For the first three days in El Chalten, we'd had mixed weather. It didn't rain, but the skies were never really clear, meaning we had yet to experience the beauty of the Fitz Roy peaks under clear skies or even any view of Cerro Torre.
I happened to wake very early at 7am and looking out the window, couldn't believe my eyes when we saw Torre. The skies were completely clear, all the main peaks were on show - and what a sight it was! Our plan had been to go hiking to Lomo del Pliegue Tombado that day, but once we saw the clear skies we changed plans and hiked back to Laguna Torre instead.
In the picture below, Cerro Torre is the pointy one on the left, and Poincenot and Fitz Roy are the two main ones on the right.
Fondest memory: During our hike to Laguna Torre, we were lucky enough to spot a Mara (often referred to as a Patagonian Hare) on the path. Maras are rodents who live predominantly in the Patagonian steppe. They are animals, and can reach speeds of up to 30km an hour. They usually keep well clear of humans, and scamper off as soon as you approach so I was quite surspised when this particular mara wandered out across the path and stopped long enough for a couple of pictures.
The park ranger's office is a good place to plan your hikes around El Chalten. The rangers provide plenty of information, and most of them speak a number of languages. They can supply you with a useful map listing the various treks, with estimated distances and timings, which can be invaluable for planning. If you are planning a climbing expedition or any treks beyond the regular hikes, you should register here first.
The rangers office also has information boards on the flora and fauna in the park, and panels showing the climbing routes of previous expeditions. The office is about 1km south of town, near the start of the Lomo del Pliegue trek.
Approaching El Chalten (either by bus or by car) is an unforgettable experience.
Just imagine, you travel on a gravel road, approx. 70 km (which means more than 1 hour) with this view of "exposed" mountain peaks in this stunning nature.
Usually, the bus drivers make a stop if you ask for, when the weather is that good as we had it that day.
One "downer" however:
they are going to pave this road now. It might take until 2007, but then the experience is only half worth, as paved roads don't "fit" to this exposed and wild nature.
But..... as money talks.....
(am I allowed to make such comments ?)
This map shows the full scenery, both for normal hikers as well as for experienced mountaineers.
El Chaltén, the base town, in the right (eastern) part, the mountains on the left (western) part.
At the leftmost part - the eternal ice field, Hielo Patagonico Sur.
Fondest memory: Easy hikes are the 1-day hike from El Chalten to the campground of Cerro Torre (marked as Camp. Bridwell in the map). It takes approx 1-2 hours to get you to the mirador (viewpoint) for Cerro Torre - given that her Majesty Cerro Torre has decided to give view to it's admirers :-) (not often the case). From there to Camp. Bridwell andother 2-3 hours.
Another easy 1-day hike takes you at the Laguna Capri campground, with a fantastic view to Fitz Roy mountain. It is the one north-west out of town.
The other hikes to Paso del Viento (south, bottom of the map) and Paso Marconi (north, top of the map) require excellent hiking condition and equipment.
The circle - around the mountains, via the ice cap, finally requires an experienced guide from El Chalten, as even experienced mountaineerers should not think of doing this alone. The winds on the ice field are extremely strong (we are talking of more than 200 km/hr), and disorientation happens quite often, plus crevasses, which might be hidden in drifty snow.
This map might be helpful to get a little orientation for El Chalten, the base town for Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre area.
It is 4 years old now (from 2000), and more buildings have been constructed.
However, the main streets and orientation is the same.
Fondest memory: Bottom left is the direction to/from Calafate, i.e. the route of the bus tours.
Close to the entrance of El Chaltén in the south, there is the Information Center of the Nacional Park. Usually, everyone entering El Chaltén has to stop there and get behaviour directions for the park. This is important, as the environment in this highly visited area is very fragile - and please accept all what they tell you and ask for !
The main street ends at the T-crossing, or continues a bit eastward to the northern parts of El Chaltén, and the hiking paths to Fitz Roy.
some of my tips here in VT (Chocolateria, Campground Ruca Mahudia) I have marked in this map.