Saturday, March 16, 2013

A Long Hike

The town of El Chalten is small, and with character.  There are 500 permanent residents but in the summer, over 60,000 people descend on this  trekking capital of Argentina, and the starting point for the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciars. The main street consists of hostels, hosterias, small restaurants and adventure operators.  During the day, it empties out and at night, dogs roam and many people are walking up and down the street.  It appears that many of the guests are tourists, young hikers and climbers. We hear many languages spoken here, English, French and Spanish. It is quite convenient to get around without a car as most adventure companies offer bus service.  There are 2 daily bus transers from El Calafate to El Chalten, and vice versa.  

The information on the internet is sparse regarding the hiking options. The girl at the Poincenot Hotel is much more helpful.  There is one major and most popular hike which goes to the face of Mt. Fitz Roy.  You can start at El Chalten or take a bus to El Pilar where you hike up or ride the gondola up to Poincenot. We starts at the end of Av. San Martin and do the 400meter climb through the woods of lenga trees just starting to turn color.  We imagine how fiery red the hillsides will look in a few weeks. The open areas give us a teaser of the jagged mountain peaks and the trail quickly rises above the Rio Blanco river valley.  After about 3 hrs. or about 4 miles, you reach the base camp of Poincenot where there is a campground.  At this point, the trail rises quite steeply for about a 1-2 hrs climb. The trail has large steep boulders and gravel; it is a hard climb, one of the toughest we have ever done. Even though we are climbing without backpacks and at low altitude, I find the top painful, whether from the fear of the height or the tall steps or just the difficulty of the climb, I donĀ“t know.  I am about to suggest we quit, when a couple, on their way down, encourages me to take one step at a time and keep going.  Thank you!   The view along the way is stupendous, over the valley and lakes. Through openings, you get a teaser view of Mt. Fitz Roy.  The trail gets steeper still.  At the top, there is yet another hill to climb for about half and hour, after which you reach the ridge.  Below is an emerald Laguna de los Tres and the face of Fitz Roy looms in front of you.  It is an incredible sight.  You can hear the glacier calving as you sit and contemplate this enormous glacier.  Glaciar de los Tres spills downwards to the shore of Laguna de los Tres, a glacial tarn, 

The hike down is much easier than I had feared, fortunately. The walk back though is much longer than we had thought and in total we hike 15 miles in 11 hrs - 4 of which were spent photographing and resting.

We end the day with a fine dinner at the Microbrewery, the apple pie is excellent.

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