Walking: El Chalten
The many trails and slopes around the Mount Fitz Roy are a walkers' paradise
El Chalten is, undoubtedly, the destination to head to in Argentina if you are keen on walking and would like something that is a little more taxing. The area around the town has a wide range of walking and climbing to choose from, ranging from technical to novice. The accommodation in the town is not as developed as the nearby El Calafate, but it is ample for resting the tired limbs after a long day on the trails.
As mentioned in the El Chalten overview, this area and the town are relatively new to the tourist trade and so there is a pioneer feel to the place. This, for us, is definitely one of its charms…it may be slightly tatty around the edges, but there is no doubt that it will just get better and better.
With a whole range of different walks to choose from, starting at around an hour and going up to a couple of days (for something like an attempt on the Fitz Roy), there is enough to keep most occupied for anything up to a week. Probably the most popular of these is the trail through to the Laguna de los Tres that sits right in front of the Fitz Roy mount, offering fantastic views of this famous landmark (the mount is at around 3,400m high). Just at the bottom of the final climb is a small campsite that, for the many climbers that come to El Chalten, provides an overnight stopping point before attempting the summit of the Fitz Roy the following day.
To the southwest of the Fitz Roy, and east of El Chalten, is the Cerro Torre. Between them, these two peaks are the most frequently climbed in Argentina, and probably most savage from a weather point of view, as climbers often have to wait days or weeks in order to get the timing right to attempt the summit. Quite often, as you are walking along, you will notice that the high clouds have been whipped into what look like flying saucers, due to the high altitude winds that streak through the skies.
There is a range of good accommodation in the area although, as El Chalten caters mainly to climbers who will be using their own camping equipment, there are only a few Accom that we recommend to clients…none of which afford views of the Fitz Roy itself strangely enough!
Click here to view some video footage of the El Chalten area.
One of the harder but also the more popular of the trails in the region, the Laguna de los Tres offers close and outstanding views of the Cerro Fitz Roy (3405m) and it’s two sister peaks. The first thing to bear in mind with this trail is that the final part climbs around 500 meters at a 45 degree angle and so, if the weather is either windy or wet then it makes things very difficult indeed. We rate this walk as a moderate to difficult and should only be attempted by people of a good fitness level.
There are a couple of ways to approach the Campemento Poincenot, either string the trail at the northern end of El Chalten, or by heading further north to where the Rio Blanco meets the Rio Electrico. Often many will complete a full circuit by starting by one and finishing by the other.
Starting along the Rio Blanco valley, you wind through dense forests of Lenga trees, slowly beginning to wend a way up along the river valley. Most of the walking is fairly easy here with occasional breaks in the foliage to catch glimpses of the valley and the sleeping giants on the other side, with glaciers cascading from them.
Once at the top of the incline, the walking becomes a lot flatter again and meanders along the glacial valley floor with small Lenga and bushes punctuating the trail. To the right the peaks of the Fitz Roy are obscured, but it is a good chance to see the Glaciar Piedras Blancas from a distance.
On arrival at the Campemento Poincenot it is worth catching your breath and preparing for the steep climb to the mirador itself. This is approximately 30 mins of steep climbing up scree and so can be fairly challenging for those who are out of shape. The climb is, however worth it. At the summit, buffered by the inevitable winds, the view of the Laguna and the Fitz Roy from this distance are outstanding! If you still have the puff then descend 200 meters to the left for a glimpse of the Laguna Sucia that looks out onto the Glaciar Rio Blanco.
The descent back to El Chalten is a similarly beautiful walk, winding through the open grasslands and Lenga forests, past the Laguna Capri, Madre and Hija. As you turn round you are still afforded outstanding views of the Fitz Roy with the many clouds that are blown up over its back.
The last of the major walks in the area, the Laguna Toro is situated to the south of the National Park and is the only viewpoint that offers a view on both the Fitz Roy and the Cerro Torre. This is a fairly scenic trail on the whole that skirts around the eastern face of the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado peak (1490m) and runs west along the valley of the Rio Tunel. The walking is more of f a stroll than anything but, as it is quite far and also fairly exposed to wind and sun, it is worth preparing for and not to be taken too lightly.
The trail starts off from the visitor centre to the south of the main town and heads into fairly thick forest. From here it starts to meander up towards the peak of Pliegue (there is an option here to head up the peak that, while not being overly demanding, does offer a fantastic panoramic view of the area) and then branches left.
As you round the southern side of the mount the trail starts to descend gradually to the valley of the Tunel and heads west to the southern most edge of the Glaciar Tunel. As you arrive at the Laguna Toro there is also some very good climbing off to the right in one of the small crevasses that has been formed over the millennia.
Offering outstanding views of the Cerro Torre peak (3102m), the solitary and most jagged shard of the range, this hike is best attempted when the weather is fairy clear. Partly due to the fact that it can get windy along the trail, and partly as the Cerro itself is notoriously difficult to see as it is usually covered in cloud at all time.
The trail itself starts at the western edge of El Chalten town itself and meanders its way through large boulders and open grasslands typical of Patagonian steppe. From here you then wander on past open grassland marsh and more scrub bush land. After approximately 40 minutes of easy walking you will then arrive at a junction where a trail comes in from the south (this leads in from a different trail starting point). Once the two trails have merged it is a matter of walking up to the Mirador Laguna Torre that offers the first view along the valley to the Laguna and to the Cerro Torre itself.
Set in amongst glaciers the jagged tooth of the Cerro Torre truly is a sight to behold. Often, with high altitude winds constantly blowing, the clouds in the sky can be whipped into what look like space ships of some kind. The Torre itself is one of the meccas for climbers from around the world in part due to its accessibility, but also as it is a hard peak to climb due to the changing conditions.
From the Mirador, it is a matter of descending down to the edge of the Laguna itself and the Campamento De Angostini and the final stopping place for those climbers looking to attempt the peak. As you follow the lake along its northern edge you will finally arrive at the Mirador Maestri and a view of both the Torre and the Glaciar Grande.
Viedma Glacier is located in Los Glaciares National Park and is the largest in Argentina, flowing directly from the Southern Patagonian ice field into the lake. It has some dark, deep lines on the surface that are volcanic ashes strips mixed with ice. Viedma Lake was “discovered” by Antonio de Viedma, in 1877. The ice in the Viedma Glacier is very well suited for real ice climbing due to its many crevasses and cliffs. This activity is suited for people with some walking experience, in good shape and used to practicing active-outdoor sports. The instruction includes basic crampon walking techniques, basic use of Ice axes, important safety knots, glacier travel, and ice climbing fundamentals. There is no upper age limit as long as you are in good physical shape and it's therefore a good alternative for those who are unable to do the Big Ice Trek at Perito Moreno.