It’s time to continue our journey in Patagonia with the next leg of our four-week adventure at the end of the the world. After a few days exploring and getting over the jetlag in El Calafate, we hit the road and drove the 200km journey to the small town of El Chaltén for the next part of our adventure.
Patagonia Diaries Part 2 – El Chaltén
One of the main reasons we decided to visit Patagonia in September was to catch the end of winter and hopefully find enough snow for ski touring. Months before when we were planning our trip, we started researching ski touring and came across Merlin from Mountaineering Patagonia, a local guide in El Chaltén. We emailed back and forth and planned our trip around his recommendations. So at the end of September, we arrived in El Chaltén with our skis ready for an adventure.
On our first morning, we awoke to find a white blanket of snow covering the village. We weren’t going touring for a few more days, but not wanting to waste any time, we threw on our hiking boots and set off in to the park. Seeing everything covered in a layer of fresh snow, the hiking trails looked so different to how we’d seen them in pictures. And even with the low hanging clouds, there was a real mysterious beauty about everything. That night we got back and met up with our guide Juan to talk about our plans for ski touring. Our original plan had been to go out for 2 days and camp at one of the base camps in the park so that we didn’t need to do as many altitude meters on our second day. Unfortunately the weather forecast wasn’t looking as good as we hoped, so we postponed our departure for 1 day and made a plan B to do 2 single day tours instead of an overnight trip.
Since we had another day before we started ski touring, we planned another day-hike, this time out to Laguna Torre, the lake at the base of the Cerro Torre spire. The hike out wasn’t too challenging but with low clouds hanging around again, we still hadn’t been able to see any of El Chaltén’s famous peaks. When we reached the lake, we didn’t mind that we couldn’t see the mountains. The huge glaciers cascading down the rocks in to the far end of the lake and the floating icebergs were spectacular enough on their own. We sat at the edge of the lake and enjoyed a short break, taking in the magnificent views. After an hour (and a lot of pictures), we started to head back to the village. At one point on our return journey, I turned back to see where we had come from, and caught a momentary break in the clouds and a small glimpse of Cerro Torre.
Day three in El Chaltén and it was finally time for what we’d come all this way for – ski touring. We had spent the previous months increasing our altitude with every tour or hike, but we knew that we were going to be challenged. And boy did we underestimate how much of a challenge it would be. Back at home, we had been clocking around 1200 vertical meters in a tour by the end of the season, but things were very different in Patagonia. Unlike back at home where we might have an easy walk for 10 minutes before reaching the snow line (worst case scenario), in Patagonia we were faced with a steep, muddy approach through dense bushes. And we hiked with all of our gear on our back for around 45 minutes before we reached the snow line and could put our skis on. Our efforts were rewarded though, with amazing views and incredible snow conditions as we reached the summit of Cerro Mosquito after 1400 vertical meters of touring up.
The following day was supposed to be a rest day, with bad weather forecast, but when we work up to clear skies just before sunrise, we quickly jumped in the car and drove to the lookout above the village to watch the sunrise and to catch our first glimpse of the magnificent Fitz Roy mountain. Once the sun was up, we didn’t want to waste a day of good weather, so despite our tired legs, we set off for the 10km hike to the Poincenot Camp. Even though the hike wasn’t difficult, we definitely started to feel our legs by the 8km mark and decided to turn back just before the camp and head back to El Chaltén. Still, hiking 19km on a rest day wasn’t bad going 😉
A few clouds hung in the valley on the day of our final ski tour. We drove away from El Chaltén in to a narrower valley for around 1 hour before we started our tour. Again, we set off on foot through the forest, but to both of our delights, the path was much wider and less-steep than the previous tour. We still had to hike for around 30 minutes before we reached snow, but this time felt so much easier. For this tour we would be walking over a glacier, so we harnessed up and made sure to stick in Juan’s skin tracks as he pointed out the snow-covered crevasses to us. The views on this tour were even more spectacular than the previous one, with giant ice sculptures all around us. Unfortunately, the snow conditions weren’t quite as nice as the previous day, and my legs were definitely feeling it. We toured for 1400m before reaching a small plateaux 200m below the summit, and since our pace had slowed, we decided to take our skins off and start heading back down while we still had daylight. Although the snow conditions were far from perfect, it was certainly one of the most beautiful places that I’ve ever skied.
We woke up to clear skies again on the day we left El Chaltén and as we drove away from the village, I couldn’t help but keep staring at the majestic Fitz Roy peak in the mirrors, not wanting to let it out of my sight a second before I had to.