Final treks in Patagonia

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South America » Argentina » Santa Cruz » El Chaltén
November 24th 2011
Published: November 25th 2011
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El Calafate to El Chalten

Day 42 - Monday 21st November
Up and had breakfast which is one of the bad points of this hotel. The breakfast is delivered the night before which means you can have it anytime you like the next morning, but the milk was on the turn the first 2 mornings and the bread etc. was always stale. After 3 days of this breakfast we were glad this is the last, we finished the final pack and went to reception to check out about 7.00am. This is where another problem with the hotel was, you could never find staff. The other mornings about 5 minutes after you arrived they would turn up as people were going on organised tours, but not this morning. We rang the bell, tried to call the hotel, rang the outside doorbell and walked around the grounds but no one came, by the time it got to about 7.15am we were really getting worried. Not only could we not finalise the bill but we needed them to call us a taxi, when it got to 7.30 and we were starting to panic a man walked in who we assumed worked for the hotel and Scott started telling him we needed to pay the bill. After a few minutes of confusion we realised the poor thing was a fellow traveller, him and his wife lived in Buenos Aires but had lived in New Zealand. We started chatting and explained we could find no staff, and I wrote a note to the hotel saying we would call them later to sort the bill out but we really have to leave and try to find a taxi which would not be easy this side of town.
The fellow travellers said just go and they would explain to the staff because we should not miss the bus because there was no staff around. Just as we were about to walk out the door they offered us a lift into town which was very good of them because they were waiting for the minibus to pick them up for a tour. It is always amazing how kind people are when you are travelling, so at 7.35am we were finally heading to the bus station for our 8.00am bus to El Chalten. We said goodbye and thanked him very much for the lift and entered the bus station to wait for our bus with about 15 minutes to spare. Just as the bus was about to leave a policeman boarded OMG was he here to arrested us for not paying our bill – no, just a quick look and he was gone.
The bus journey was very slow with a few random stops and one at Hotel De Campo La Leona a café/museum which claims a lot of history that is not quite theirs to claim. On the walls are posters and news clippings about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and the café claims they stayed in this building but later we discovered that they were in the area but not in this building, and in fact the building was built 7 years after their deaths.
The next stop was the National Park office for a lecture on the trails and safety of the area, a great idea but we did not realise and missed half the talk as I thought we were only getting a trekking map and once I looked around went back to the bus. A few minutes later a ranger collected all the stragglers back into the room for the talk. Then back on the bus to go across the road to the bus station which is on the opposite side of town from our hotel, so we trudged up the road for 1.5km to the hotel with all our bags.
The hotel is nice and the rooms are spacious and warm which is good because this is a cold town. El Chalten is cradled by snow-capped mountains and is a very new town settled in 1985 with only about 600 permanent people. Before arriving here other travellers who we spoke to in El Calafate kept telling us how tiny this place was, and we kept hearing the term “one horse town” so we really expected nothing and to our surprise it is actually quite big. Obviously the people who think this town is small have not visited Tooraweenah. We got settled and walked back through town which took about 10 minutes and found somewhere for lunch, on the way back we stopped at a bakery that advertised packed lunches to enquire about something for tomorrow’s hike. An older German man was already being served and had asked for empanadas, there was some confusion between him and the lady running the shop if he wanted them hot or cold, we understood he wanted them cold and were about to help translate (yes us we have learnt a little Spanish), but things just turned strange and he started asking for bananas just remember we are in a bakery he was totally disgusted when she indicated she had no idea what he was talking about and by then we did not know either, it was totally random. We realised the shop did not open till 11.00am to late in the morning to pick up lunch so we went back to the hotel to relax. Over the next few days we passed this shop at least twice and I just wanted to keep popping in and ask for bananas, if I did I would bet she would soon be stocking them, or hide when she saw me coming. For Dinner we went to a restaurant just around the corner that some fellow travellers recommended, the food was great but expensive which we expected in this town.

