The Best in El Chalten

Rarely do we ever linger for very long in any one place. But El Chalten in Los Glacieres national park has definitely lured us in and we’re still here! Crazy for us. It’s funny to have read about these places for so long and now be here checking them off. This hiker’s paradise has a 40 mile backpacking loop, the Huemul Circuit and we’ve been patiently waiting for the right weather to do it because it goes up into the ice field and you actually walk on the Viedma glacier, the largest one in Argentina, for a bit. You cross rivers with a climbing harness and cover varied terrain. We’re really looking forward to doing it and we’ve got the weather window now.

Los Glacieres NP, the largest park in Argentina is broken up into two parts. One is in El Calafate where the Perito Moreno glacier is the highlight and the other is El Chalten with Mt Fitzroy as the emblem. Perito Moreno is a beautiful blue glacier that you can get right up to on metal walkways and it calves all the time so is very active and exciting to watch. We had a beautiful day to see it. It is part of a complex of glaciers that represent the 3rd largest ice field in the world I read after Antarctica & Greenland. It was really cool to see and they’d done a great job of making lots of solid structured viewpoints to take in all the angles. It is touristy though and only required a few hours.

Speaking of touristy, after visiting the glacier, we went to a really cool glacier museum in El Calafate and learned a few more things about them. I didn’t realize that glaciers make up nearly all of the world’s fresh water. I’d mistakenly thought that most of it was underground to just pull up from a well. Not so. Seawater makes up 97% of course. 3% is left as fresh with glaciers making up 77% of that amount. The museum had an ice bar and since we’d never been in one, we did it. They give you coats with hoods and gloves and then take you in to a huge freezer room with ice for everything from seats, walls, the bar, your glass and some carvings and an igloo. You get 2 drinks of anything you choose but we have a great liking for Patagonian made gin! Delicious. Afterward we drove across the road to a beautiful hillside campspot in the grasses for a quiet night. It’s great having our truck here.

There is a quieter section of the same park on the other side of the lake 30km down a bumpy road that leads to high mountain Patagonian scenery and a very steep hike up Cerro Cristal. We got an early start for this hike and had excellent conditions to get up to the summit, hang out for a bit and watch the condors soaring. Around here, you never have to wonder what clothes to bring with you. You just bring them all! Then you put them on and take them off all day long. Recently, even shorts! They had a sign that the trail to the summit was closed but the ranger had said we could do it. On the way down, another ranger seemed perplexed that we’d gone by the closed sign and in the end just told us we were “on our own”. Ok, when were we not? That left us perplexed.

It is the time for the calafate berry, for which the town is named but also the whole region is full of these lovely looking purple blueberry look-alikes. Try as we might, we can’t like them. They initially taste OK but then you are left with a wad of seeds that you don’t know what to do with and a purple mouth. We wish we could get as excited as the locals but not yet.

Then we moved over to the northern section of Los Glaciers NP in the town of El Chalten where all the major hiking is and more flagship scenery. The visitor center and the park brochure remind us of the US parks and the whole town is obscessed with hiking. In the winter it pretty much shuts down but now in full season, there are hikers everywhere. We met up with Ivan again here and started doing the major sightseeing trails. We would get out on the trail at 6:30 to beat the crowds and have the trail mainly to ourselves until the way down when everyone else was headed up. Mt Fitzroy with its crazy 2 blue lakes, a beautiful volcano looking mountain called Loma del Pliegue Tumbado which was steep as but offered a magical view, brown glacier lakes with blue icebergs floating, wooded trails through cow filled fields, really gorgeous scenery. And after we finished all the big hitters, we founds tons of less crowded trails to what ended up being to us even more beautiful scenery minus the people. We did so many days of hiking I can’t even describe it all and when we weren’t doing that we were biking, sometimes both in a day. Wanted to take the packrafts out and it would have been great but not allowed in the park….. But climbing is… I don’t get it really. This is an amazing place and it is free too which is incredible. A very well run park and clean as a whistle.

It’s funny how different the zones can be in various areas of the park. One minute you’re in a forest, the next a mountaintop with a hanging glacier, the next on rolling wide open desert terrain looking at a powder blue lake but with huge floating icebergs in it that look like boats from a distance. On one trail we rented climbing harnesses to cross the river. This was practice for the Huemul circuit.

If you wonder if we’re still getting wind down here- well we are! It can be unbelievable! But then at other times, just breezy or even calm! We had to hide one night behind a hill at a ranch because we were to get gusts at near 70 mph. We went out for a walk in it to see what it felt like. You can’t tell here but it is REALLY windy!

On one evening biking back down from a day of trails, we came upon an endangered species of deer called a Huemul. It only lives in the forests of southern Argentina & Chile. One thing you don’t see much of down here is wildlife. Foxes, a blur of a puma, condors, guanacos, and a few other things but not a bunch. So it was nice to see this deer peacefully browsing.

On the top of Acatenango volcano in Guatemala where we hiked up to stay overnight in a cabin, we met a guy named Benson who was biking from Alaska to Ushuaia. We stayed in touch and then met up with him here in El Chalten for dinner! We felt really appreciative that he would spend time with us because even though we don’t feel it, we could be his parents! How DID that happen? It was fun to see him again and hear a few stories of the voyage. He’ll be finished soon and going to Antarctica for the finale. Bikepacking down here is very popular too. An impressive achievement.

Well, here are a few pics of our hikes. It is an obsession but then again, this is a bonanza of hiking opportunity. We like the little town of El Chalten and it has some great bakeries. The vibe is good and there are a ton of motorhomes here from all over the world. Our neighbors shipped their van from Greece! Another one had a backup warning that played the itsy bitsy spider. Every evening when they would arrive, that song would play like a children’s ice cream truck tune and get stuck in my head.

As I race along to 55 in a few days I think to myself that it’s not all bad, I have that wisdom that you get with age. I run on the hot side now rather than feeling cold all the time so I can handle frigid temps better. Slipping in to bed, Jon says no longer does he snuggle up to an iceberg, now I’m a hot potato! I’m really happy with what we’re doing and with what I’m able to do and I hope to continue into my next year!

Once we get back we do actually plan to move on from here although it will be hard.

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