Tall granite spires rise up out of rugged glaciers in a dramatic scene, enticing you to get a closer look. Argentina’s Parque Nacional Los Glaciers has some of the most incredible mountain scenery and is quickly becoming a popular hiking area.
Before climbing Aconcagua, we went on a hiking trip to Patagonia. The small town of El Chalten is located on the edge of Glacier National Park in Argentina and is a great base for hiking in this area. Most trails start right from town, so it’s easy to go on these very scenic day hikes.
Trek – 9 km, 200 meters gain
Mountaineers consider Cerro Torre, along with Ama Dablam and Alpamayo, to be the three most beautiful mountains in the world. Having seen many pictures and read about its sordid climbing history, we were extremely excited to see this majestic mountain in person.
The easy trail to Laguna Torre (Tower Lake) leaves from El Chalten and slowly climbs the valley following the Fitz Roy River. We passed through a forest of the interesting Patagonian lenga trees. They have a peculiar appearance as their trunks are gnarled and twisted from the strong Patagonian winds. After about 10 km we reached our first lookout, Mirador del Torre. From there we could see the top of Fitz Roy Range poking above a nearby ridge. At the end of the valley the clouds were brewing, but we could see the base of the Cerro Torre. Our excitement was mounting.
As we got closer, the trees became more sparse and then finally, we can see the moraine. We’re almost there. The clouds seemed to be lifting, so hopefully we’d have a good view.
There are many climbing stories about Cerro Torre. The first ascent is probably the strangest. In 1959 Italian climber Cesare Maestri claims to have summited the seemingly unclimbable Cerro Torre. As Maestri recounts his story he claims that he and his climbing partner, Austrian Toni Egger summited via the north-east ridge. Unfortunately, on the descent, Egger was killed in an avalanche. The camera was lost with Egger therefore, there was no proof other than Maestri’s word. Most people didn’t believe that they had done what no other climber could. This assent was immediately shrouded in controversy.
After many years and numerous attempts, no one else had summited. In 1970 Maestri returned to Cerro Torre. The Italian climber brought the climb to unthinkable extremes. He and a large team of climbers brought an air compressor and drilled hundreds of bolts into the rock for protection. They dragged a large metal cage up the mountain to sleep in as a bivy. This time they were attempting a different route on the south-east side. Using thousands of meters of fixed ropes, he managed to get all the way up the mountain, stopping just below the famous mushroom summit. He claimed the snow cap is not really part of the mountain so called this his second summit. On his descent he chopped off the top few bolts to ensure no one could follow his route. Since then mountaineering tools and skills have improved dramatically and Cerro Torre has been successfully climbed. A lot of research has gone into determining if in fact he could have summited in 1959. Climbers read his description of the route and retraced his steps. They were able to conclude that Maestri and Egger did not summit in 1959, but rather made up a remarkable story. Cerro Egger, one of the peaks on this mountain is named in the honour Toni Egger.
With our anticipation high, we climbed up and over the moraine to see Laguna Torre with Cerro Torre’s glacier spilling into its far end. There was a lot of cloud, but enough of the distinctive shear wall was visible so we knew we were looking at Cerro Torre. It was very cold and windy with rain always threatening. We were determined to see this beauty so we found a large boulder that provided shelter from the wind. We waited and waited. Finally after a few cups of hot tea from our thermos, we were rewarded. For about 5 minutes, the clouds opened up and were in awe at the amazing view of the majestic needle peak.
You can walk further along the moraine to reach Mirador Maestri for a closer view, but as it was very cloudy we didn’t think it was worth it. The lookout is named for the infamous Italian climber.
Monte Fitz Roy
Trek – To Poincenot campground – 10 km, 350 meters gain; to Laguna de Los Tres 2 km, 400 m elevation gain.
The granite spires of Monte Fitz Roy are some of the most famous in Patagonia. We decided to take the longer but more scenic route that passes by Lagunas Madre and Hija (Mother and Daughter Lakes). We were glad we made that decision as the views from Laguna Hija are gorgeous. Its set in a large green valley bordered by tall snow-capped peaks.
The trail merged with the main trail where there were a few raised wooden boardwalks to help us to cross a large boggy mallin (wetland). Near Poincenot campsite we had spectacular views of Fitz Roy’s stunning granite spires standing high above. As we got closer, the clouds began to close in.
The best view point, it is at the top of a steep moraine in front of the mountain. The trail is more difficult as it gains 400 meters in only 2 km. Finally, we arrived at the Fitz Roy lookout above Lagunas Sucia and de los Tres. After all of this effort, we barely saw Fitz Roy. The clouds continued to boil around the mountain. From above Laguna Sucia we had obscured views of Fitz Roy massif above the blue glacial waters. Laguna de los Tres was completely frozen and the main Fitz Roy spire was constantly hiding behind the clouds. At least we had seen the giant spires from below.
Getting to El Chalten
The nearest airport is located in El Calafate. There are several flights from Buenas Aires, Bariloche and Ushuaia.
To get from El Calafate – There are several buses every day leaving from the main bus terminal in El Calafate – (2 ½ hours). Or private transfers are available.
To/from Puerto Natales, Chile – Buses travel frequently to El Calafate (5 hrs). Then take a bus to El Chalten.
When to trek
Summer is the best time to travel to Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The trekking season runs from October to April. We were there in December and although there were fewer tourists, the skies were usually covered in cloud and there was an unrelenting wind.
There are no park fees for Parque Nacional Los Glaciers.
Do I need a guide?
There are many guiding services in El Chalten, but the two hikes that we described are well marked and fairly easy. A guide is not necessary.
Coming Next: Trekking in Chile’s Patagonia
To read about more of our adventures go to Destinations.
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