El Chalten - the Land of Mountains and Backpackers

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January 16th 2009
Published: January 21st 2009EDIT THIS ENTRY

The thing about maps is that the trails look so short on paper. I arrived in El Chalten on a blue sky day at about 6:30 in the morning after a 30 hour bus ride. After finding a hostel, I glanced at a map, picked a likely destination and started walking. Tee shirt and jeans were comfortable and the day looked great. I didn´t know much about the place... my new travel philosophy is founded on last years pre-trip Internet experience - I got so much information off the web last year that I felt I´d already been there so I never went. I knew that El Chalten was a place to hike but not much more... at the trail-head I took a digital photo of the map and headed out. Water bottle in my right back pocket and a thin, long cheese sandwich in the left.

After a half hour on the trail I ran into some friends who had researched the area. They told me that blue sky days in El Chalten are not so common and that the forecast was for conditions to worsen. So despite two lousy nights sleep on the bus, I decided to make a full day of it.

The trail signs here give the 'distance' as time required, the time up. Which helps a lot and should be trusted... 4 hours up to Laguna de los Tres. Mt Fitz Roy was out and what a view. I can´t help but compare everything I see to my home landscape in southeast Alaska, and I have to admit there´s nothing in my local experiences that compares. The Fitz Roy rock is so much lighter than the surrounding rock and is so steep and dramatic that it simply draw the eye time and time again. Contrasted with the bluest of blue skies and green vegetation - it's a visual delight. My little camera hardly does it justice.

There were a lot of people on the trail - as in someone always ahead or behind. While the trail was gently sloping it was an easy hike. But eventually I could see a steep ridge ahead that was obviously the place to be for an up-close view of the mountain. As I got closer I realized there were people all up the ridge on a trail... yup, that was the trail I´d originally targeted... Los Tres... Then this lovely sign... danger... something about exposure, 500 m higher and only continue if you have... oops it was in Spanish... well I had part of my cheese sandwich left... up I went. At the top were several hundred people and a spectacular view of lakes, Fitz Roy and neighbors. I ate my sandwich and headed down still in sunshine and calm weather... a successful day, a long day, in jeans...

If you sit in a cafe along the main street you will see a parade of sorts, the theme based on overstuffed backpacks. Early morning every few minutes another couple or solo hiker walks towards the trail-head, slightly stooped under the weight of a full pack. In the evening the flow is reversed and the weary hikers that have been out for several days flow the other way. Some in a comfortable stride and and others limping. I´ve never seen so many folks out for multi-day back-country trips. The entire town is based on catering to hikers and backpackers. You come to El Chalten for the view of the mountain, and it draws a lot of people... I day hiked for three days and stayed for 5, but only saw Fitz Roy on the first day.

A note on the weather... two days I got snowed on and one day it rained and blew so hard that I never left town. You need good gear here, the weather can change in a heartbeat...

Additional photos below
Photos: 9, Displayed: 9


24th January 2009

in Puerto Natales
Hi Bill! We just got done with the Circuit in Torres del Paine, and looks like we had similar experiences to yours in El Chalten. Have you been to Natales yet? Similar town, set up for hikers. Had amazing weather, and terrible weather...all in all, a good trip. We´ll post something soon. After reading your blog, we´re now thinking of heading up that way again...hope all is well!
25th January 2009

Nicely done
You wrote a very nice article, as I am planning on a visit in September. Please what kind of gear you brought for cold and warm weather. Would a four wheel drive vehicle help at all? Thanks. Gerry
25th January 2009

rain gear and fleece
I would have a good, light weight rain coat and pants. Plus some fleece. Hat and light gloves. A 4 wheel drive... at El Chalten.... well, it is a park and everyone is hiking. There are some dirt roads in or next to the park but not that many. A 4 wheel is not necessary to get to El Chalten, the road in is paved. But there are many mile of unpaved roads in Patagonia where 4 wheel drive would be good.
25th January 2009

I reread your question... september will be very cold. I don't have any first had info on conditions in september. I suggest you contact the el chalten visitor information center...
10th July 2013
Hikers along the shore and Fitz Roy

One of my favourite mtns...from a not usual angle...I presume from behind...and you could not have got a nicer day

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