El Chalten is a beautiful town set within a valley in the Los Glaciares National Park. The surrounding views, even from the town on the valley floor are stunning with the granite peaks of Mt Fitzroy and Cerro dominating the landscape. Access to El Chalten is usually via El Calafate which is an easy three hour bus ride away. If you come by one of the many buses that arrive during the day you’ll stop at the ranger station on the edge of the town where you will receive a run down on the national park. The rangers are very passionate about the area and their primary goal is to keep the park in a pristine condition for the generations to come, and keep it free, so they really drill down the point of respecting the land and that you leave no trace when hiking and camping in the national park.
The weather in this town, and the whole Southern Patagonian region is very unpredictable and in summer there can be very strong winds so it is ideal to allow extra days in your itinerary to wait out the weather if required. I spent six days here which wasn’t long enough if you really enjoy trekking and camping, but it was ample time to complete three amazing short treks.
Lago de los Tres – Mt Fitz Roy
After arriving from El Calafate in the morning we got some supplies together and headed out around 3pm for the camping ground. Our intention was to hike up to the campsite, stay the night and then hike up to the lake to see the sunrise which is suppose to be quite amazing when the first rays of light hit the granite peaks.
The weather when we left El Calafate that morning was quite average but it cleared up throughout the day and when we started our trek most of the sky was clear, just not the section over Mt Fitz Roy… The trail head is at the western end of town and from here the track steadily climbs for about an hour before flattening out. As you climb there are some views back over El Chalten from behind and some great views further down the valley and onto the snowcapped mountains. After the climb and once through a forested area the view is now directly onto Mt Fitz Roy and its neighbouring mountains and glaciers.
The hike to the Camp Poincenot was generally pretty easy. The camp is not particually pretty, it’s sheltered among tall pines that provide some protection from the gale force winds but offer no view. After setting up camp we still had a few hours of daylight left so we decided to head up to the lake so we would know what we were in for the next morning.
After perhaps 20 minutes of fairly flat terrain the trail then climbs steeply to the lake for about an hour. It was a very windy and at times the wind was almost strong enough to knock you down if you didn’t have firm footing. At the top, if it was clear, the view of the glacier and the peaks would be amazing but we were only able to see glimpses peaking through the clouds. It had now started to rain/sleet which felt like needles against our skin given the incredibly strong winds. We took in the scenery as quick as we could and then headed back down to camp.
Over night the wind died down but by around 5am it was stronger than the day before so we decided not to head up to the lake for sunrise. I checked for clouds again at 7:30 when there was some light and the peaks were still shrouded by clouds so we were glad we didn’t battle the winds for nothing. We started to head back around 9am and to our surprise when we looked back after leaving the camp the sky had completely cleared and the view of Mt Fitz Roy was stunning. We stopped not long after in a sunny spot near a stream for breakfast where we could take in the view.
Overall the trail is quite moderate with the exception of the final climb to lake and with clear skies the scenery is exceptional. It would be a solid day hike up to the lake and back of about 8 hours.
This trail starts at the northern end of town and steadily climbs for around an hour. As you head up there are view back towards El Chatlen but from a different aspect than from the Mt Fitz Roy trek. When the trail starts to flatten out at Mirador del Torre you are greeted by the first complete view of the tall granite spire of Cerro Torre. The trail then heads down for a short while before a steady climb all the way to the camp and Laguna Torre. The views along the way are great but the view from the lake is fantastic.
From the lake you can see Cerro Torre in all its glory along with the glacier which snakes down in front of the mountain through the valley and breaks out into the lake. When we arrived at the lake we were treated to the view of a fairly large iceberg that had run aground not far from the shore. After some lunch we headed up around the northern side of the lake from where there are great views down onto the glacier, Laguna Torre and of course Cerro Torre.
This was a great day trek and was fairly easy going the whole way but allow for an 8 hour return journey.
Lago Torro Trek
After awful weather the day before the wind had died down and the sun was shinning for the start of my trek out to Lago Torro which would be a two day trip there and back. The trail head starts at the eastern end of town behind the ranger station, two short walks also start from the same location but head east while this trail heads south. It’s approximately 15km each way and the suggested time is 7hrs one way although at an average pace and carrying food and camping gear I made it in about 4 and a half hours to the campsite with good weather.
The trail starts off in nice country, heading up out of the valley that encompasses the town. From here it is a steady ascent for some time and you are treated to great views back over El Chalten and onto Mt Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and the other peaks that stand tall over the town. After an hour or two you come to a fork in the road, to the west is the trail to mirador Pliegue Tumbado and the trail to Lago Torro continues south.
The trail now heads into a forested section and when you finally exit the forest you are faced with a great view of a snow capped peak straight ahead, to the west Mt Fitz Roy and two the east a small lake and beyond that is Lago Viedma. You then enter another small forest and when you come out from here the views are even better.
The trail continues along the top of this hill for some time before decending down to the valley floor below. This section was quite windy and it didn’t abate until I was well and truely down into the valley. The next section seems long and a bit boring. There are a couple of streams to cross and after another hour or so is the Lago Torro camp ground. The camp ground is behind a rocky outcrop and a forested area partially protecting it from the winds that batter the valley.
Just around from the camp is Lago Torro and behind the lake lies the glacier Rio Tunel. If you have at least another three hours of light you can climb up the mountains behind the lake up to the face of the glacier. For me this was the highlight of this trek and was what made it worthwhile. The views from above the lake are very impressive to say the least. It is possible, with care, to get within a few meters of the glacier, standing safely on the rocks on the other side of the face. Its also possible to scale this hill for 360 degree views over the glacier, the valley and lake from where you’ve just come. Caution needs to be taken with this climb up and even more going down as there is no trail and you just have to find your own way. It is easy to get stuck on a ledge with no way down.
From here it is possible to cross the pass beyond the glacier and loop around back past the lakes for a 3 or 4 day circuit. I wasn’t aware of this when in set out so on the second day I headed back the same way I came.
If you have at least two days available to complete this trail I highly recommend it if you are up for climbing up to the glacier.
After El Chalten it was onto Ushuia at the bottom of the South American continent.