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Published: April 19th 2014
CERRO TORRE 3,102mPATAGONIA: El Chalten...Drive in the front...Blown out the back.
Mountaineering's greatest prize
If you want a reason to come to Argentinian Patagonia...El Chalten is a must.
The famous images of the front of the Fitz Roy & Torre Ranges from that funky town are known to many. Breathtaking in any language.
But have you seen what's out the back...behind those famous peaks?
No public transport going that way...but with a 4WD...now you're cookin'.
We slept well at La Siberia Estancia...Patagonian winds whipping across the soda lake and through the crack in the window like a knife slicing the darkness...then heavy rain...clear blue sky greeting the morning.
Fun hot breakfast with the Uruguayan bikers and Julia's cakes...hitting Ruta 40 full of dirty puddles spraying the windscreen...exciting to continue South.
Then it started snowing.
Passing snow topped cones maybe volcanoes...two hours to the Three Lagos sign...and then the road changed.
We had driven for days and days on dirt, pebbles, gravel and the occasional mud...what gives here? Smooth tarmac...whose idea was it to make it easy?
35 kms more...RHT to El Chalten...95 kms of the smoothest road on the planet.
they say in China..."build it and they will come"...seems this road got the same message...this is going to be good.
The entry to El Chalten is like entering an art gallery...unbelievable portraits to the left and right...the mountains of the Fitz Roy Range to the left...like crystal shards of sharp peaks leading to heaven...overlooking Lago Viedma with its glacier shimmering...mountains folded like concertina paper to the right.
Road winding to the town itself...then dirt...the tarmac stopping short of the town.
A sign welcoming "Bienvenidos Parque Nacional Los Glaciares"...trekker with beanie & backpack resting there...backdrop of ice- clad mountains to die for.
We have arrived...gotta say...we are excited.
Maps of the trails at the info centre then check into our hosteria...lucky we booked ahead...no spare beds in town...newcomers directed to a tent city by the river over there.
Straight up the mountain to the crater lake at the foot of Fitz Roy and Torre peaks...only 3 nights here so no time to waste...heaven waits for no man...to enter the pearly gates you have to climb to them.
1 hour 45 mins up...drinking from the lake...knibbling our lunch...sucking in the view...if
only the clouds would clear from the peaks...inviting return another time...down by 8pm in time for dinner.
The finger peak of Cerro Torre clears for us...rare they say...gotta be a good sign.
But then a psycho turns the hose on us...complaining we are standing on his front lawn...guess not all the locals welcome the tourist invasion.
Argentinian and Venezualan guitarists over dinner...steak & more steak...grooving to midnight...long walk to bed.
The Patagonian wind is restless tonight...shaking our hosteria as if trying to extricate the roof...constant rattling and whooshing...not cooling the oil heated air so sheets only...feeling like nothing can stop us sleeping tonight.
Breakfast with a French couple over croissants, coffee & yoghurt getting the goss of the best trails...booking a Viedma Glacier tour...tomorrow 3pm the earliest...but a jacket with a Patagonian mountain & condor motif on the back...bring on the cold...at least I'm going to look good.
What to do today?
How about the back road...El Chalten to Lago del Desierto...says short walks to glaciers with mountain views...supposed to be easy...let's go.
This has got to be one of my favourite roads...behind the Fitz Roy Range...those mountains
like a dinosaur nest of conical eggs...by a river...past numerous peaks...waterfalls...only vehicle on the dirt & pebble road...surreal.
Arrived at Lago del Desierto after numerous stops...an unmanned gendarmerie and a boat.
Glacier Vespigniani to the left nestled between snowy peaks beckoning us.
Nah...lets climb the mountain back there...says short walk to Huemgel Glacier...gotta pay entry for the pleasure though.
About 50 mins up and up...through Tolkien forests...steep steep climb...steady mizzle...not really enough to get wet...fearing no views up top.
Maybe light rain...but we are on a saddle up here...views down the valley this side...Fitzroy Range through swirling clouds...Huemgel Glacier falling into an emerald pool ahead...special feel...special time & place.
Met a German couple up there...Michael & Claudia...taking their photos...they taking ours.
Walking down the mountain together...like old friends...what travelling is about...saw them again at a waterfall...good to see you again.
El Chalten return at dusk...coloured skies blanketing obscured peaks...like a curtain coming down on a magic day...gotta luv the ambience of this place.
One litre of Quilmers beer over dinner...only come in one size they said...raining steadily as we hit our bed...wind howling and rattling fervently tonight...luckily
LIKE A DINOSAUR'S NEST
Behind the Fitz Roy Range
with what we have seen so far as the weather maybe turning bad.
When you travel...each day is a new day...our enthusiasm never letting weather get in the way.
Rained all morning but held off for our Viedma Glacier Cruise.
Short drive to board at Bahia Tunel...only a handful of us...4 Argentinians, 3 French, 1 Czech, 1 Israeli, 2 Aussies & 4 crew.
Crossing the lake...blue icebergs...glacier blue & white ice wave tips on rocks of yellow & red...glacier wall like a picket fence of ice lining the lake.
It was a magnificent sight.
Took 50 photos and video delight.
Of course I organised a group photo of the 11 of us.
The boat docks at the glacier and figures emerge from the ice...10 ice trekkers pleased for the lift...Baileys & iceberg all round...gotta say a nice touch but the icebergs are yukky to taste!
Rain returns as we dock at Bahia Tunel...kinda nice our cruise was dry...never letting weather get in the way.
Our best meal in Argentina tonight...yep...best meal...the sort that remains in your memory...trying later to emulate but never
quite gets there...yep best meal in Patagonia tonight.
Lamb, mashed potato and Argentinian salad.
Argentinian salad is lettuce and tomato...same everywhere we found.
Mashed potato...had that before.
But the lamb...splayed carcasses BBQing...not unusual...but the lamb chops we had...gotta be an inch thick...never had better...and I come from OZ...the lamb capital of the world.
I've eaten Calafate berries so legend says I will return.
But I've eaten the best Patagonian lamb in El Chalten...so I've definitely gotta return!
Relax & Enjoy,
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