El Chalten Hike – Day 1

Wednesday 2nd December 2015

With Nadine and Marcel, we woke up around 8am and started packing the bags to go hiking. My bag was huge. I felt like the girl in the movie “Wild” who has a monster pack, ahahahaha!!! -D
I could not fit everything and I was only preparing for a trek of 4 days which was
supposed to be a test run for the “Big O”, the 10-day trek of Torres del Paine that I wanted to do afterwards. If I could not fit everything in for a 4-day trek, how would I manage to fit in more food for a 10-day trek??? I brought my bag downstairs and tried to repack.
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Nadine and Marcel were around and we spent 15 minutes going through every single item I had put in the backpack and Nadine helped me to remove the stuff I didn`t need. I had somehow added extra blanket (the United-borrowed plane one), swimming suit (what an idea), short, flip-flops, wipes. We got this out. Including my small One Planet backpack I had thought about taking for the small day hikes but actually I could just empty the big backpack in the tent and then use it. Removed that too. Here was at the end all the stuff I removed, plus the small backpack.
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I still felt like I had too much stuff but it was 9.15am now and I was meeting with Alex and Francesca at their campground at 9.30am. We stopped at the bakery where we bought bread, take-away coffee and other things like queso balls which are so delicious. Then we kept walking towards the campground. Here are Nadine and Marcel ahead.

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Wet met with Alex and Francesca at the entrance of their campground. Agnieszka was on her way too. Look at her bag, how impressive!!! A true ultra-light hiker!!! So much to learn from her! 🙂
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We started walking towards the north of El Chalten and found the start of the “Sendero Fitzroy”.
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The weather was really sunny and warm but not too much. Just perfect.
Here is a map of where we were and where we were heading.

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The full board.

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El Chalten, behind us.

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Let’s goooo!!!

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First stop at the Mirador Rio de Las Vueltas.

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The view of the valley from there. Stunning.

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Continuing to walk up. Altitude somewhere between 600 to 900 meters.

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Another view point.

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Looking to the right.

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Head of us the Fitz Roy hiding behind the hill. Alex was just in front of me with his MSR Hubba Hubba tent for 2 people tied up to his backpack.

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Alex and Francesca enjoying the view.

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Crazy clouds. Alex told me that when the clouds have a bit of grey in them, then it is usually a sign that rain may be coming later on.

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We hesitated here. We decided to go right to the Mirador Fitz Roy first and then back and then go the Laguna Capri afterwards.

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During all the walk, we kept running into some tiny quite weird funny insects like this one which were usually walking around on the path or near it.

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We got to the Mirador Fitz Roy. Here was the sign.

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And here was the stunning view.

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Close-up on the glacier to the left.

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Some clouds and range further left.

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Do I look like Smurfette? A bit? 🙂

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You know why I carry her in my bag now. 🙂

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We walked back and then went to Laguna Capri.

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We sat at Laguna Capri and had a snack.

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Adria and Jeremie who I had met on the bus the day before arrived and Jeremie had this insect on his shirt.

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During the entire walk, there was this sign every kilometre telling you about your progress.

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Laguna Capri campground.

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The path when leaving Laguna Capri.

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In Australia they call them “Revegegation Area”. Here they are called “Area in recuperation”.

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Another glacier.

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Off to Poincenot campground.

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Cool little bridges.

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Nice little white flowers.

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Continuing. Had some lunch around there.

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Better not be too many on these bridges!

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We got to Poincenot.

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Pitched the tent.

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And off we were in the afternoon to Laguna de Los Tres.

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Apparently the most damaged trail of the area.

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Starting to walk up.

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View of the surroundings at some point.

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Going up and up.

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Getting closer. Mount Fitz Roy was actually called “El Chalten” in tehuelche. El Chalten means smoky mountain. You can guess why!

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View from higher up of Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija.

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While going up, I was in T-shirt. I kept running into people going down who were fully dressed with jumper on and wind-proof jackets. I was intrigued. What would we find at the top?

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We got to the top and indeed, the last 5-10 minutes walk were the most windy of my life! The wind was so strong it kept pushing us and making us fall! Then I understood that this was the place where a friend, Geoffroy, had gone too and written an incredibly beautiful text about it, capturing Patagonia’s essence better than anyone, better than any writer.

