We (briefly) left Chile behind a week ago, and headed for El Calafate and El Chalten, in Argentinian Patagonia. Our destination was the most northern part of Los Glaciares National Park, where we would spend 4 nights looking at some pretty spectacular bits of granite. The aforementioned Wisconsinites had scouted ahead for us, and reported some cold conditions… This mostly held true for our first 48 hours, as we shivered in the mid-afternoon wind while waiting around to eat dinner. But man did we eat! Sheena and I believe we spent the same amount on food for this 5-day trek, as we did for the Torres del Paine 9-day trek… peanut butter, chocolate, cookies, mozzarella, muesli… all things we didn’t even have the first time around.
Los Glaciares was definitely different than Torres del Paine, mostly in a good way. We were sternly lectured by the Park Ranger when the bus pulled into El Chalten. “Leave No Trace” was an important message. The Park Ranger used every tactic to convey the importance of conservation here. He scared us into using the latrines by warning of puma attacks.. he pleaded with us to preserve this place “for the children.” He asked us if our own national parks had water so clean that we could drink it without purification (and then answered his question with a chuckle; no ours certainly did not). This part of the national park was free to enter, and free to camp. Following our normal backpacking guidelines was no burden, and a greatly welcomed message.
The two main attractions within this portion of the park are the Cerro Torre and the Cerro Fitz Roy massifs. We camped near the base of each our first two nights, and were generally rewarded with stunning views (at times). At Cerro Torre, we ran into a familiar traveler from the Netherlands. He related a very specific weather report, that the changing pressure would bring clearer skies within the next few hours. Lo and behold, two hours later the clouds magically started to evaporate and reveal the granite hidden on the other side. The weather seemed much more fickle than in Torres del Paine. We had rain, sun, cold, and wind just about every day.
In part because the Wisconsinites had recommended it, and in part because it was a place I hadn’t been before, we headed for the Piedra del Fraile refugio on night three. As we made our way up the Rio Electrico valley the winds howled and the air become colder, coming straight off the southern ice field. I had second thoughts about making the long trek all the way out there… but a nice Argentinian family greeted us upon arrival and showed us where the hot showers could be found. We spent the evening indulging in the world’s most expensive Quilmes Cristal ($8 for a 12oz beer…) next to a wood-fire stove, drying our hair from the nice shower (they had soap!).
Today is a day for relaxation. We spent 12 of the last 14 nights in a tent. Today we have had two meals, multiple cups of coffee, picked up clean laundry from the reception, and made progress in books, all from the warm dining room in our hostel. They say today is Sunday, so I guess it’s only appropriate that we rest.