Mountains which make you say....wow!
Trip Start Jan 24, 2009
138Trip End Dec 08, 2009
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It took around 5 hours to travel from El Calafate. As the bus slowly nudged around Lago Argentino, the day's crystal blue skies afforded distant, yet magnificent views of the mountains in which we were hoping to go walking. By all accounts, blue skies can be a rare commodity in these parts, so when we arrived in El Chalten, we quickly dumped our bags at the hostel and headed for the base of Cerro Torre.
The forecast gave two clear days before a band of snowstorms and cloud would obscure the mountains for the rest of the week. Many people come to El Chalten and stay for days without seeing either Cerro Torre or Mount FitzRoy and we knew we had hit lucky with the weather.
After around three hours of hiking, we reached the glacial lagoon called Lago Torre at the base of the Cerro Torre and its surrounding glaciers. Only at that point did it start to hit home how priviliged we were to get the grandstand view of these amazing peaks.
The granite peaks of Cerro Torre rise vertically up into the skies and reach 3,128m. Its overhanging granite peaks rise for well over one vertical mile and present some of the worldīs most challenging mountaineering. The top of the mountain has a mushroom of ice which is clearly visible. The ice is formed by the constant strong winds which also increase the difficulty of reaching the summit. The first undisputed ascent didn't happn until 1974 - that's 21 years after Everest was climbed! Only the very elite can even contemplate climbing these peaks so mere mortals like us are limited to sitting there and gazing in awe.
At Lago Torre, thousands of chunks of ice from the glacier at the foot of Cerro Torre had broken free and were slowly bobbing along the shoreline. Sitting there in slience was an amazing experience. For a place which demonstrates the immense power of the mountains it was completely still and peaceful. No howling wind, no cloud, just awe-inspiring views to savour.
Thankfully, the good weather held again the following day. We made an "earlyish" start as we had around 10 hours of walking ahead of us on the route we had chosen, to try and get the best views of Mount FitzRoy and its glaciers.
Mount FitzRoy stands at 3,375m. It's named after Robert FitzRoy who spent five years charting Patagonia in The Beagle Channel (with Charles Darwin) back in the 1830s. The mountain itself, like Cerro Torre, has sheer granite faces which present long stretches of arduous technical climbing. The weather in the area is exceptionally inclement and treacherous. The mountain climbing remains exclusive. So exclusive, that today, when dozens of people may summit Mount Everest in a single day, FitzRoy is often only successfully ascended once each year, and some years not at all. Even though we were blessed with good weather, we decided we'd leave the sunmmit for another day!
The route we had taken meant that we didn't see another soul for four hours. As we traipsed our way through the forests, we saw numerous red-headed Patagonian woodpeckers who didn't seemed perturbed in the slightest by our presence.
Our destination was the glacial lake at the foot of FitzRoy's vertical face known as Lago de los Tres. We reached it after a steep climb and some rather "ginger" walking across snow slopes. The lake was frozen and covered in a deep layer of snow but the view up to the summit was awesome.
We'd met a couple of guys on the way up who'd advised us to walk across to the left-hand side of the lake and look down into the valley
We've seen some amazing sights this year and at times like this, I realise just how poor my powers of description actually are...so just look at the photos as they speak for themselves.
On the way back down, we bumped into an Australian women who had passed us three hours earlier when we were heading up - she was almost as slow as a bloke called Simon who I walk with in the Lakes! We sat down with her for one last view back towards FitzRoy and shared our chocolate with her. The weather was starting to change and boy, did it change fast. We could see the clouds coming across and thankfully, we'd made the best of the weather window.
Later that night, as we walked through the door into El Chaltenīs only pub, we were loudly greeted by a very drunk, Aussie lady as being "her chocolate people"
The following day, in an effort to rid myself of the remnants of the night before, I ventured back up towards one of the miradors (view points) to try and grab another glimpse of FitzRoy. A thick band of freezing, grey cloud with snowstorms and strong winds had swallowed the peaks. As I said, we were extremely lucky with the weather.
El Chalten is an amazing place. Personally, I want to come back to go on an eight day trek across the glaciers and onto the Hielo-Sur Ice Field which skirts around the back of FitzRoy and Cerro Torre. Neither Louise or the Bank Manager however will allow it this year but I hope to come back before my bones are too old!