El Chalten

 

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In which we spend a full week in El Chalten.

We’ve been looking forward to this week since arriving in Patagonia. Everyone we meet keeps telling us about Chalten and raving and now having been there, we completely agree. Apologies for the delay – we’ve had limited wifi lately.

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El Chalten is a tiny mountain town located within Los Glaciares National Park nestled at the foot of the massive mountains of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre and positively surrounded by awesome rock climbing cliffs. It was founded in 1985 to settle the area when it changed hands from Chile to Argentina and is primarily full of outdoor tourists and trekkers using it as a base before taking off for major climbing expeditions.

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Cerro Fitz Roy, shrouded in cloud.

 

We’ve come straight from the W track, so naturally we skillfully turn a rest day into a 25 km hike up Loma del Pliegue Tumbado – a viewpoint overlooking town and into the surrounding peaks and glaciers. The weather is spectacular, with clouds flying over our heads in multiple different directions at once.

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J glacier stomping.

At the entry, we found a sign warning us not to take home the fossils. Fossils, you say? On the descent, we start searching and almost immediately find entire seascapes, shell patterns, and trogdolyte-esque pieces galore. Including this fine specimen – anyone have any ideas what it could be?

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That evening, the rain begins. We are camping on the outskirts of town and spend most of the next two days in the camp kitchen reading, playing Set, and hanging out with other travelers. Our beloved tent, the Turtle, which was top of the line back in 2004, is proving to be less than waterproof. We’re wet, our stuff is wet, the rock is wet, and the clouds are so low we can’t even see the mountains.

Benya finally convinces us that if we’re camping in town, we might as well be camping in the mountains, so during a brief lull at 6:00 pm on the second day of rain, we take off with our packs to a nearby campsite which is the first day of our previously planned 2-3 day backpacking loop. By the time we get to camp, 8 km later (less than 2 hours, at the ridiculous pace we’ve adopted over the last couple of weeks), its pouring again and we set up pre-dampened tents, furiously dig some trenches, huddle together to scarf down a quick dinner and go straight to bed.

We wake up wet, grumpy, and underslept. But as we’re having brekkie, the sky clears and then this happens:

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We set up a yard sale in a dry riverbed with Fitz Roy looming overhead. The sun and breeze have us dry in no time and happier than we’ve been in days. We do a quick (steep) hike up to Mirador Fitz Roy and then rush back to town amidst spectacular views we missed entirely on the hike in to shower, change, pack, and catch our 9 pm, overnight bus north.

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Alas, Friday evening finds us sitting at the bus station dead tired, snarfing empanadas, only to be told that all that rain has flooded the roads and our bus has been cancelled. Be back same time tomorrow. We stare silently at the messenger and resolutely finish our empanadas, then lug our things back across town to set up camp again.

The next day is stunningly beautiful and we congratulate ourselves on having a bonus day in El Chalten, to replace the rain days we missed. We spend the day lounging in the sun, picking local cherries, and bouldering near town.

 

More photos from El Chalten:

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Insect-like flowers.

 

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Majestic as shit.

 

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Benya completed the traverse!

 

Saturday evening looks a lot like Friday evening did, and we find ourselves once again sitting at the bus station snarfing empanadas. The bus, already a 20-hour ordeal, arrives 2 hours late and we fall asleep almost immediately. In the morning, we wake up to find that we’re only about an hour and a half north of Chalten. What? Turns out that the road is still impassable and we’ve taken a 7-hour detour all that way to the Atlantic coast and back. We don’t arrive in Bariloche until past midnight, early Monday morning.

After so much time in the remote South, Bariloche, although still in the South and technically Patagonia, feels downright European. We are greeted by warm, humid weather, Swiss-style architecture, and a bustling downtown. We have two nights and a single day here due to our travel delays, and we get our bearings with a slow morning and a delightful picnic on the beach, then walk up to Cerro Otto for a view over town.

 

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We scramble up some rocks to the top of a small spire and find a delightful band of Argentine hippies playing banjos and reed flutes, drinking maté, and cheering on their buddy who is slacklining the 50 meter gap between two rocky protrusions. We join them for a while, fully enjoying the scene we’ve happened upon, and ooh and ahh whenever the wind picks up or a hawk gets curious.

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Later, we wander off to try to find a path up to a nearby ridge for a better view. A steep trail quickly devolves into an animal track, but we persevere until the density of large, fresh, cat-like footprints makes us fairly certain we’re in the immediate vicinity of a puma den. We decide that we don’t really need a better view after all and we’d rather change plans and go get a beer instead. We hitch a ride back to town with some nice Chilean guys, find a craft beer bar, and treat ourselves to a delightful dinner. Overall, a short but surprisingly great stay in Bariloche.

 

We now find ourselves back in Chile in the famed Lake District. Til next time!

Lots of love,

C & J & B

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2 thoughts on “El Chalten

  1. Oh my gosh, no wonder people go to Patagonia! I think that, sometimes, people hang out for weeks without even getting to see Fitz Roy. Did you scamper up Cerro Torre in your spare time, or would that have been too boring? What fantastic adventures! And the cartoon-looking flowers … how interesting! Love, Dad

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