Here was the legendary Laguna de Los Tres at the top. Called like this because there are three mountains surrounding the lake.

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It was so windy we put the hood on. Alex is seen hiding behind a rock. Behind him, we can see other people hiding behind other rocks.

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Here is the absolutely incredible text that Geoffroy wrote. He accepted that I could share it with you here, and it is very exciting for me to publish this article and make this text better known because it is to me one of the best writing I have read so far about Patagonia, even better than Sepulveda, Raspail, Theroux and Chatwin combined. So authentic, true, crude, punchy and real. An absolutely spot-on poetic description of Patagonia key elements, the Rain and the Wind that are so special and unique there and that anyone who goes there will encounter in their biggest power. Here we come…:-)

The Battle with the Wind and the Rain – Extract of a Travel Diary
Copyright Geoffroy de Russé

20th Dec 2010

Quite an uncomfortable trip so far. The road is very bumpy. Dust comes out from the broken ventilation thing, there is no air-con and the bus is stopping everywhere. We even have a 3h stopover at the town of Perito Moreno. Not much of interest. With Juan, we decide to have a beer. It is 10am. But we really need something to help us sleep on this bus!

8pm: 24 hours of the trip are gone. It is becoming quite something. Now, I understand what the lady from the Backpackers meant by saying this trip was quite an adventure. The bus is full of dust. Toilets are smelly. We are watching for the second time the movie with Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz because some backpackers who joined us at Perito Moreno haven’t seen it. Tom is about to kill all the bad guys in the plane before landing the Boeing in the corn field… Juan is playing guitar in the seat next to mine. I can hardly see him because of the dust. Eish! And last but not least, the driver, who had to change one of the belts from the engine at the last stop is struggling to keep the bus on track, fighting with the wind and the gravel. Anyway, the view is getting more hilly now, and I saw my first guanaco.

21st Dec 2010

2am. Finally arrived in El Chalten. The trip lasted 29 hours. Eish! I am looking for a Backpackers in the village and the 4th one finally has accommodation. And now, time to sleeeeeep in a bed…

7.30am. I wake up and the weather seems OK. But cloudy. So I pack big, in my big backpack: food for 2 days, sleeping bag… in case. I decide to go on my own, to the most popular destination: the Fitz Roy. I hike for 3 hours, at a fast pace, fight with a very strong wind, which makes me fall twice, and steals my sunglasses, who end up bouncing on a rock after a 15 meter flight. Miracle. They are not broken. But there is no way to go further, the wind is too strong. A guy in front of me is hiding behind a big rock, and is trying to show me something. I am not good at reading signs, but he seems to say that there is something nice in front of him. But he is hiding, why?

I try to step forward, step by step, each time the wind gives me a break. And finally I understand. Looks like nature is preventing everyone from accessing this piece of paradise which appears behind the rock. A magnificent but upset light blue lake, surrounded by 3 big towers of granite, and snow, and hosting a few small icebergs… I decide to try my luck and risk a few additional steps, to take a picture. But each time I stand up and aim at the lake with my camera, a strong wind prevents me from taking a picture, and throws me on the floor, with my big backpack. I am not the only one in that situation, and after a few minutes I see a few people heading back. They are giving up. Looks like the Fitz Roy is going to win again today. A guide told me this morning that the biggest of these three granite towers has been hiding behind clouds and snow falls for the past seven days.

But I am French after all. Have you noticed how everywhere you go, there is always people going to the furthest or the highest point. Most of the time, these people will be speaking in French. So as a French person, I decide to go the…closest to the lake. I see this protected site 50 meters away. I wait for a moment during which the wind catches its breath before blowing to run there. At the 3rd attempt, I manage to get there. I am now in THE best position to take the CLOSEST picture! 1, 2, 3, 10, 20 pictures! But eish, a Dutch guy seeing me there is trying to learn French! He runs to my spot and sits just in front of me. I am defeated… Can’t go closer, it would be too risky…

But suddenly the wind seems to be slowing down. He is giving up!! The clouds as well! Picture after picture, the view gets neater. And finally, I get the perfect picture… But eish! More people are coming now! An Australian, a Frenchie, then a couple, 2, 3, and soon the place is full of people! Shame.

