There is no bus route direct from Rio Gallegos (which acts as a hub for buses to places in the far south of Argentina) to El Chaltén, so we got the bus from El Calafate. It left at 8.00am, cost around AR$120 and arrived around 12. The bus stops as you enter the national park and everyone got off to listen to a talk from the park rangers, with the choice of Spanish or English. The talk is really informative and tells you about all the different hikes and trails around El Chaltén. They tell you how long they take (their estimates are pretty spot on) and how far they are etc. We were really lucky with the weather, which was sunny and most importantly clear. The rangers said people could stay over a week and not even see the peaks due to the cloud. We could see all of them clearly from the town.
Our hostel, La Comarca, was situated just across from the bus station. It didn't look like the most architecturally stunning building, more a small brown box, but it was warm, had a decent kitchen and showers. We stayed in a 4 bed hostel with a Korean father and son, who from what we could tell didn't really do much hiking but read and did work, which was fine by us until the dad got up at 4.37am and was scratching around.
After arriving at 12 we were ready to walk by half past. The walk we chose was a 6 hour round trip to a lagoon near the Torres peaks. The sun set about 7pm so we didn't want to get caught out. I set a relatively fierce pace but Alex kept up well. Varying terrain, some parts through forest, some along the river, some over rocks and uphill. The autumnal colours of the leaves was quite striking against the light stone. The bushes and trees of the flatter section were very close together with narrow paths and whilst I was messing about with the camera (I thought I'd broken the volume so videos had no sound, luckily I hadn't) Alex ran ahead to wait in ambush. Her jumping out with a cackle was luckily caught on film, and though unplanned, it seemed set up. The weather was lovely and we were working up quite a sweat, so we decided to fill our bottles from the river. The rangers had been adamant about keeping the water clean and how it was potable so Alex hopped between rocks and bent down to fill the bottle. She was doing fine until her sunglasses fell in, distracting her, causing her to lose balance. She almost followed them but after a few steps fumbling around in the river to regain stability she made it back to shore. Unfortunately I didn't manage to catch this on camera. After I had filled the bottles with lovely, cold, clear water we continued to the lagoon.
The lagoon was gorgeous and very tranquil. We sat and had some rolls, careful not to let the juvenile hawk esk birds steal them. Some idiots were feeding them. We decided to use the toilet at this half point way. Alex was in no way impressed and held it. I braved what looked like a portaloo enclosure that actually housed a simple hole in the ground. I don't know if when camping people lose the ability to aim their expulsions but there was plenty of evidence for this theory. Before coming away my hiking boots had developed some small slits on the sole running parallel to the ground. I checked on them whilst we had stoppped and realised they grown to several inches long. Alex couldn't see how bad they were so told me not to worry until I showed her one of my hiking boots could now talk to her. With my flappy boot we set off back to town. I didn't really feel the broken boots but when we got back to town we bought some super glue and whilst Alex was cooking I tried to glue the sole of my boots back together. This didn't go to plan and I ended up sticking my hand to the boots, the boots smoking profusely and me running to the pharmacy panicking (allegedly like a little girl). In my defence it was burning my hand and trying to explain super glue in a different language is tricky.
The next day we set out on the 27km trail to Laguna de los Tres. Another beautiful lake in front of the Fitz Roy peaks. This was scheduled to take 4 hours each way and after reaching the 3 hour mark we were pretty pleased with our time. Crossing a river we looked up to see the mountain range peeking out behind a smaller (but still large) hill. Naively we assumed we were to go round it and maintained this belief even as the trail started to climb. It was only when we saw the ant sized people at the top that we realised we were going over. This didn't fill either of us with joy. Without my hiking boots I was reduced to my half inch thick sole 8 pound Primark shoes. I don't think this kind of walking is what they were designed for, but it gives you a good feel for the trail you are walking over. An hour of solid vertical later we reached the top. As the steps reached over a foot in height Alex's small legs struggled but even with insistences she wouldn't make it she did. We had lunch looking over the incredible lake, which perfectly reflected the peaks above. At the water level it gave a kaleidoscopic effect. Well worth the effort and clearly the reason why people put themselves through the testing climb. The way back was just as long and hard on the knees. It took a lot of concentration to navigate the steep steps. Tired but pleased with our achievement, we tucked into jacket potatoes with plenty of butter, cheese and veg and went to bed early in preparation for our monumental 27 hour bus to Barioloche planned for the next day.
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