El Calafate & El Chalten
25.03.2010 - 01.04.2010
After a successful three day trek through the mountains of El Bolson it was time to return to Barriloche to once again ponder the decision between north and south. I met an aussie guy that was headed south and with still a couple (literally by most accounts two) weeks worth of good weather left I decided to once again chance my arm and head south with only a long 28+ hour bus trip standing in my way. Still long bus trips become the norm rather than the exception here and with that successfully negotiated we arrived in El Calafate.
Here the main if not only attraction is the Perito Moreno glacier, the only one that is advancing in Argentina and perhaps the world. Prices here are extortionate – its fair to say the first month has not been at all kind on my budget and heading north really needs to happen soon.
With the prices to walk on the glaciers being lower in El Chalten we decided not to do so now but rather take a trip around the estancias in the region and then a boat trip up close and around the glacier. This turned out to be a great decision because the day was quite good and we were lucky enough to get very close to the glacier and have a massive chunk of ice come off right next to us creating a wave so big that the boat had to move away from the glacier. Ice falling off the glacier is a very common event but very rarely do you see a piece that large fall off and the thunderous sound that it made as it hits the water has to be heard to be believed. Seeing the glacier up close was really quite amazing, 40m high ice blocks are just not something that you see everyday, certainly not in Australia anyway. Taking the route through the estancias allowed us to see some of the local wildlife including the birdlife feeding on the roadkill, with each bird eating in accordance to their place in the pecking order. We also managed to see quite about eight subdued sondors sitting in the field waiting for the wind to pick up since they are too lazy to flap their wings. This would have to be one of the better guided trips I have been on with the knowledgeable guides willing to tell you anything you wanted to know about the glaciers, the estancias and the wildlife.
With our appetite for glaciers wet we headed slightly north to the small town of El Chalten, a town founded only 25 years ago on the back of some great trekking and a lot of willing tourists. The town itself is nothing much more than 10 streets of stores catered almost exclusively to tourists but it is not for the town that you come. The first day we signed ourselves up for a heavy, 12 hour day of adventure trekking to Cerro Torre and Glacier Grande. This included ice trekking, zip lining and finally some ice climbing to round off what sounded like a great day.
The day however was even better than we expected, starting off before 7am hiking through some beautiful countryside towards the first mirador from where you could see both the Fitzroy and Torre glaciers certainly a remarkable view especially with the sun rising up over the top of it. From there it was a further hour or so of hiking, made much more manageable by the fact that sun had come out and taken the chill off the air. Along the hike we had to cross a river that ofcourse required us to hook our harnesses to a zip line and then shimmy our way across – might as well stick with the adventure theme! Once we arrived the glacier was something to behold, with everything within eyesight dominated by the blue and white hues that defined the magnificent glacier. It was then time to put on our crampons and hike across the ice, something that takes a little bit of getting use to but once you trust the grip on the ice from the crampons it becomes quite easy. The grip allows you to walk comfortably along and we managed to squeeze in almost two hours of hiking along the ice before we found a suitable slope. Once there we grabbed the ice hammers and spent about an hour climbing up the slope, this surprisingly doesn’t take much to get use too and was a great way to further experience the ice. After an hour or so of climbing we had the relatively simple task of going back the way we had come, something we achieved with just the loss of our two guides but figured they would survive ok by themselves. That night we met them back at the bar in town and squeezed in a quick pint to say thanks for what was a great day with guides that made it feel more like going out with your mates.
The next day was nothing but rain in the morning, delaying the arrival of our friend back from camping. This and some very wet tents put the dampener on camping (sorry but I had to use the pun!), with us instead deciding to make a long day of it and leave for the glacier first thing in the morning. The next day despite the weather not looking much better, a group from us set out on the trail to the Ftizroy glacier. This trek was pretty easy until we got to the last hour which was quite difficult and contains a massive (and frustrating) false summit just when you think you have finally finished. At the top however splendid views of an amazingly turquoise lake awaited along with two quite brilliantly white glaciers. The only disappointment being that the cloud cover prevented the view of Fitzroy itself, however it was still a nice way to round out my time in El Chalten and whilst the clouds were ever present we avoided the rain.
Next for me its back to El Calafate where I’ve got a flight up to Buenos Aires where I will start my belated journey north. With a late plane departure I’ve got one night in BA before I take yet another long bus (~20 hour) ride to another familiar spot Salta.