Trekking Around El Chalten
After a much needed lie in and an even more needed shower, I spread the map of El Chalten on the table in front of me, and began the difficult task of narrowing down the possible treks into just two days. I had decided this was how I’d spend my first day here; lazing at my hostel, strolling around the town, and planning a trek for the following day. It was a tough choice. The map showed short routes to panoramic viewpoints, full day treks through mountains, visits to glaciers and waterfalls, and more. Unsure of what to do, I leaned back in my chair, gazed out the window and gasped. Arriving late the night before, I had missed the stunning view of grassy hillsides and snowy peaks that surround the town. I just had to get out into it. Casting my original plan aside, I picked a route at random and headed out into the mountains.
Day 1: Mirador del Torre and Laguna Torre. Duration: 6 hours.
It was already the early afternoon by the time I set off on my first trek, to Mirador del Torre. The northern access shown was just north of my hostel, and after a short walk along the road, I followed a signpost that pointed up a dirt track. After a bit of initial confusion when the trail split in three directions, I followed the middle route away from the town and up the hillside. Turning back, I saw El Chalten spread out beneath me, a small town of coloured, square buildings spread out in a valley, ringed by high mountains. To the north lay a river, winding broadly along the flat valley floor. I carried on, still unsure as to whether or not I was on the right route. I saw a sign up ahead, in front of a white fallen tree that I at first thought had been struck by lightning. The sign didn’t give any indication as to what trail I was on, but did inform me that the tree was a “monument to a careless trekker”, and that the burned down tree was caused by a cigarette butt.
As the trail wound up and down, I was passed by a jogger. I asked if I was going the right way and she answered with an enthusiastic “sí”, before continuing to jog along the route. I envied her stamina, especially as the route turned uphill and was replaced by stone and log steps. After just over an hour, I reached Mirador del Torre, a viewpoint of the Cerro Torre mountain. It had been hidden from view until the last turn, and then appeared in front of me, a panorama of jagged, snowy mountains. It was beautiful. I had planned to only visit the viewpoint, but I had so enjoyed the short trek here that I was eager to carry on, especially after people who were on their way back told me how nice the end of the trek was. So I carried on downhill and into the flat valley leading to the lagoon at the foot of the mountains. The weather was warm, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. My enthusiasm waned a bit when the route turned out to be longer than expected. After nearly two hours of walking through the valley the mountains didn’t look any nearer. But the faint sound of creaking ice up ahead spurned me on, and eventually I reached a small hill, beyond which lay Laguna Torre. The lake was perfectly still, and a greenish blue colour. Chunks of ice had broken off from the mountains behind and lay frozen in the water. I took barely a minute to appreciate the scene, before turning back, knowing that daylight was probably only a few hours from ending. The last place I wanted to be after dark was stumbling around a trail through the mountains. The fact that I hadn’t seen anyone else on the trail in quite a while (other than my jogging friend from earlier, returning along the path) made me worry that nightfall was closer than I thought. I raced back the way I had come, though the valley and uphill to the viewpoint, turning right when the path forked to take the southern access route back to town. I stopped only to take a picture of a long, narrow waterfall. The southern route had an advantage over the northern one in that the route was clearly signposted, but looking over my shoulder I realised that the mountains were still visible, so it lacked the big reveal moment of the northern access. The route back was meant to take four hours, but I speed-walked it in under three, arriving at the town just as it was getting dark, and vowing to plan my time better the following day.
Day 2: Laguna Capri, Mirador del Fitz Roy, Campamento Poincenot, Mirador Glacier Piedras Blancas, and Ruta 41. Duration: 8 hours.
Learning from yesterday’s mistake, I set off early to the start of the route, just north of town. It was disappointingly cloudy as I walked uphill to see the view of the mountains and river north of the town. After a short walk, I reached a junction with a sign pointing right for the Mirador del Fitz Roy, and left for Laguna Capri. I decided to visit both, turning right first for a view of tall mountains (one of whom was Fitz Roy, but I wasn’t sure which!), then looping back to go to Laguna Capri. The lake was incredibly clear, and showed a reflection of the mountains behind. I sat for a bit, enjoying the peace, before continuing. The trail then led into a stunning plain of colourful plant life. Ahead of me lay a sea of green, dotted with deep purple and red bushes. Pale tree trunks lay fallen in the grass. The vegetation was dry and sharp, and yes, I felt compelled to touch it. Ahead I could see the first glimpse of the glacier, and, to complete the postcard image, I was passed on the trial by two men leading white llamas.
The trial eventually turned upwards, and climbed to a viewpoint of the Piedras Blancas Glacier, blue-tinged ice that spilled out from between two mountains to reach the ground below. I could hear the now-familiar sound of it creaking and breaking, sounding like a mini thunderstorm contained within the ice.
I carried on away from the mirador and into woodlands. A few calves and a cow crossed the path, not quite the wildlife I was expecting. I crunched my way through the greenery, eventually arriving at the road back to town. I had expected to catch a lift back at this point, but the view compelled me to walk on. The surrounding mountains were bursting with colour, but instead of the bushes from earlier, this colour was in the rock itself, streaking in a rainbow along the mountainsides. While the view was spectacular, the walk was difficult. By this time I had been walking for nearly eight hours, and my feet were sinking into the gravel road as I trudged along towards town. When a car stopped to offer me a lift back to El Chalten, I was happy to accept. Expressing my gratitude, I flopped into the back seat, and introduced myself to my kind rescuers. They were a trio of Argentine sisters, here on holiday to do some trekking (though a more sensible distance than mine had been). Displaying the local hospitality that I have grown to love, they chatted to me at length bout my trip and my life back home, before insisting on dropping me right to my hostel door, where I thanked them once again, before stumbling through the door and falling into my bed, rethinking my plans for another eight hour trek tomorrow.
Day 3: Mirador de Los Cóndores and Mirador de las Aguilas. Duration: 3 hours.
Having decided against the longer trek to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, I opted instead for two short uphill climbs to panoramic viewpoints to the south of El Chalten. The first was Mirador del Cóndores, a steep uphill climb to a viewpoint of the the town, where, sadly, I did not see any condors. . The second was another steep uphill climb to Mirador de las Aguilas, from where I could see the view south of the town. I could also catch a glimpse to the west of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy, mountains I had seen on my previous treks. Surrounding me were the same colourful plants and trees, and even a small blue lake. I spent quite a while admiring the view, a summary of the views I had seen during my time here. It was a fitting end to a spectacular three days.