Funny looking hill.

Trip Start Oct 06, 2004
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Thursday, April 21, 2005

On bumpy Patagonian gravel roads, I have made my way about four hours north of El Calafate, to the tiny village of El Chaltén. I am here to do a few day hikes and hopefully get a glimpse of Cerro Fitz Roy. From El Chaltén I hoped to continue north for a couple of days, on the adventurous gravel strip called Ruta 40, until I reach my next destination. Bariloche, in the Argentine Lake District. But, unfortunately, the last Ruta 40 trip for the season just left a couple of hours ago. Another alternative, that also doesn't work out for me this time of year, is to head into Chile and up Carretera Austral until I reach Puerto Montt. Carretera Austral, apparently one of the worlds ultimate road trips, because of the amazing scenery and spectacular roads. So, yet another place I have to go back to one day I guess, as I wouldn't mind driving the whole stretch in an old beaten-up truck.

El Chaltén, the gateway to more gorgeous mountain scenery. You can step right out of bed, and head into the mountains for free (unlike the rather expensive Torres del Paine, where the food, camping and refugio prices are pretty steep). I have decided to skip camping this time, and do a couple of day hikes instead. El Chaltén got two famous ones. One is the 7-8 hour round trip hike to Laguna de los Tres, where you have wonderful views of Cerro Fitz Roy. The other hike is the 5 hour round trip hike to Lago Torre, with equally splendid views of Cerro Torre (Tower Hill). Both mountains are pretty much next to each other, but you still have to do both hikes in order to be able to view them properly. Cerro Torre cannot be viewed at all from the hike up to Cerro Fitz Roy, while you can just glimpse the top of Cerro Fitz Roy while doing the Cerro Torre hike. Apparently the mountains gets crowded in the high season, with both hikers and world-class climbers who tries to scale the towers. But I am here at the very tail end of the season, and find most of the hotels and restaurants shut for the winter.

I have joined up with Celeste and Paul again, and we start with the Cerro Fitz Roy hike. It's a mix of clouds and blue sky, but we get some impressive views of the towers along the way. The last hours scramble up to Laguna de los Tres is the hardest part, but we are rewarded at the top, as the towers are luckily not hidden in clouds. While standing there and admiring the very impressive Cerro Fitz Roy, I find it funny that they have used Cerro to name it, as it translates to hill. Because, if that's a hill, I wonder what a real mountain looks like.

The next day is all sunshine, and we set off on the Cerro Torre hike. Unlike yesterday, when it was partly cloudy, we can glimpse the peaks of Cerro Fitz Roy resting below a clear blue sky. However when we reach the first viewpoint of Cerro Torre, it's hidden in clouds. The rest of the sky is blue, including the Cerro Fitz Roy peaks, only Cerro Torre is covered in an annoying mass of condensed water droplets. Well, well. I can partly view Cerro Torre, and then I got some great views of Cerro Fitz Roy yesterday. Cerro Fitz Roy was the main thing for me before coming here, so I guess I have nothing to complain about.

Since I missed out on both Ruta 40 and Carretera Austral, I only have a couple of options to reach the Lake District. Go back down to Puerto Natales in Chile and take a four days boat trip up to Puerto Montt. Surely a spectacular trip among Patagonian fjords, channels, mountains and glaciers. However I decide to skip it. Another option is to fly from El Calafate to Bariloche, but it's pretty expensive so I decide to skip that one as well. Then it's the option of 35 hours or so on a bus from El Calafate to Bariloche. When the slow, but adventurous, Ruta 40 is closed, you have to go south-east down to Río Gallegos by the Atlantic coast. Then head north to Comodoro Rivadavia, also on the Atlantic coast. Before heading north-west to Bariloche. 35 hours on a bus doesn't sound very tempting. Skip it! My last option is to take a cheap flight to Comodoro Rivadavia, and then continue for 14 hours on a bus to Bariloche. Yes, that's it! See you there!
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