P is for Patagonia!

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Written by Lucie.

In March 2018, Mark, Lucie, Tim and Kate met up in Patagonia and did some lovely day hikes around El Chaltén, Argentina. Here is an account of our day hikes in El Chaltén, Argentina (plus, check out Lucie and Mark’s blogs for day hikes in Ushuaia and the W Trek in Torres del Paine).

Lago Torre

Our first main hike was to Lago Torre – approximately 8 or 9km and a reasonably leisurely four hours one way. Starting from our hostel, we walked across town and climbed up a small hill to the official sign for the hike. A short distance on (along flatter, grassy terrain) and we came across a second sign, this one with much more information, including suggested distances and difficulties to keys points along the walk. A little further on and we arrived at the Cascada Margarita viewpoint. This spot overlooked a gorge containing the Fitz Roy river, with the Margarita waterfall opposite us, comng right down from the top of the mountain in a series of waterfalls and small rapids. Up river we could see some snowy peaks.

A sign reading senda a laguna torre, plus the hikers.
The official start of the hike under a cloudless blue sky.

From the gorge, it was a gentle uphill walk to the main Cerro Torre viewpoint. This spot has amazing views up the valley to Cerro Solo, with a big ‘C’ shaped glacier on top, the Cerro Torre range and glaciers, and the Fitz Roy range. The weather was beautiful and we could see Mount Fitz Roy and Poincenot. However, the three granite peaks of Cerro Torre remained mostly hidden by cloud (at one point we could make out the vague shape through cloud). We had a snack and continued on our way along the valley, which was easy going and with great views. We reached the turnoff for the track that goes past Lagunas Madre and Hija to the Fitz Roy track but continued to Lago Torre, passing DeAgostini campsite.

Three hikers with views of glaciers and mountains in the background.
Cerro Solo is just visible in the back left.

The last bit of the path to Lago Torre went over some streams, through trees, and was steeper uphill, but suddenly we found ourselves at the rocky shores of the lagoon. The water was a cloudy pale green and the wind was very cold. We put on more layers, found a sheltered spot behind some rocks and had lunch while we admired the lagoon, a few little icebergs, the glaciers and what peaks weren’t behind cloud.

A lake at the base of a glacier.
Under cloud, wind and a few flakes of snow – it got cold up top!

After lunch, Tim and Kate turned back to town and Mark and Lucie climbed up the ridge for the last kilometre of track. The wind really picked up, making it quite hard to walk, but they made it to the viewpoint above the glacier. It was nice to see the glacier up close and appreciate the true size of it, but there were no additional views.

On the way back not much happened but both groups got snowed on a little bit. Mark and Lucie took a slightly different path for the last couple of kilometres, skipping the Cascada Magarita lookout and instead going to the ‘Monument to a careless trekker’ – a burnt out tree that was caused by a discarded cigarette.

A burnt tree.
The ‘monument’ was nothing like what we expected from just the name!

Laguna de los Tres

The other main hike in the El Chaltén area is to Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna de los Tres, and Tim, Mark and Lucie set out to conquer it. It is similar to the Lago Torre hike in terms of distance, time and difficulty, although the last bit is more difficult.

Views of rocks, mountains and a river valley.
Despite the grey skies it was super pretty.

The hike starts at the end of town and immediately starts to climb uphill. After about 700m we reached a lookout across the upstream part of the valley, after which the track continued to climb steadily uphill through a forest of Antarctic beech trees. We saw several woodpeckers, the all black females and the bright red-headed male. They were wonderful to watch, and hear. About 45 minutes further along the track we came to a split: left to Laguna Capri, right to a viewpoint. The sky was reasonably clear so we chose the right hand path and a short distance along we reached one of the main lookouts for the trail. At this point we could see across the valley to the Mount Fitz Roy range, lots of glaciers at the bases of the peaks, plus Piedras Blancas Glaciar a little further to the right and Cerro Solo to the left. We watched for a while to see if the clouds would clear enough to see Fitz Roy, but they didn’t. We did get some sneaky looks at the jagged tower of Poincenot though.

Views of a glacier across grassland.
Piedras Blancas Glaciar looking amazing.

We kept going along the path, which had evened out from the continual uphill (mostly), met the other path that comes from Laguna Capri and reached the turnoff for Lagunas Madre and Hija and Lago Torre. Past this point we reached the Poincenot campsite, which was sheltered from the biting wind by trees. We decided to stop for lunch before venturing back out into the wind, picking up a new friend from Birmingham (UK), who joined us for the remainder of the day, then made it to the start of the final climb.

Mark got quite a lot of attention for having his pins out during all weather conditions.

The last 1km of the track to Mount Fitzroy climbs about 400m and is pretty tough, consisting of large boulders that sort of fit together to make very rough steps and which had a small stream running down them. It’s also quite a busy path and it took us about one hour to reach Laguna de los Tres. The wind at the top was very fierce and it was hailing and snowing. The lagoon was a greeny colour and surrounded by glaciers and jagged granite. We admired the view, took some photos, and found a waterfall that flowed out of Laguna de los Tres to the south. Mount Fitz Roy and even Poincenot were still enshrouded in cloud, but it was well worth the climb.

Tim displayed his rebellious side, going past the sign that tells people not to go past the sign.

Once we were sufficiently snowed on we made our way back down, which took about 45 minutes. Then we followed the path back towards town, this time opting for the route via Laguna Capri, which was a pleasant lake with camping under the trees.

