In El Calafate we are up early and walk to the bus station where we trade our bus voucher for tickets and change our return tickets for an open return. Our bus fills up and leaves at 8am. I can't believe the bus is full and it's the off season down in this part of the world!
The drive is scenic and we arrive into El Chalten around 11am, now that the road is paved the trip is much quicker than it used to be. The bus stops at the park headquarters and we are given a 10 minute introductory talk. We are the only two on the bus to need the talk in English rather than Spanish! We are told what walks are available and which have snow and ice closing the tracks. We are given a map and told to watch out for pumas. Then we are dropped at Rancho Grande, our hostel. Our hostel is very nice, with a restaurant downstairs and guest kitchen. There are upstairs tables for eating if you are self-catering, couches and computers in a cool loft area. The dorms are 4 beds, very nice. Big lockable lockers and the windows open. No locks on the dorm doors, but El Chalten is a tiny town, so not much goes on here. And there are security cameras installed in the corridors anyways. The hostel is lovely and warm, and not deserving of the average rating and reviews on Hostelworld. Much of the complaints (no lockers, internet being expensive and the windows in dorms not opening) have been addressed. The internet is free, you just have to ask down at reception for them to enable the internet.
We head down the street to the grocery store and get some food for lunch and dinner. A fierce wind is whipping through the town, and we walk down with it at our backs. Returning from the supermarket we put our heads down and push forward into the wind, being buffeted about and almost blown to a standstill. Back in the hostel we chill out and listen to the howling gusts of wind, sounding as though the hostel must be about to lose its roof at any moment! We while away the afternoon, listening to the roar of the wind and the creaks of the hostel. We look at the weather forecast and decide to stay 4 nights, with Saturday and Sunday forecast to be clear skies - days we'll line up decent treks for.
We cook up some comforting spaghetti Bolognese for dinner and enjoy a bottle of cab sauvignon for £2 with it! We then devour a delicious piece of chocolate torte cake from the restaurant downstairs and head off to our warm little dorm, jus the two of us.
We sleep in and find breakfast is not included for dorm rooms. So we make do with cup of soups and then set out mid morning to a waterfall north of town - chorillo del Salto. It's meant to be an hour's walk, but we reach it in 30 minutes. Easy walking along the road out of town and then along a flat track is not very tasking! The waterfall is cool, very narrow, coming down between a narrow rock gorge and spilling into a clear pool which would be nice to swim in during summer. Bit chilly in September though!
On our walk back we photograph the mountains that head away up the valley and the meandering milky river running through the wide valley, in case we don't get any better weather!
We return walk to the hostel with the wind at our backs (much easier) is quicker and we carry on down to the supermarket. We get some chicken for dinner and another bottle of wine makes its way into our grocery basket! How did that get there?!
We relax for the rest of the day and dine on a chicken pasta dish for dinner with a Malbec to wash it down. We've decided to get up early tomorrow, and try and get half our walk down before late morning, which is when the wind seems to pick up. So we'll set off for Laguna Capri around 7 or 8am.
We are up early at 6am and ready by 6.30am, with Ryan itching to get going. I manage to get him to wait until 7am so it is getting light by the time we step out the door and we can see where we are going! We set off from the hostel and start our hike to Laguna Capri in good conditions. No wind at least.
Our hike goes straight into an upward climb, for about 30 minutes before levelling out high above the town and river valley below. We reach a mirador looking up the river valley after 30 or so minutes and take in the views below us in the early morning light, the sky dusky grey tinged with the beginnings of sunshine. Pink tinged clouds hang above the snowy mountains further up the valley.
As our path meanders more gently upwards we get our first peak at the solid granite form of Fitz Roy. It's bathed in a pink glow from the early sunlight and has a small cluster of cloud drifting across the very top of its face, which peaks over the top of the hill in front of us.
We reach the Fitz Roy Mirador in an hour and marvel at the stupendous jaggedy splendour of the Fitz Roy range in front of us. From the mirador its 20 minutes to Laguna Capri, which the morning sun has not yet reached. The lake laps quietly at its shores and across its surface we can see the end of a glacier in the distance and Fitz Roy rising up majestically behind.
