El Chalten

Here's where we're going.

We’re going to the bottom of the world. It took Magellan 3 years. We have a 3 hour flight to El Calafate then a 3 hour drive to El Chalten.

5:30 felt like an early time to check in to AEP, the Domestic airport in Buenos Aires. Thankfully we discovered a little coffee shop upstairs where we could watch the planes. Everyone gasped, “Oh!” when a bag from the luggage trolley landed plop on the tarmac. Luckily for someone, a worker ran & rescued it.

I fuss over silly things when I have too much time to plan. Seemed to me that you’d see mountains if you got seats on the right side of the plane on the way down. Nope. Not a peak in sight.

Natascha at ‘Swoop Patagonia’ helped plan our trip. Alejandro at ‘Serac Expeditions’ looked after all the details once we left Buenos Aires. Except for the flights. I did them all myself.

After we landed at the little El Calafate airport we climbed into a big van for the 3 hour drive to El Chalten. We were surprised at how flat & rocky the landscape was. We stopped for a break & our driver had the biggest piece of lemon pie I had ever seen. Lemon is definitely a big thing in Argentina, well lemon pie anyway.

El Chaltén is the gateway to trails surrounding the peaks of Cerro Torre and Mount Fitz Roy. Near Fitz Roy, a path leads to the Laguna de los Tres viewpoint. That’s where we were going!

Destino Sur Hotel, just steps away from the main street, was gorgeous. Thank you Alejandro! After a quick registration we took the elevator up to our large corner room with mountains on one side & the town on the other. We had requested two beds but there was a huge king. I called the front desk & immediately 3 young gals came in, whipped off bedding, separated the beds, & remade everything. It was so fast & so funny. We were all laughing.

While Jenny went for a run I went for a walk. Shops, restaurants & outfitters line San Martín, the main street. Is this what a frontier town looked like? Bustling. Happy. Young people gathering on patios, sharing their exploits & planning tomorrow’s excursions.

Jen & I headed out, a G&T calling our name. The patio we had our eye on was overflowing. Jen said, “That one across the street is empty, let’s go there.” Well I wasn’t keen to go to an empty place but I was keen for a bit of refreshment. Nicest young guy at the bar. Totally empty, obviously new, spot. So we took our rather large drink & sat ourselves on the sunny patio. People walked by. Looked up & saw us. By the time we went for a refill the place was hopping. Well done, Jen.

It wasn’t our fault that we were at the pub when our guide came to the hotel. Nevertheless, we missed our “guide talk”. So we went to the Serac store/office, talked to Alejandro & got our instructions for the next 4 days. On the trail! We had some packing to do!

Alejandro suggested ‘Mafia’ for dinner. But if you hadn’t sorted yourself out & made reservations, you were out of luck for any of the main street restaurants. “No problem,” said Jen, “we just find something on a side street.” And we did. Techado Negro was a great find! Not a tourist in sight. The mom at the table beside us helped choose our wine to go with our good food. Perfecto.

For dessert we head to the ice cream shop, Domo Blanco. I’m going back to Argentina just for dulce de leche ice cream. Breakfast buffets here even have little tubs of dulce de leche for your toast.

Day 1: Hike to Cerro Torre lookout. Continue on to Poincenot Campsite, passing Madre and Hija Lagoons
Juan, our fabulous guide & Austin, my special porter called for us at our hotel. The sun was shining. The air was clear. Suddenly we were on this adventure we had been planning for months. Rather more quickly than I expected, because we went out the front door of the hotel, walked about 3 minutes, & there was the sign for our trail. El Chalten is definitely the hub for trekkers. Go out your door & start your hike.
As we walked Juan gave us the history of the area & the names of the trees & flowers. Whenever we stopped at a lookout point people would ask him questions. How did everyone know he was a guide?
We were going up & up but there was no altitude problem as we had on the Inca trail.
(Machu Picchu – start 2750m, Dead Woman’s Pass 4200m, even Cusco is 3400m Patagonia – El Chalten 400m, Cerro Torre 3100m, Cerro Fitzroy 500m, Mt. Fitz Roy 3375m)
Of course, the Cerro Torre lookout (cerro torre means mountain peak), standing proudly behind an azure glacier lake, was stunning. It was a popular spot to stop for lunch, which we did.

I have to admit, our afternoon trek was a struggle for me. I felt badly that I was holding up our little group but the others didn’t complain at my slow pace. Juan kept saying, ‘How’s it going?’ & my reply was ‘Piece of cake!’. I lied.
Our lovely Poincenot Campsite was a very welcome sight, with tents set up just waiting for us.
After a rest & a big dinner I fell into my sleeping bag & didn’t move until the morning.

Day 2: Hike up to Laguna de los Tres (viewpoint of Mt. Fitz Roy), then up to the Adventure Camp in Los Huemules Reserve.
One of the things I loved about this trek was that the really difficult climbs were “up & back” which meant that Jenny & Juan could do them without me. Today was perfect. Jenny & Juan hiked up to Laguna de los Tres while Austin & I made our way, as slowly as we (I) liked, to a meeting spot. It was a great day. Jenny got to challenge herself & see the spectacular views, & I thoroughly enjoyed my slow trail walk along the valley. Austin seemed quite pleased to be ‘the guide’ in charge of me.

The Adventure Camp in Los Huemules Reserve was Laguna Condor Mountain Refuge. Overlooking the north face of the mythical Fitz Roy, this was one gorgeous spot! Glamping, for sure! Beautiful lodge, sweet comfy cabins with a shower, wonderful meals & a gracious host. We could have happily stayed here a few days instead of just one night.

We liked the wee cabin!

Day 3: Hike up to lookout. Transfer to Aquas Arribas Lodge.
Hoorah! Another ‘up’ hike for Jenny & Juan. Then, on the way to our next stop we discovered a little waterfall in the woods. Then we arrived at a dock. A dock? This trip just keeps getting better & better. Sadly we said goodbye to our wonderful friends & companions of the last two days & got on a boat!

Our itinerary said ‘transfer to Aquas Arribas Lodge’. There was no mention of a boat ride on a beautiful lake beside a glacier. Nothing about what a privilege it was to stay in one of only five rooms in an oasis of tranquility. Thank you Natascha from Swoop for planning our whole trip around availability there.

We were welcomed by Natalie who watched our faces, smiling with understanding as we realized we were in a very special spot. As we settled ourselves in one of the comfy sitting rooms, Barbara brought a tray of wine & cheese. Nico & Violeta came by with their maps of the private trails, asking which hikes we would like to take the next day. My ‘gratefuls’ were in overdrive.

Our hike with Violeta to the glacier lake
We’ve had the best time!

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