03.01.2012 - 05.01.2012 22 °C
This morning we left El Calafate behind us and headed to El Chalten. It was only a short 3 hour drive but we enjoyed a few stops along the way to look at the scenery. Once we had taken the turn off to El Chalten we had rounded Lake Argentino.
Diane and Tony posed for a photo with Esperanza.
The scenery changed dramatically and was quite stark.
In the middle of nowhere we stopped at a little place called La Leona named after a river. It had quite a bit of history behind it. In the late 1800’s some Danish immigrants built a lodge for the settlers to stay in on their journey to the Atlantic coast with their animals and merchandise. This trip usually took over a month so it was nice for them to have somewhere to stop over. In 1905 three gringos (foreigners) lodged there for a month. Sometime later the police commissioner showed the owners some photos and they recognised the distinguished guests. They were none other than Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and his wife Ethel Place. They had already robbed the Bank of London and Tarapaca in Rio Gallegos and were on their way to Chile. This meant quite a bit to Shane and I as last year we had visited this train cemetery on the edge of the Uyumi Salt Flats in Bolivia where the train that Butch Cassidy and the Sun Dance kid escaped on had been left to rust.
From there it was only an hour’s drive to El Chalten which is in the heart of the Southern Patagonian Andes in the Santa Cruz Province of Argentina. It lies at the foot of Fitz Roy Mountain.
Behind the colossal granite walls which dominate the view is the famous “Campo de Hielo Patagonico Sur”, the most important continental ice mass of our planet after Antarctica. Glaciers descend from these ice fields, feeding Lake Argentino and Lake Viedma. El Chalten was built in 1985 to help secure the disputed border with Chile.
Today the sole reason for its existence is tourism. Chalten means “smoking mountain”, as they believed it was a volcano as its peak are covered by clouds most of the time.
Well today was another one of the highlights of this trip. We went ice trekking on Viedma Glacier. We took a boat ride for about an hour to get there and before leaving the boat had a trip along the front of the glacier.
We also saw some big ice bergs that had calved from underneath the glacier.
Once we had disembarked we climbed up some amazing rock formations to the edge of the ice where our guides put our crampons on the bottom of our boots. These crampons assisted us to walk on the slippery ice.
The ice formations on the top of the glacier were spectacular. We walked through various parts of the glacier, looking at unusual towers, small waterfalls that went under the ice and looked in amazing blue caves.
There were several areas where we could fill our water bottles with glacier water. It tasted great. Shane took the opportunity to see how cold the water was by putting his face in the water. He said that he had a brain freeze it was that cold.
Shane had a go at ice climbing but only took a couple of steps and decided it was too hard. He dug the ice pick in so hard that neither he nor the guide could get it out. With a lot of effort it finally came loose.
We stopped to taste the ice and we were then surprised with a bottle of baileys to drink with the ice. It was surprising how different it tasted with the glacial ice.
We ambled back down the glacier to return to El Chalten.
Well another amazing day today. We were still in El Chalten and spent the day hiking around the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares to our destination of the bottom of Mt Fitz Roy. Up until now we had only seen it from afar and with the top of the tower covered in cloud. The weather today was absolutely magnificent; it was quite warm to hike in and most of the day Mt Fitz Roy was without cloud.
We headed off fairly early to our starting point at Hosteria El Pilar; from there it was a lovely walk that followed the Rio Blanco River through a shaded forest. Along the way we had great views of the Blanco Glacier and Mt Fitz Roy.
This took us 2 ½ hours to reach the base of Mt Fitz Roy at a place called Poincenot. This is a campsite as well as the starting point for the trek up Mt Fitz Roy. The trek takes an hour to an hour and half to climb up Mt Fitz Roy to a stunning view of the towers and Laguna Ce Les Tres. This is a horrible climb but worth it for the views.
Later that day we then headed off back to El Chalten via another walk. This was to take us another 3 hours to return to our hosteria. On the way back we followed a river for a while still getting further opportunities to glance back at Mt Fitz Roy.
We then came upon Laguna Capri. By then we were quite tired and pretty hot so we took some time out and sat on the beach at the edge of the laguna (lake).
The last hour of our trek was also very scenic as we could see right down the valley at the Rio de las Vueltas leading in to El Chalten and we also had a great view looking over the town itself.
At that stage I was really looking forward to putting my feet up and having a nice hot bath.
Later that evening we went out to dinner to farewell four of our travelling companions who were heading home.