We got into El Calafate well rested and looking for exercise. The bus hadn't broken us. We had one major job - book our glacier trip.
The Perito Moreno glacier is the major attraction of the area, which is saying a lot considering we are in the heart of Patagonia surrounded by endless acres of national park. Trips onto the glacier go from El Calafate and book up quickly so the very first thing we did in town, even before finding a hostel, was book our trip. With this done for Wednesday, we were sorted.
We got ourselves into a decent hostel and explored the town. This place lives for the glacier and, to a lesser extent, the nearest national park, Los Glacares, so it's quite touristy. The main street in town is well looked after but some of the back streets lack footpaths. For dinner, we found ourselves on a hill overlooking the town munching down on a tasty asado (Argentinian barbecue).
On Monday, we were out of there, on an early morning bus, heading three hours north to El Chalten. El Chalten is one of Argentina's newest towns, built in 1985 to beat Chile in an anticipated land grab, with most of the roads unpaved, a small population that triples in the summer and few businesses. But all the businesses are geared towards tourism, specifically hiking and climbing, as the town is actually inside Parque National Los Glacares.
Before we arrived in town, we were "treated" to a stop at the park rangers office for a talk about the park by a delightfully rude ranger. Fortunately she gave us enough information for us to get by on, giving us a route for our two day hike. Then we got dropped off in town, hired our extra gear - a tent, three sleeping bags and a gas cooking stove - and set off out of town, north west, towards Cerro Fitz Roy. The other major peak, Cerro Torre, was completely covered in cloud, so we had to take advantage of the clear weather around Fitz Roy and hope Torre would clear up for tomorrow.
We were fortunate with good weather as we hiked through the hills to our camp site, Poincenot, 9.5 km away. Our first stop was by Lago Capri for some lunch and to refill our water bottles. The pride of Los Glacares is that all the water is drinkable, which means there are strict rules on cooking and rubbish to avoid contaminating the streams. But if you want fresh, ice cold water then you dont have to wander very far. It took us about three hours to get to Poincenot, where we set up our tent, locked our stuff inside and kept on hiking.
It was a further three km to the base of Fitz Roy, but we were much quicker without our bags. The final stretch of the hike to the base was tough, as we were climbing 400m vertically, so I can only wonder how tough climbing the mountain itself is, as it's known as one of the most technically challenging climbs in the world. Cerro Fitz Roy itself is 3441m high but we only got as high as 1150m. Whilst the best views of the mountain and the range in general are better from further away, like back in El Chalten, it is awesome to be so close to the snow capped granite peak.
We spent quite a bit of time at the base area, exploring. There is a large frozen lake there, called Laguna de Los Tres, as well as a stunning aerial view of another lake. But by about 6PM the sun was beginning to set behind Fitz Roy and we still had to cook, so it was back to the camp site to take advantage of the last hour or so of sunlight.
Dinner was basic, given our surroundings, but it was cooked with love. And there was wine, drank with class - straight from the bottle. Our stove was set up behind a tree and a log to protect it from the wind and we set about cooking a meal fit for a king, or three - tuna and pasta.
It was a windy night spent beneath the tall trees. Sean and I had grand plans to get up at a few minutes before sunrise and hike to a mirador but the weather turned us off it. That and the fact that it was 5AM.
A few hours later we got up, had a breakfast of cereal bars and hot porridge and were off to see the second peak of the park - Cerro Torre. We headed directly south for about three hours, got lost in the mud for a bit, passed through woods and fields and obviously got bitten by mossies and the big, black flies that bite through your clothes. We encountered those flies while hiking to the Lost City in Colombia. Those guys hurt.
We reached a clearing and a fork in the road - left took us back to town and right took us to Cerro Torre. Callanan had already decided to head back to town. The weather made the decision easy for myself and Sean - Torre was again completely covered in cloud. No point in hiking for an extra three hours if the view doesn't get any better.
So it was back to El Chalten. To semi-civilisation. To coffee. And to the only view of Cerro Torre we would get - a postcard.