I stay another hour contemplating, having my lunch, and then, once the place becomes more busy than “Place de l’Étoile”, I decide to head back, a bit tired, I have to admit, from fighting alone this wind, until I managed to kick him out of here, so that everyone could access this place. At least this is what I like to think. Not knowing yet that the Wind had just gone to fetch his friend the Rain, and will make me pay the following day for losing this battle.

On the way back, I meet Yuri, an Australian who has been travelling for 10 months and who will inspire me in the fact that he was hiking… light. I think Wind had sent him. Preparing his revenge.

On the evening though, I enjoy my victory of the day having a trout with David the Israeli and a Swiss girl whose name I forgot.

22nd Dec 2010 – The revenge of the Wind

Today I wake up with no alarm. Feeling a bit sick. But ready for hike number 2, even though I don’t have much expectation after what I saw on the first day. What could beat this. So I decide to go to Laguna Torre, and travel light this time: camera, lunch and water… Without knowing that this was a trap…

The first 2 hours are OK. The poor visibility makes the hike boring. But then… Rain arrives. Rain and Cold make a good team. They exhaust the unprepared tourist that I am, because, inspired by the Australian “mate” met the day before, I have no rain trouser!

As expected, when I finally arrive at Laguna Torres, the view is terrible. And I am getting more and more wet. So I decide to rush back to town… but Rain is following me everywhere, and when Wind decided to strike as well, the nightmare starts. My whole body is wet, and I am freezing. When I arrive at the Backpackers hostel after this five hour fight, I have to give the victory to Wind, by leaving El Chalten. I “buy” a hot shower from the Backpackers hostel and get ready to take my bus to El Calafate (3h, 65 pesos). In my completely wet shoes…Hoping I won’t be sick tomorrow.

As for Dale, he seems to be stuck in Bariloche, we will meet in Santiago, otherwise somewhere near Puerto Montt I guess. As for me, I need to find a way of leaving Patagonia after El Calafate…Unless I want to go to Torres del Paine? I will check the weather forecast for that, I don’t want to fight again with Wind and Rain.

8.30pm I am now in the bus between El Chalten and El Calafate. The countryside is amazing! Blue and green rivers and lakes cutting hills and mountains. This trip must be done by day.

10pm: After my traditional visit to the El Calafate Tourism Office, I have a better idea of my programme: visit of the glacier tomorrow, and the day after I will go to Estancia Cristina and have a look at the Uppsula glacier. Then the office recommends me a very nice hostel, 15 minutes walk from the centre, but really worth it: the Marcopolo Inn. And there I get exactly what I needed: A 4 people dorm…to myself. So I can dry all my clothes, and have finally some privacy, use a clean bathroom, feel at home! 

23rd Dec 2010 – Perito Moreno

I wake up 75% sick. The occasion for me to test the antibiotics the dentist gave me before leaving SA. Today i am going to El Perito Moreno glacier.

On our way there, we stop at Estancia Echeverria, located in a splendid valley, lots of sheeps. They come to us, loving scarring the kids around. There are also some horses ready for a probable excursion. I have to say, this is very tempting. But we have to continue our way to El Perito Moreno glacier. 

12.30pm: We arrive at Perito Moreno. I have seen pictures at the hostel that some people who saw it yesterday showed me. It looked crap because the weather was unfriendly… but I am very lucky, after the Fitz Roy, I am given the possibility to see the Perito Moreno glacier with sun! And what a picture! The mirador is much closer than what I thought, and I am loving the blue reflections of the ice and the snow of the glacier. Amazing day again. Despite the very “touristy” impression I had about this glacier, I am very happy and I think it is definitely a must see of Patagonia.

Here was the lake from closer when we managed to get down, fighting the crazy wind.

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Everyone hiding behind the rocks. The legendary rocks Geoffroy describes so well.

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The view on the way back. It was starting to rain. Time to get down back to the campground.

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This sign is funny because they say 1h and someone wrote 2h and indeed it does really take 2hours walk rather than 1h! Wondering who put that wrong estimate.

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Walking back. The weather was getting more cloudy.

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And back at the campground, cooking.

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Tomorrow, let’s go explore around! Off to Piedra del Fraile! 🙂