We decide that as its only 9am, we'll see how far we can go on the rest of the hike to Laguna de los Tres, which is a further 2.15 hours and is said to be blocked by snow. We set off around the lake, through moss covered trees in the woods. We emerge onto a wide open low level valley, which is interspersed with a river and boggy swamps with narrow but deep creeks with the clearest water you'll ever see in your life.
We continually find ourselves standing above a creek on a log marvelling at the pristine waterways we are crossing. We cross the Rio Blanco (White River) and come to a tramping shelter. There has been snow in places along the track, but nothing deeper than our calves thus far. Each patch of snow induces cries of 'snow on the track, best turn back' - an instruction from the park ranger. But we didn't and so we found ourselves an hour from Laguna de los Tres, at the hut surrounded by warnings of the dangers of the track and to be appropriately experienced.
Having read the sign we leave the shelter and press onwards, immediately running into more snow. And then deeper snow. We are climbing up quite steeply, clambering over ½ metre to 1 metre deep snow, sometimes breaking through the crust. After struggling through these conditions for a bit, eventually it becomes too much for me so we turn back to the shelter, slipping and sliding on the snow we've just struggled up.
On our way down we pass two girls and guy who are starting up. At the shelter Ryan decides to go up on his own given there are others heading up as well.
Just under two hours later he returns, having reached Laguna de los Tres which was completely iced over with snow sitting in drifts atop the ice. Fitz Roy rose up impressively and majestically, unshrouded by clouds, behind the lake.
With his sneakers soaking wet from the snow (though at least we are wearing proper gear aside from Ryan's footwear, unlike the pair of guys we saw hiking in jeans!) we set off on our return journey. We are a bit foot weary and hungry, not having bought much more than snacks with us, for what was initially going to be a trek only to Laguna Capri!
Fitz Roy remains clear of cloud for much of our return walk, so we get some good photographs. The last hour from the mirador is painful, we are tired and have aching muscles. It's been all empanadas and merlots up until now on this trip through South America and we're paying for it!
We get down to the beginning of the track eventually and take our pictures in front of the sign, nine hours after setting out. We walk to the supermarket for dinner supplies but arrive only to find that it doesn't open until 5pm after an afternoon siesta! So we sit and wait for an hour, get our supplies and finally get back to the hostel for a long hot shower and some food.
The alarm goes off at 6.30am. We are sore from yesterday's hike and contemplate doing nothing today. But then the fact that we are here in El Chalten in the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares in the extreme south of Argentina wins us over. When are we going to be back here? So we drag our bodies out of bed and decide to tackle the 3 hour each way hike to Laguna Torre for views of the Cerro Torre.
We have cornflakes for breakkie, pack a picnic lunch and snacks and set off. Again the wind is light to non-existent. We climb steadily out of town for 30 minutes and after a further half an hour we've reached the Cerro Torre mirador with its exceptional views across to the pointy pinnacles of Cerro Torre. We carry on for a further two hours, on a mostly easy walk, past frozen streams, treading on crunchy frozen ground. We pass a small lake reflecting its surrounding trees and walk alongside the glacially milking Rio Fitz Roy, coming to the moraine left by the receding Glacier Grande.
We climb easily to the top of the steep side of the moraine and see Laguna Torre below us; iced over, full of icebergs, Glacier Grande at its far side and Cerro Torre behind. Magic.
We descend to the frozen lake edge and have our lunch in this chilly winter wonderland before trying to crack the ice with stones from the lake edges.
Then it's time to hike back, enjoying the retreating views of Cerro Torre, maybe even more majestic than Fitz Roy the day before.
Back in town we walk to the bus station to sort out bus tickets out of here for fomorrow. We grab a cold fanta, which doesn't even touch the sides and head back to the hostel for some hot food.Another long hot shower follows, to try and unsieze our old and aching bodies, ha!
We are stoked that we managed to get two beautifully clear days, with no real wind to speak of to see these two mighty mountain ranges and are grateful to the weather gods.
We whip up a pasta snack for dinner and enjoy another bottle of red. Two days hiking has also earned us another piece of that delicious chocolate torte cake! Then it's an early night for two tired trampers.