Patagonia: At the End of the World (Part II)

Fitz Roy Mountain, Argentina Patagonia

The iconic Fitz Roy mountain in Argentina Patagonia

After a couple of days in El Calafate, Jason and I hopped on a 3-hour bus ride to the less-visited sister town, El Chaltén.  There are three bus companies that bring you from El Calafate to El Chaltén.  First, they stop at the tourist centre in El Chaltén and then at the town’s tiny bus terminal.

Bus ride from El Calafate to El Chalten

The early-morning bus ride from El Calafate to El Chalten

The sole reason for El Chaltén’s existence is tourism and even during high season, it’s a pretty isolated little town.  It’s the self-declared trekking capital of Argentina, and is the gateway to amazing climbing and trekking territory.  It provides fairly easy access to the famous Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy mountains.  Those who are familiar with the Patagonia clothing company might find the mountain range here familiar-looking – the highest peak in the company’s logo is Fitz Roy.

Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre mountains (Argentina)

Cerro Fitz Roy (right of the center) and Cerro Torre (left of the center) mountains

One catch though: since we were visiting during the off-season (Argentina’s winter months), the town would likely be almost deserted.  We had read that most accommodations and restaurants would be closed for the season, so we were a little wary coming here.  However, the California couple we met at Perito Moreno Glacier gave us a great tip on where to stay since they had just come from El Chaltén.

El Chalten, Argentina

The little town of El Chalten

Upon arrival, we discovered that – in the whole town – there were two hostels and one restaurant that were still open. Their local market was also still open so we ended up spending the next four days making our own meals in the hostel’s well-equipped kitchen.

I loved our time there.  It was quiet, relaxed and peaceful.  The town was a charming little place full of smiling locals and, since it was off- season, almost no tourists.  We arrived on a brilliantly sunny day and the friendly guide at the town’s tourist centre made sure we understood how lucky we were – calm, sunny days were rare during the winter.  Many travellers who arrive here in the winter never even get to see the mountains because of the snow and clouds.

El Chalten covered in snow

With the exception of the two sunny days, El Chalten looked like this for the rest of our stay.

Unfortunately, I was trying to get over a pretty bad cold so we “wasted” the sunny day by staying indoors.  Luck was on our side though, because I got up the next morning (rested and feeling much better) and was greeted by another sunny day.  And we weren’t going to waste this one.

At the beginning of the Fitz Roy hike

At the beginning of the Fitz Roy hike

Jason and I were getting pretty good at trekking, at this point.  But trekking through icy and snowy terrain was a little new to us.  Our trusted hiking shoes that got us through slippery rocky terrain in Cusco and dry, dusty desert in Arequipa were no match for ice-covered trails.  Luckily, only the beginning of the trail was icy since those trails remained in the shade for most of the day.  The terrain was pretty varied actually.  Some parts of the the trail looked like this:

During our Fitz Roy hike

Parts of the trail which were mostly in the shade during the day were snowy or icy

And then other parts of the trail looked like this:

During our Fitz Roy hike

Parts of the hike which were in the sun for most of the day were dry. You can see the summit of Fitz Roy peaking peeking out in the distance

But no complaints when you get to soak in scenery that looks like this for most of the trek:

Patagonia scenery

Patagonia scenery

We had chosen the slightly shorter hike (3 hr), which took us to the nearby lake (lago Capri) and look-out point near Fitz Roy.  We arrived at the lake to find it completely frozen over and covered in a blanket of snow.  There were signs everywhere that warned us not to step on the frozen surface but there were footprints all over the lake, so it seemed pretty safe.  The view of Fitz Roy from the lake was magnificent.  Again, we were so lucky to have such amazing winter weather – couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day.

View of Fitz Roy on Lago Capri

View of Fitz Roy on Lago Capri

Iconic Fitz Roy

The iconic jagged peaks of Fitz Roy

Hiking in Patagonia was an awesome experience – the scenery is unmatched by anything else we’ve seen in South America.

Fitz Roy, Argentina

One last look at Fitz Roy

Advertisements

Patagonia: At the End of the World (Part I)

Just 24-hours after soaking in the subtropical heat of Iguazu Falls, we were greeted with this sight:

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Up close and personal with one of the few advancing glaciers left in the world

Patagonia in all its icy, snow-covered, wintery glory!

