A mecca for climbers—and anyone who loves mountains

We are back in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park), this time in the sturdy little town of El Chaltén, located right at the edge of the park. It consists of lodging, restaurants, excursion companies—everything geared to the people who come here from all over the world to climb and hike during the summer season. Here is a photo of the town, which is nestled into a valley on the edge of the national park.


The amazing thing about this place is that you access most hiking trails by walking directly from town. Climbing the granite spires of Cerros FitzRoy and Torre, and hiking to see these peaks and the glaciers that have carved them, are THE attractions. We were stunned to see Cerro FitzRoy appear just after we arrived in town yesterday afternoon. The photo below was taken from in front of the place where we’re staying in town.


Cerro FitzRoy was named by Perito Moreno (intrepid explorer and naturalist) for the captain of the Beagle. But the aboriginal people had already named it El Chaltén or “god of smoke” because of its almost permanent veil of clouds. Well, at least the town still retains the original name.

Today we hiked to Laguna de Los Tres, a cirque lake at the bottom of the three FitzRoy towers, and an access route for rock climbers. The difficulty here is not the elevation—the mountain is only about 3400 meters (about 11,000 feet) above sea level. The difficulty is the extreme and rapidly changing weather conditions. In El Chaltén town, even in the summer the highs are in the upper 50s and the wind is fierce. In the mountains it is much more extreme and snow falls anytime of year.

The photo below is of the three towers from Laguna de Los Tres, at an elevation of just over 1200 meters. It was not possible to see the top of FitzRoy (rightmost of the three towers), but even the bottom of the tower makes a breath-taking view. Try to imagine, if you will, climbing up this tower to the very top (it’s 36 hours of continuous climbing for those with enough skill to attempt it).


Like in Yosemite Valley, the towers are made of granite, the favorite rock of most climbers. Unlike in Yosemite, this granite is not part of the long continuous range. Rather, it is a small igneous intrusion, and most rock in the area is older sedimentary and volcanic rocks (more on that later).

The Laguna is a beautiful cirque lake that formed when the melting glacial water filled the bowl that was formed by ice erosion. Here is a photo of the lake and the receding glacier.


Looking the other direction shows the terrane traversed to get to the Laguna. The town of El Chaltén is not visible in the narrow valley separating the forested area in green from the hills in the distance.


A note on travel options: It is possible to travel by bus between Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego, but it is a long distance. Rather, we choose to take a short (one hour) flight between El Calafate and Ushuaia. From El Calafate, we got a bus (3.5 hours) to El Chaltén, which most people visit for just a few days (it doesn’t even have a bank or an ATM!) We will stay for 6 days though—we loaded up on cash before making the journey here!

On the way to El Chaltén, Jay took a photo of the Argentina flag, with its sun and blue stripes against the sky seeming an appropriate symbol of this place.


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