Posted by Shelley on Sunday, November 20, 2011


Clear View of Cerro Torre and Mt. Fitzroy

El Chaltén is a mecca for climbers and outdoor enthusiasts. This quaint town is cradled below massive granite walls. Its dramatic skyline is featured in the Patagonia logo. We knew Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre were a must see on our itinerary, and they did not disappoint us. Although El Chaltén was only established in 1985, you cannot help but be enchanted by the natural history – notably the spires and numerous glaciers (it is after all called “Glacier National Park”). We were able to get views from every angle on several short backpacks, returning to town in between to get our fill on cheesy explosion empanadas, homemade yogurt with pumpkin jam and many of the 40 varieties of tea at Mathilda’s House of Tea. To our luck, we met Dave and Molly (an American couple living in El Chaltén who fed us a delicious home cooked meal) and many guides at Hostel del Lago who provided great advice, hopsitality and wine 🙂 With the season just getting started, we were very tempted to stay through summer.

Hard to imagine what the first expedition to summit these were thinking…
Hearing of a gas shortage in Calafate and El Chaltén, we are elated that our fuel consists of chocolate and cookies, and not petrol. This advantage also allowed us to cross the border at Lago del Desierto and Lago O’Higgins, a station with no road access that is only open in the summer. After seeing a half-destroyed man resecuring his luggage to his bike after the 14km trail through the woods (and mud and fallen trees) and learning it had taken him 2 days, we affirmed that we prefer traveling via foot to bike as well.

We are always stunned what beauty we find on our daily hikes…

Since no one in El Chaltén knew the schedule for the obligatory ferry to cross Lago O’Higgins, we took off knowing we would find out when we got there. On Sunday we found out it runs once a week on Saturdays. Oops. We were very happy to have the extra food we packed and the good company we found on the trail: Carlo at Estancia del Lago, the hilarious former announcer who’s bravado and search for suitable bachelors kept us cracking up; The Argentinian border guards who 1) were expecting us, due to a heads-up from our friend Graham 2) provided us with two free meals and lots of Quillmes, and 3) took Sarah and Trinity on a sunset horseback ride (I prefered to read and do yoga than take my chances facing my fears on narrow, steep trails); Our Aussie cycling friends Alex, Andrew, Jason, Peter, and Stephen (in alphabetical order, of course) who travelled with us for two days while waiting for the same ferry but left us in the dust once they hit dry land.

Moments of goodness:
– Trinity mindlessly putting preventative bandages on the wrong toes
– Getting to talk about gear and demonstrate our popcan stove
– Multiple days of clear skies for amazing views in El Chaltén, locals say this is a rare thing
– Sitting, reading, listening and relaxing by massive glaciers
– Sleeping under the starts without the tent
– Reading in a hammock and listening to reggae in El Chaltén, clearly not a beach town but definitely just as laidback
– Seeing flamingos in a mountain lake
– Trinity and I trying to learn a card game in Spanish. A little too much was lost in the communication gap when 2s beat most, but some 1s and all 7s beat everything and the suits are swords, gold, cups, and clubs
– Jorge at Hostel El Mosco had excellent detailed topo maps for our next trek to Cochrane
– Finally getting to sit around bonfires! (glad to smell like smoke as per the alternative…)
– Taking in the scenery from the ferry across Lago O´Higgins: amazing green water, blue icebergs and Utah-type plateaus all adding to the many layers of color
– Thinking we look normal in flip flops and down pants, our fashion sense totally gone
– Not needing to filter the fresh glacial water
– Southern hemisphere star gazing with Sarah’s Google Sky app on her tablet

Things we have learned, accepted and grown from:
– Do not expect anyone to have information on the other side of the border between Chile/Argentina.
– Molly explaining how she broke her leg after getting tossed 20+ft by the Patagonian wind- Though it is ultralight, we do not have the most aerodynamic tent- Both Trinity and Sarah have had bugs crawl in their ears while sleeping, now I always sleep with my hat on- After discussing dangers in South America, our friend Peru noted “Southern Argentina is dangerous too… we have the holes in the ozone” (Sarah, wrapped up in the excitement of summer, got a little burnt)- At a bonfire with a local highschool group, it appears international campfire songs still consist of Oasis, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana and … Jason Mraz??- The “dred-mullet” combo is the fashion in Argentinian climbing communities- Some clothing is starting to form massive holes from constant wear (mostly Sarah’s…)- Our sleeping pads (still) fly away easily in the wind. After a valiant effort to save mine, Sarah’s flew away never to return. Luckily, Jorge has extras left from previous travellers!
Making notes of where our clothes are wearing mostHoping the water dries up soon! Some of the trails are still a bit muddy

Lago O´Higgins After exchanging all US$ and AR$ we have left for Chilean pesos, we bought enough food for the week’s journey to Cochrane through the mountains via the old horse trail (pre-Carretera Austral which was built 12 years ago). Villa O’Higgins does not have an ATM nor any stores that accept payment by card. Supposedly Cochrane has stores which accept cards but their ATM does not accept Visa cards. We realize now we should have diversified not only banks but our cards a bit more. From Cochrane, we will head to Chile Chico, then on to Coyhaique in time for Christmas. As the holidays get nearer it pulls on our heart strings to be so far away from so many family and friends. Although we can’t be there, we are definitely thinking of you all. Eat some green bean casserole (my fav!) and pumpkin pie for us this week and we will be sending fresh mountain air for the patience and tranquility needed when you are shopping with all the crowds for presents this month.

We were able to get some photos uploaded to a dropbox album this stop (it’s been difficult to back up photos lately with computers and good connections fewer and farther between). See our photos page here.

Glacier Grande, great place to take in the view