Having successfully completed the W Trek in the Torres del Paine national park in Chile our next trekking destination was the famous climbing town of El Chalten. If you haven’t read about my time on the W Trek then you can do so here – Trekking in Patagonia Part 1.
El Chalten is known as a climbers town due to its proximity to the iconic mountains of the Fitz Roy range and Cerro Torre group.
During our stay there I can’t recall seeing any climbers which I guess is because we were there late in the season and the climbers had gone until next year. Given the weather we experienced I think they were missing a trick as it was, given what we had been told to expect, unbelievably calm weather.
Although, like the W Trek, the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre treks are located in a national park (Los Glaciares) there are no entry requirements or briefings to this part of the park and from El Chalten we simply walked out of the town and onto the trails. This was in stark contrast to the Southern part of the Los Glaciares national park where we had been bussed in and had to pay for entry to the park to see the Perito Moreno Glacier.
The Trek we had planned was a 2 day trek which would take us from El Chalten to Camp Poincenot and then to the view point at Laguna de Los Tres. We would then return to the Camp for the night before trekking to Laguna Torre and then returning to El Chalten.
Having completed the W Trek less than a week before we were feeling trail fit and as this was only a 2 day/1 night trek we had less kit to carry as well. As a result the walking felt easier than the first days of the W and were more enjoyable as a result. On leaving the town of El Chalten the path steadily ascends towards Laguna Capri, which is halfway between the camp and the town. Here there was an impressive view point looking all the way down the valley to Fitz Roy and the (diminishing) ice field below it.
From the intermediary high point of the Laguna Capri view point the trek descended slowly into the wide valley which runs along the mountain range. I think I can honestly say that this section of trail was the most enjoyable walk I have ever done – the path wound its way through the low trees with frequent views out over an autumnal forest with the Fitz Roy skyline as an impressive backdrop. The trail itself was also much quieter than we had experienced on the ever popular W Trek and the whole experience was much closer to a wilderness feel.
On the approach to the campsite we took a short detour to Laguna Madre which afforded us more stunning views towards Fitz Roy over its waters. In the other direction – the way of tomorrow’s trekking route – the mountains towards the Cerro Torre group were visible beyond the smaller slopes of the far side of the valley which leads to Laguna Torre.
The campsites in the area are also much less touristy than on the W Trek – they are unmanned and have no running water – so it is essentially a cleared area in the forest where there are signs saying you can camp. They are equipped with long drop toilets. As we had arrived with plenty of time we opted to put our tents up and leave our packs with the tent, save for one which we could carry between us for the walk to Laguna de Los Tres.
As can be seen from the map above the trail gets steadily steeper as you approach the lake and viewpoint, though with only a single lightweight pack between the 3 of us it wasn’t a taxing walk. The trail ends after climbing over a large morraine and back down to the shore of Laguna de Los Tres in front of the Fitz Roy skyline.
We returned to camp, had some freeze dried food and cooked tomorrow’s pasta lunch before retiring to a tent to play some cards after it got dark. The camping was much less regimented than on the W with stoves allowed to be used anywhere in the camp area and no shelter to prepare food and eat in. Fires however were still banned, and with the amount of dry wood around this wasn’t surprising. Throughout the W Trek the nights had been cold, but with 3 season sleeping bags and silk liner we hadn’t been cold at night, however it was much colder, with temperatures dropping below freezing and as a result we all felt the cold during the night – a campfire before bed would have been most welcome!
Next morning the weather had changed and we experienced some of the weather we had been told to expect; windy, though not horrendously so, and snowing on and off. After packing up camp we decided to continue the trek and monitor the weather with an option to abandon the walk to Laguna Torres and head back to El Chalten. We could easily do this at the point the paths met at Rio Fitz Roy. In the event this was what we opted for as there would be zero chance of seeing Cerro Torre with the cloud as low as it was.
The following morning, after a warmer night spent in the hostel the weather had improved and, despite there still being a lot of cloud around, the forecast was for a clear day. On this promise we set off back up the trail we had walked down the day before. As we got closer and closer to the Cerro Torre group the clouds gradually broke up and we watched the needle of Cerro Torre appear and disappear as the clouds moved around it.
By the time we reached Laguna Torre and had had a spot of lunch the clouds had completely cleared and we could, once again, enjoy some premier mountain views beneath a clear blue sky. As we had all day to do the walk and, with light day packs on were making good time, we took the opportunity to thoroughly explore around Laguna Torres. The end of the morraine on the north side gave some good views of the glacier coming into the lake (a common feature in the Patagonian mountains). On the South side we discovered a Tyrolean traverse which was set up for climbers to use to cross the river to head over to the mountains at the back of the lake.
The walk back to El Chalten was enjoyable as we were able to see the views obscured by the clouds on the previous day, we made regular stops to turn round and get some photos of Cerro Torre down the valley. We also came across some wildlife which we took some time to try and get some half decent photos of without scaring them away. There were 4 Magellanic Woodpeckers (according to a museum we had popped into in Puerto Natales) going to work on some of the trees along the path and later we saw some parakeets too.
Having returned to El Chalten that was our planned treks in Patagonia completed and the next few days involved some long, long bus rides and some time in the Lake District of Northern Patagonia before spending Easter weekend in Buenos Aires.
Clothing & Equipment
As we’re a clothing and equipment shop it would be remiss of me if I didn’t at least mention what clothing and equipment I used on the Treks.
Mountain Equipment Approach Pants – Lightweight and quick drying, though I run warm so those who feel the cold might want something thicker for trekking in this sort of temperature.
Rab Dryflo 120 Briefs - Much better than cotton boxers.
Synthetic or Merino baselayer tee – Synthetic or Merino depending on weather.
Arcteryx Atom AR Hoody – Too warm in the daytime but essential in the evenings.
MSR Hubba Hubba NX Tent - Not mine, but this was the perfect 2 man tent for this trip, had the weather been particularly bad we may have struggled.
Mountain Equipment Starlight III sleeping bag – I’ve had this for years and it’s probably not quite 3 season any more so I considered splashing out on a lighter & warmer down bag and would probably have appreciated a lighter pack with more space had I done so. However, it worked fine when paired with the…
Sea To Summit Reactor Plus - My alternative to getting a warmer sleeping bag (see above). It takes up next to no space and while I’m a bit dubious about the +11°C claim, it definitely does add significant warmth to your sleeping bag.
Rab Hooded Silk Liner - I always use this with a sleeping bag with or without the Reactor Plus. It saves washing the bag, weighs nothing and takes up no space.
Thermarest Trail Lite – My old Trail Lite did perfectly well. Something lighter and more packable would have been great but I had to draw the line somewhere on buying new kit.
Black Diamond Compactor Poles - These were great. Sadly my Expedition 2 Poles didn’t go down small enough to fit in my pack for the flights so I borrowed the Compactor Poles from my colleague Graham. In hindsight I would now buy the more packable Expedition 3 Poles as my ski and walking poles.
Stoves – I brought the Express Primus Spider II burner and pots without the rest of the Spider II set and it was ideal, unfortunately we currently only stock the big version of the set and the standalone Spider II burner. We also carried an Optimus Vega and a lightweight pan which worked well.
Light My Fire Fire Steel – More reliable than a lighter though there is a knack to using it to light a stove.