Hiking To Mount Fitz Roy…
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Parque National Los Glaciares is the second largest national park in Argentina and was the second highlight of our trip into Patagonia. Much of the central area of the park is inaccessible as 40% of it is covered by ice fields from which 13 major glaciers descend into two great lakes. So our first entry point was to the northern area where the main attraction is the jagged peaks of the spectacular Fitz Roy massif. Standing at 3405m, Fitz Roy, known locally as ‘Chalten’ meaning ‘smoking mountain’, is the tallest in a group of mountains that tower above the little touristy town of El Chalten.
Seeing Mount Fitz Roy up close was a real highlight for us. Here is our best selection of photographs from the trek. Enjoy!
Four Seasons In A Day
To really appreciate the park and the stunning views it has to offer, we did an overnight trek starting from the town of El Chalten. It’s true what they say about Patagonia – you really can experience four seasons all in one day! With snow flurries, sunshine, rain and cold we were glad of our layers, especially as Day 1 proved to be very long, very windy and very wet. But never-the-less it was a rewarding day.
With a 6.30am start, we hiked 23km mostly in rain, taking in views of Glacier Grande and the beautiful lakes at the foothills of the mountains before reaching Poincenot, the closest camp to Mount Fitz Roy.
Free Camping At Poincenot
Fortunately the rain had stopped, it was blue skies and all was good in the world again! We arrived at the camp just as a group were leaving and managed to nab their dry spot to pitch our tent. The campsite itself is very basic. There are a couple of pit toilets and drinking water is provided courtesy of the nearby stream. But it’s full of rustic charm with logs and stones for seats and windbreaks made from branches to help make the tent pitches more sheltered. And best of all, it is completely free, providing a perfect pit-stop in readiness for us hiking the last part of the trail in the early hours the following morning. Our plan was to see Fitz Roy and the other mountains in all their glory at sunrise. (We’re trying harder on this trip to get up for the sunrise shots!)
An Early Start
We left camp around 4.30am and hiked the last 3km. By the time we reached the Fitz Roy viewpoint, the sun was just peeking out across the valley and bathing the mountains in light. Covered in a dusting of snow, they looked simply stunning. The white frozen lake below, Laguna de los Tres, at the base of the mountains just added to the scene making for a perfect picture postcard shot. What made the experience even more special was that we had this whole scene to ourselves for around an hour before a few more early risers arrived.
Then Came The Surprise…
From our vantage point, we didn’t know that to the left of the frozen lake was the most awesome sight. A bright turquoise glacial lake lay below Mount Fitz Roy which only became visible after we scrambled to the top of a rocky outcrop that had obscured it from view. It was completely unexpected as we had only scrambled up hoping to get a better angle of Mount Fitz Roy for one of Wayne’s time lapse sequences, but on seeing the lake, it became one of those real ‘wow’ moments.
Don’t Forget To Look Up
To top it off, on the way back down the trail we were lucky enough to witness a group of condors soaring in the wind right above our heads. We sat and savoured the moment, enjoying watching their effortless flight.
Heading Back Down
On the way back to the campsite we took a detour to see the Piedras Blancas and the hanging glacier. After walking along the river, it was a scramble over a boulder field for the best views of the blue grey glacier.
Another 3.5km back to camp to pack up and then 9.5km back to town where we were greeted with more snow flurries, more wind and more sunshine along the way!
A Patagonian Treasure
Unlike the southern section of Los Glaciares National Park where visitors are charged an entrance fee, the northern section accessed from El Chalten is actually free, so if you can get there it is well worth a visit.
The town has a good infrastructure for tourists with a variety of hiking shops that both sell and rent out equipment – although items are considerably pricier than what you would pay for them in England so our advice is to come prepared. The town also has its own micro-brewery and a good selection of cafes. We even spotted a launderette. All the things that every traveller needs after a long hike!
Our next proposed hike in Patagonia is the famous ‘W’ Trek in Torres Del Paine National Park when we cross the border into Chile. See how we get on hiking 70km over 4 days in an upcoming post…