El Chalten and Monte Fitz Roy – one of the world’s greatest hikes

Today I crossed the border by bus back into Argentina.

Bus travel in Latin America is comfortable and convenient – at least for a five-to-six-hour trip like this one.  I took some last photos of Chilean Patagonia from my window.

A last view of Chilean Patagonia

Across the border in Argentina, the landscape was quite different – dry and initially flat. We arrived at the small town of El Calafate (more about this in a future blog), where I collected my hire car and headed off to the village of El Chalten, 250km away.

On the RN40 heading north

The road was perfect. Straight, surfaced, and scenic. It ran alongside pretty blue lakes with mountains far in the distance. At first my old friend RN40, took me north. Then after 150km I turned off to the west.  It was strangely quiet, and I crossed very few other vehicles. The road stretched away into the distance, straight like an arrow, and pointing at some magnificent mountains.

The Fitz Roy range appears ahead, small at first…

The Fitz Roy range in front of me would be the focus of my two days in El Chalten. I entered the Parque Nacional de los Glaciares, one of Argentina’s biggest natural parks.

…then larger….

As I sped along, the Fitz Roy range grew larger and larger.

….and larger…this time with El Chalten in the background

The village of El Chalten itself nestled in a pretty valley, at the foot of the mountains. I liked the place – there was fresh mountain air, amazing scenery and lots of small hostels, shops and restaurants – a typical hiker centre. But it was still very eerily quiet when I arrived at my hostel. I opened the car door and suddenly, from inside the building, there was an eruption of shouting. At first, I thought that there was a violent dispute, but then I realised the voices were happy. Someone emerged from the hostel and shouted “GOOOOOOOOL”.  Argentina had just scored their second goal in their world cup match against Mexico, and thereby avoid elimination at the group stages.

Argentina’s national passion

Inside the hostel everyone was glued to the television. The owner gestured to me that she would be free in five minutes, when the match ended. Nothing is more important in Argentina than football. The match ended, I checked in and set off to explore the town, which was now humming with people celebrating Argentina’s win. Pedestrians hugged each other whilst cars hooted their horns. Two pick-up trucks drove around, carrying groups of flag-waving children. It took an hour for the town to calm down again.

I had a very good dinner, before settling down for a sound night’s sleep ahead of hard day’s walking – the famous hike to Mount Fitz Roy. I set off at eight along an easy, gently sloping trail. The views of the mountain in front of me – a sight I had now seen for 90km since I turned off the RN40 – became more and more impressive.

Ftiz Roy gets bigger again….
…and again…

The path passed through woods and then a pretty river valley before reaching a steep slope. A sign said that the final km would involve a climb of 400m, take an hour, and should only be attempted by fit hikers. It was hard going, made harder by a discouraging sign reached after 40 minutes, which said that there was still one hour to go. The climb was worth it; when I reached the last ridge, a view opened of Mount Fitz Roy right in front of me, with a brilliant blue, partially ice-covered lake at its foot. It was one of the most stunning mountain sights I had ever seen, and I stayed there enjoying it for over an hour.

The magnificent view at the end of the hike

It was finally time to head back. If the way up was hard on the muscles, the way down was hard on the knees, but it offered a different set of views, this time of the valley spreading out from the mountain’s base.

On the way down…the valley
Tired legs but home is in sight – El Chalten

I made it back to hostel six hours after I had set off, and was tired after a 20km round trip. But it was one of the most memorable hikes I had ever done.

After a shower and a snooze, I rewarded myself with a steak and good bottle of red wine in a restaurant – a good way to end a memorable day.

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