Argentina is definitely an amazing country of contrasts.  Packed away were the bikinis and tank tops – out came the toques, scarves, and wool gloves.  I was really looking forward to visiting Patagonia and after seeing the awesomeness of Iguazu Falls, Jason was also excited to see what else Argentina had to offer.

Patagonia is home to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of my ‘photography travel‘ places, so I had high expectations of it.  From Iguazu Falls, we flew into El Calafate, a small little town that serves as a gateway to the glacier.

The morning of our glacier tour, there was a little mix-up and we almost missed our bus transportation to the glacier.  Luckily, we were able to grab a cab and catch up with the bus while it was still picking up people from various hotels in the area.  It was a pretty cloudy day, but I didn’t mind since that meant better lighting for pictures.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Beautiful blue ice

Our group’s first glimpse of the glacier drew audible gasps.  The glacier is magnificent.  A huge expanse of blue-hued ice that stretched back into the foggy horizon.  It was unlike any other natural wonder I had ever seen.  We spent an hour or so at the boardwalk area, which allows you to see the northern side of the glacier up close.

Northern side of Perito Moreno Glacier

Well-constructed and strategically placed walkways around the northern side of the glacier

Northern side of Perito Moreno Glacier

On one of the various walkways near the glacier

Even after an hour of taking in the spectacular sight of the glacier from all angles, the feeling of awe does not disappear.  I recalled to Jason about my first time seeing the Grand Canyon in the United States.  It was amazing when we first approached the canyon; but after 10 minutes, the view got a bit old and I was ready to leave.  With this glacier, however, I found that every time I looked away for a few seconds and caught sight of the glacier again, it would take my breath away.

We also got to board a boat that takes you right up to the southern side of the glacier.  One of the coolest things you can see while visiting the glacier is catching a rare moment when ice calves or breaks off from the main glacier.  It makes a incredible thunderous crack before giant slabs of ice fall away into the water.  We saw a couple of smaller ice chunks break away from the northern side but was never able to capture it on camera.

Southern side of Perito Moreno Glacier

Chunks of ice that had broken off the main glacier

Later on that day, as the group started packing up and putting their cameras away, the loudest crack I’ve heard all day split the air.  It happened so quickly that I didn’t get a chance to take my camera back out.  You’ll have to take my word that it’s pretty incredible to see in person.  I was able to get my camera out to capture a bit of the aftermath of the calving glacier though.

Southern side of Perito Moreno Glacier (glacier calving aftermath)

The aftermath of ice calving off the glacier

I would’ve been happy just admiring the glacier from the boat, but Jason and I were lucky enough to walk on the glacier!

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Another group of glacier trekkers that were making their way off the ice.

They strapped everyone up into crampons and gave us a few quick tips (“don’t walk with your feet too close together or you might end up stabbing yourself in the foot”)

Crampons for the glacier trekking

One of the guides helping me get fitted for crampons – HUGE metal spikes that they tie to your shoes. One lady wore high-heeled boots. Not sure how they found crampons for her.

And then we were off!

Walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

The first few hesitant steps on the glacier with crampons

Walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

In a couple of minutes, we were walking like pros. Crampons are like winter tires for people.

The steep parts were a little tricky but once you got the hang of it, it was pretty exhilarating walking on top of a glacier.

Glacier walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

Glacier walking!!

Glacier walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

Some awesome backdrop while walking on the glacier

Glacier walking on Perito Moreno Glacier

It’s not all fun and games. I got lectured for walking too close to this giant sinkhole.

Our guides even surprised us with a little treat near the end: Scotch on the rocks over glacier ice and alfajores!  Talk about an extravagant refreshment break.

Refreshments during our glacier walk

Now that’s what I call a refreshment break – Scotch on the rocks and sweets!

Towards the end of the day, the skies even cleared up a bit.  The glacier against the mountain setting is pretty breathtaking.  Seriously still can’t believe how beautiful Patagonia is.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Mind-boggling that we got to walk on this!

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

View of the glacier while on the glacier

Bye glacier,  hopefully we’ll be back one day.  Don’t you go anywhere.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

View of Perito Moreno Glacier as we motored away