Day 43 - Tuesday 22nd November
Today was another long day at work, started on the trail at 9.00am to walk up to Lagona de los Tres, the beginning of the trail was uphill and steep but not too bad and the weather although overcast was pleasant. The walk was beautiful and there were some great spots where we could stop and look down upon the town of El Chalten and the Rio de la Vueltas, which flows through it. After walking for an hour we came to a look out where we had our first view of the clouds that surround the 3405m high Fitz Roy mountain. Probably at this point we should have taken this as a sign to just go home, but we know how the weather in this part of the world can change quickly so we were hoping that by the time we got to the final lookout the clouds would part. From this first distant lookout we could at least see some of the lesser peaks as well as glaciers, so it was worth the walk for that alone.
The path from this point meandered up and down and we circled some small lagoons before coming to a large camp grounds on a river bank. The walk so far had taken just under 3 hours, which was close to the time shown on the maps, so we knew we had a good pace going. Once again on this walk we were able to fill our bottle in the streams as they are fast flowing and are close to their glacial source. The park ranger yesterday confirmed all the streams are safe and they warn everyone on not rubbishing in the park, and to every ones credit the park is near spotless, something that unfortunately we cannot say about Australian national parks.
Just past the camp grounds the path became steeper, and then got steeper again, and once again we were scrambling up rocks. About the time we started this trail a light rain started to fall and just as we got to the enveloping cloud level, the rain turned to sleet and then quickly to snow. This steep trail up took us over an hour and at times nearly broke the both of us, especially as the snow got heavier. The one saving grace was that there was no wind, as it would have been seriously dangerous trying to scramble up this path in high winds. We eventually reached a point that we thought was the summit only to round a corner and see yet another small hill which we needed to climb. Somehow we managed to find the energy and climbed this last obstacle to see before us the frozen waters of Laguna Los Tres and beyond that the cloudy outline of a mountain. It was snowing so hard by this stage that there could have been a Hilton hotel on the opposite shore of the laguna and we wouldn’t have known. The lookout is the closest you can get to the Fitz Roy mountain and occasionally we could just make out its enormous bulk, but the cloud was just too thick to really see it for sure.
We sat there for a while waiting to see if we would get a break in the clouds, but of course it didn’t, so we scrambled down to the shore of the Laguna. We had read that you get a good view from the southern point of the laguna so we trekked around till we reached a sign warning us not to go any further, and then continued on till we reached a large waterfall that cascaded down into the clouds. From here we should have had a view of a lower Laguna as well as a glacier but of course we saw nothing. The rocks around the waterfall were slippery and the wind which was non existent on the peak was driving the snow horizontally over the top of the falls, so I wasn’t about to lean over too far for a photo. By this stage Shelley was freezing and the snowfall was getting heavier so we made a hasty retreat. It was hard finding the path back but we eventually joined up with it and started making our way slowly down the mountain. All the rocks were slippery and the dirt trail in between was now mud so it was a very slow descent. As always on our hikes we would say “hola” to everyone we passed and often would pass on helpful information. One young American who was struggling up the hill we told about how he wouldn’t see much but advised him that if he was prepared to walk a bit further he could at least see a waterfall, “you have got to be joking, I ain’t walkin’ any further than I have too”. He sort of summed up the feelings of most people we passed.
Once we got below the cloud line the snow stopped and the rain started and it followed us for the rest of the day. We had some wet weather gear on but not the full kit, so we did get quite wet on the return journey, as well as very muddy. We both wanted to get back as quick as possible, but the slippery conditions made the walk slower than we wanted. We did stop briefly about 3 for a quick lunch before heading off again. Thankfully there was no breeze otherwise this walk would have been intolerable, but by the time we got back to town at 6pm after marching for 9 hours we were drenched, muddy and exhausted…a long day at the office.
We got back into our room and had a lovely hot shower before heading out for dinner, went to the same place as last night, which although expensive, served up good portions and excellent food. Stumbled back to the room around 10 and just crashed into bed.

Day 44 - Wednesday 23rd November
Had a slow start to the day our bodies still moaning about the day before, so we slowly walked through town and onto the National Park office for some more information on the walks. Spoke to a ranger who had worked in a National Park in Melbourne and before we knew it we were on a trail up to Loma del Pileque Tumbado at 11.00am. Not sure how this happened we were going to take it easy today, but here we are trekking uphill again. This is an easier walk than yesterday although our bodies did not agree. The path was almost continuously uphill but at least it wasn’t quite as steep as yesterday. The forest areas we passed through were beautiful and very quiet making it eerie. We passed through flat meadows full of yellow flowers and swampy areas that we were ankle deep in mud, so the scenery was varied and interesting. As we keep climbing the weather turned cold and wet, by the time we hit the last flat section before the steep last bit of the climb to the lookout it was snowing and the wind had increased. The Loma del Pileque Tumbardo is a 1490m high mountain 12 kilometres out of town where you can see the two star attractions of this corner of the world, the 3102m high Cerro Torre and the 3405m high Cerro Fitz Roy. We had the choice of climbing to the top of Loma del Pileque Tumbardo or stop at a lookout 200m below the summit. We had already decided that we didn’t need to go to the top but just stop at the lookout. When we finally reached the point where both the summit and lookout came into view, the whole area was a white out. Once again the peaks of the mountains had vanished and only the lower flanks were visible. We debated for a while whilst huddled behind some trees but the trail ahead was completely exposed to what was an increasing wind that was whipping the snow horizontally. The snow yesterday wasn’t that cold because there was no wind but today the icy wind just tore through us. We finally decided it was not worth pushing ahead just to get wet and cold with no view and so turned around and headed back. The descent was much quicker but the weather was getting worse, it was now sleeting on the lower parts of the path and the wind was getting stronger, we had made the right decision. We made it back down by 4.00pm, after trekking for 5 hours and were glad to be heading back through town, we stopped at a café for a drink and to decide what to do. By the time we left the café the wind was howling and freezing and the rain drops were so hard it hurt as it hit your face. We struggled to the minimart and got supplies then onto the bakery and picked up empanadas and a small ricotta tart for dinner and got back to the hotel as quickly as possible to get warm and have dinner.

Day 45 - Thursday 24th November
It rained all night so we slept in and over breakfast decided to have a rest day. The rain wasn’t heavy but there was a howling wind driving the rain horizontal down the street and it was bitterly cold. In the mountains ringing the town you could see recent snow falls covering the peaks. There was no way we were going out in this weather for another trek. Spent the day blogging and reading up on the next towns. Had an ice cream in the afternoon for lunch at one of the cafés (Domo Blanco) that makes it using local berries and products, it was great. The downside was the weather it was still raining and the wind was icy, it was a real struggle walking there and back. The afternoon was very lazy with us doing more research about accommodation for the next town Bariloche and finally booking somewhere. Before we left for dinner we paid the bill as we did not want to get caught out again, the owner has half offered to drive us to the station tomorrow will have to wait and see. As we are on the long distance bus tomorrow we went back to the restaurant we had already been to twice, unfortunately the prices had gone up and the quality down yes it was only one night in between. Things do change quickly in the restaurant business.


7th December 2011

Great photos especially the one of the yeti

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