén : $1920 – 84€ with the company Marga – 23h bus trip, in a bus that was either freezing cold or hot and with almost no food served. But the landscapes are amazing!
Hostel La Camarca : $350 – 15,30€ per night in a 6-bed dorm without breakfast. Hostel located 2 min from the bus terminal. The common room and the kitchen are basic and too small when it’s peak time, but the rooms and beds are quite comfortable. The staff gives excellent tips and is always ready to help. Wifi very slow but like everywhere in the city as it’s remote.
Food and Beverage
Maffia Trattoria : Italian restaurant with pasta, pesto and cheese to take away. Around $100 – 4,30€ for 100 gr of pasta / raviolis, $80 – 3,40€ for the pesto. Good but not as exceptional as we expected.
La Wafleria : $105 – 4,50€ one waffle with dulce de lece and coconut, $55 – 2,3€ for a tea / infusion. The waffles are thin but the topping very generous. There’s also a selection of waffles with salty toppings.
Ahonihenk : $160 – 6,90€ for a pizza. Looks like a mountain style restaurant, all made of wood. Offers pizzas, pastas, meat and trouts. Nice and generous portions but the pizzas and meals lack a bit of taste.
El Parador : $90 – 3,9€ – A small café with a large selection of homemade sandwich and meals. Generous portion and excellent quality-price ratio, even the “small” sandwiches are already big! The WIFI is very strong, probably one of the best in the city.
Bar Bourbon : $130 for two pints in happy hour (one bought, one offered). Nice selection of craft draft beers. A trendy bar, located at the end of the city (ideal when coming back from the Fitz Roy hike).
Glaciar Huemul : $200 for the entrance, to walk up to the glacier.