A mountain lake.
Laguna Capri.

Plieque Tumbado

The third bigger walk, to the panoramic viewpoint at Plieque Tumbado, was tackled by Mark and Lucie. The trail starts from the information point and is a continual uphill climb for about 10km, which took us about 2.5-3 hours, with plenty of photo stops. It was a beautiful walk, travelling through trees, grassland, rocky ground and along streams. The mountains all around us were covered in fresh snow and every now and again we got a light dusty ourselves. We saw some cows, woodpeckers, a condor or two and some other interesting birds on the walk.

Snow covered mountains.
Patagonia is so beautiful.

The last section of the walk was on loose rocky ground and through the snow. We wrapped up warm (although Mark was still in shorts) and pushed on to the viewpoint. We were surprised to find ourselves well above Lago Torre, quite close to Cerro Solo. We could see the lagoon, the glaciers, and lots of mountains, but not Cerro Torre, Poincenot or Fitz Roy. We met a Scottish couple at the view point and had a nice chat and then the sun came out, which was both warming and made the snow and glaciers shine.

distant snowy mountains with clouds.
Mark still has his pins out.

After a while and a snack we turned around to head back down the hill. We felt the sun on our backs again and turned around to see the clouds clearing over Mount Fitz Roy and Poincenotso quickly ran to a slightly better point to get the best view. After another while we said goodbye to the jagged peaks and turned around, again, and this time made it all the way back into town.

Snowy mountains.
Did I mention that it’s rather beautiful?

Loop track: Laguna de los Tres, Lagunas Madre y Hija, Lago Torre

Another Mark and Lucie trek, this time to do a loop: up towards Mount Fitz Roy, across the linking track past, Lagunas Madre y Hija, and down the Lago Torre track.

As we set off up the hill to Fitz Roy, we again walked past the viewpoint across the river. We skipped Laguna Capri and at the main Mount Fitz Roy viewpoint we admired the mass amounts of snow everywhere – there had been a big snowfall the night before – and got some cloudy, but good looks at Poincenot and Fitz Roy, plus Cerro Solo and all the other peaks and glaciers. Further up the path (and up the hill) and there was a lot of snow accumulation on the ground around us. It was very beautiful, and not even very cold because there was hardly any wind.

Amazing nowy mountains.
Look at all these mountains, and snow and rocks and stuff!!!!

At the track split we turned left to go to Lagunas Madre y Hija, rather than continuing on to Laguna de los Tres. Here, we bumped into the Scottish couple again and had a chat. The Lagunas path was very pretty, lots of small trees and shrubbery, all covered in snow, stunning views of Mount Fitz Roy and the surrounding peaks and ice, plus the two lagoons were a gorgeous blue. We stopped for lunch with this panorama and later came down to a shale covered beach on one of the lagoons where Lucie egged Mark on to take a dip. The plunge was extremely cold and extremely short lived! Someone else saw Mark drying off and thought it was a good idea – Mark warned him that it was cold and a few seconds later the guy was gasping for air, regretting his poor life choice. We relaxed on the shale, soaking up the sunshine and skimming stones across the water until eventually we decided to get moving.

A glacial lake.
Mark’s five-second swim.

Shortly after the lagoons, the trail entered a small woodland and the path dropped steeply downhill to join with the path to Lago Torre. We walked back through the lovely valley, turning around periodically to admire the glacier view. At the main viewpoint, we sat for a while and watched the clouds swirl around. Cerro Torre came tantalisingly close to proper exposure but remained mostly misted and mysterious. Mount Fitz Roy and Poincenot swapped between cloud coverage and being in view, and the Mirador Plieque Tumbado was visible, covered in snow.

Glacier covered mountains.
More incredible views.

We returned to town via the viewpoint at Cascada Margarita. This time there was a lot more water thundering down the rocks and the tops of all the hills around us were completely white.

Chorrillo del Salto

The Chorrillo del Salto walk is a short (3km one way) and very easy path (falt, gravel path) that we did on the afternoon that we arrived in El Chaltén. Although it sounds a bit boring it was worth it. The path goes up the valley through a steep sided gorge, and begins by travelling next to a dirt road and the river delta. Tim spotted an armadillo on the dirt just above the path and we watched it scurrying around for a while.

An armadillo
Our new armadillo friend!

Next, the trail went through some trees, along and over little streams, before reaching the waterfall at the end. The waterfall was quite big, approximately 20m high, and noisy – more impressive than expected! We hopped across stones in the stream to get different viewing angles and climbed up the sides a short way to get spary on our faces!

A waterfall.
The waterfall of Chorrillo del Salto.

Los Cóndores and Las Águilas

Another short walk (approximately 3km one way, but with more elevation gain) went from the information centre to two neighbouring lookouts: Los Cóndores and Las Águilas. We first went up to Los Cóndores, taking our time to decipher the Spanish signs teaching us about condors. The viewpoint looked back across the town nestled amongst the rocky cliffs and the river that runs down the valley. And we saw condors. From there, we walked across the top of the hill, admiring the mountains on both sides to Mirador Las Águilas, which had sweeping views of the massive Lake Viedma. We took a slightly different route back over the top of the hill and found a deceased and very dried out Patagonian skunk!

A nice group photo from in the town, rather than a photo of a dead skunk.