Hiking Near El Chalten, Patagonia: Getting up Close to Mount Fitz Roy
After a difficult four days of trekking in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, we crossed the border to Argentina to do some easier day walks in Los Glaciares National Park. The star of the show is without doubt Mount Fitz Roy, a series of sharp peaks covered in snow which towers over the tiny tourist town of El Chalten.
The hike to Laguna de los tres
The eight hour round trip hike to Laguna de los Tres is your best bet if you want to get as close as possible to Mount Fitz Roy. We walked through forests, past a small lake (Laguna Capri) and along fast flowing rivers. The sedate hike quickly turns challenging when you reach the 9 km mark. From there it’s straight up hill in the howling wind to the frozen (it thaws out in summer) Laguna de los Tres. It’s an hour of solid hiking uphill but it isn’t too bad, especially if you got used to doing climbs like this at higher altitudes in Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. The reward for the climb is immense — we saw one of the most impressive mountain scenes in all of South America, even though the persistent clouds refused to unmask the very top of the mountain. The wind is fierce up there almost all the time, from what I hear, so make sure you bring a decent jacket.
Getting a clearer view of Mount Fitz Roy
Mount Fitz Roy is visible (on a clear day) from town and the road leading to it. We decided to walk a couple of kilometres from the main part of town to get a better view (and who doesn’t like a good road photo). The wind was blowing stronger than the previous day and it was a struggle to walk in a straight line, but we got a great view of Mount Fitz Roy. Not long after that the clouds arrived and concealed it for the rest of the day, as well as the next morning.
FURTHER READING: The W Trek, Torres del Paine National Park
Hiking to Laguna Torre
Walk into the abyss of clouds or turn back for the warmth and safety of town? I stood for about five minutes weighing up the decision. If I kept walking I’d stumble straight into the brooding black clouds, and the inevitable heavy downpour. I figured I wouldn’t see much there anyway and it was already starting to rain, so I headed back towards El Chalten. It was a good decision — the weather kept deteriorating and hiking to a viewpoint and not seeing anything (as well as getting soaked) would have been demoralising.
Hiking in El Chalten: The details
Entry to the northern section of Los Glaciares National Park is free and you can reach most of the tracks from town. There is no need to camp, and it’s nice returning to a decent meal and a warm bed after a long day of hiking. The trails are well marked and the terrain is fairly easy to traverse, which made for a nice change from Torres del Paine National Park. El Chalten is a small tourist town; don’t expect any malls or even supermarkets (yet) but there are lots of accommodation options and plenty of places to eat. If you plan on eating a lot of snacks or cooking your own food, bring supplies from El Calafate — it’s a lot cheaper. There are lots of other trails in the national park — you could spend days hiking in this region. We were in a bit of a rush as we had a flight to catch — we hope to make it back there one day.
To get to El Chalten by bus you’ll first have to pass through El Calafate (don’t miss the amazing Perito Moreno Glacier). We bought a return ticket from El Calafate to El Chalten for around 600 pesos and the ride takes around three hours.
FURTHER READING: A Day Trip to Perito Moreno Glacier
One final tip…if you’re arriving by bus you’ll first stop at the national park office where someone will give you information about the trails and also the expected weather conditions. Listen to their recommendations! It rains a lot so if they advise you to head out early the next day, do it or you might not get another chance to see the amazing views.
Have you done any hiking in Patagonia? Where was your favourite place?