NYE, 2015: As 2015 drew to a close we headed to Argentina’s trekking capital, El Chalten. After the drama and awful weather of Torres del Paine we were stoked to find glorious, sunny weather and arguably more impressive (and free) hiking.
Hiking El Chalten: the mission to get there
From Puerto Natales we had to cross back into Argentina, spend an excruciating few hours getting to El Calafate and then finally on to El Chalten. Our bus to El Calafate crawled along at 60km/hr the whole way for no apparent reason other than the driver seemed to be enjoying the views. While the views were spectacular it took all my willpower to hold my tongue and not point out that the bus could go at least 30 – 40km/hr faster. From El Calafate it was another few hours drive to get to El Chalten which was a far more enthralling trip except for the charming smell of urine emanating from the bus toilet. The last hour was especially awesome as we drove along Lake Viedma with the Patagonian steppe / desert on one side and lake, mountains and glacier on the other. Not for the first time did I feel like I was part of a soundtrack that soared in tune with the glorious views which whizzed past my window.
Hiking El Chalten: a town built for trekking
El Chalten itself turned out to be a great little town purpose built in 1985 to create an Argentinean trekking capital. It’s situated beside el Rio de las Vueltas (River of Curves) in a long glacial valley with snow capped mountains visible all around. The town itself boasts a couple of microbreweries which take advantage of the pristine glacial water to create delicious craft beers. There are also a bunch of sweet little restaurants serving up lamb of all different varieties not to mention a curious dessert named ‘Vigilante’ (semi hard cows milk cheese topped with sweet potato jelly). All of the above were frequented and ably enjoyed with Tom and Jen, an awesome couple from the UK who we met on the Torres del Paine trek. Catching up with these two would be the start of a beautiful and highly entertaining couples crush, not to mention hilarious adventures…. more on that later.
Hiking El Chalten: Stunning Mt Fitz Roy
After a day or two of lazing around in El Chalten we got back into the proper hiking with walks to the majestic and epically beautiful Cerro Torre and Mt Fitz Roy. Both hikes were 20km+ roundtrips through amazing scenery but our day trekking to Mt Fitz Roy was hands down the best. We finally managed to score perfect sunny weather and the whole trek was through exceptional scenery. From glassy lakes to bubbling mountain streams and huge glacial valleys, the approach to the craggy peaks of Mt Fitz Roy was stunning. The last 1km up to the top was quite tough but rewarded us with epic views up to the peak and the Patagonian ice field which lay beyond. All in all, magic.
Hiking El Chalten: ice climbing Viedma Glacier
Our final day at El Chalten (new years eve) took us ice climbing on the Viedma Glacier, the largest glacier in Argentina at ~950km2. While I was reluctant to go ice climbing due to my ever increasing fear of heights, FI convinced me that we should do it and I’m glad she did. We had awesome guides who gave us great gear (boots, crampons, harness, helmet and ice picks) and good, practical advice and demonstrations. After hiking up onto the glacier we spent a solid few hours climbing up, and rappelling down near vertical ice crevasses (and overhangs). While it was damn hard, it definitely got easier and by the final climb we felt ‘relatively’ comfortable.
Our final climb involved rappelling 10 – 12m’s down into a crevasse of the most beautiful blue ice imaginable. After a while the walls of the crevasse narrowed such that it was impossible to go further and for a moment I hung in my harness at the bottom and plucked up the courage to look down and around me at the ice. In the belly of the glacier where the ice has been continually compressed over the millennia, nearly all air bubbles have been squeezed out leaving the ice an exquisite almost impossible blue colour which was really quite mesmerising. A few moments was all I was brave enough for before digging in with my crampons and ice picks to clamber my way back out again. That climb and the glass of Baileys with glacial ice which followed made for a quality last day to 2015.
That evening we were both so knackered from climbing and doing battle with rubbish wifi that we only managed to make it to around 1am before calling it a night. We still managed a tasty if not mildly excessive new years eve dinner of loads of empanadas and Malbec while watching the sun go down over the river and the mountains.
Goodbye 2015 and hello to a very exciting 2016!
Hiking El Chalten: a few other tips
- We saw in new years eve at a tiny little atmospheric wine bar called La Vineria (265 Lago Del Desierto Ave, http://www.elchalten.com/lavineria/indexen.php). It has a huge range of good wine and craft beer for such a tiny little town and the cheese and charcuterie boards looked awesome as well.
- Cerveceria Artesanal El Chalten (564 Av. San Martín) was also an awesome little micro brewery serving an interesting range of beers and rustic tasty food
- For probably the cheapest meal in town head to Che Empanadas (535 Av. San Martin). Buy a box of the delicious little pastries, grab a bottle (or box) of vino and then sit on the grass watching the sun go down over the mountains.
- We didn’t stay anywhere special in El Chalten and when we were looking online for a booking found everything really expensive e.g. USD120/night/double room*. Once we got there though we found quite a few little places which weren’t super fancy but were much cheaper e.g. USD15/night/person in six bed dorm. If we went back we would ideally take camping gear as there were plenty of spots to hitch a tent and this would have definitely been the cheapest way (if not slightly chilly).