Monte Fitz Roy, Patagonia: variations on a granite theme.

Sometimes, it feels ok to stop riding, stretch the legs, and remind myself what life as a biped feels like. Especially when I find myself in a spot like Los Glaciares National Park, in Argentinian Patagonia.

Comparable to Chile’s well trodden Torres del Paine, the granite silhouette of Monte Fitzroy is the stuff of picture postcards and mountaineering legends. It’s classic Patagonia. As such, it draws a community of hardy climbers each year, waiting patiently for that rare weather window; the green light to tackle what some consider as the most challenging mountain to climb on the planet – right up to its 3045m peak.

Certainly, this whole region has long been the stomping ground of the climbing greats. I was fortunate enough to bump into a Welsh film crew filming a documentary on Eric Jones, a 77 year old climbing/sky diving/base jumping legend, whose CV includes such notable feats as: being the first Brit to solo climb the north face of the Eiger, basejumping off Venezuela’s Angel Falls (the oldest, at 61, to do this), and hot air ballooning over Mount Everest. As usual, cycling broke the ice. I returned to my bike to find Eric and the team marvelling at its fat tyres – Pugsleys are great conversation starters.

Anyway, for mere day hikers like myself, El Chaltén makes an excellent base to explore the national park, and traipse up to various magnificent miradors for soul replenishing sunrises.

If you would like to keep up with where I am between blog posts, I try and keep my While Out Riding facebook page regularly updated, along with posting extra photos. You can find it here

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Fitz Roy: at sunrise, from the Mirador de los Cóndores. As the name promised, a half dozen condors swooped overhead.

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10 minutes later…

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Fitz Roy again, from across the waters of the Lago del Desierto. I braved the glacial waters and swam in the lake. Beautiful.

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And en route to Laguna de los Tres.

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At the nearby Laguna Torre. I admit: I didn’t swim in this one…

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Real, genuine ice chunks floated in the lake, some the size of a fridge.

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Not always in eyeshot, but always there. Somewhere, way up above, are the granite towers of Monte Fitz Roy.

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By good fortune, I was able to meet up with Robert, hiking in the area with his partner Jo-Anne. Robert joined me for snowy adventures on the Great Divide in Montana, in the first few months of this American odyssey.. Thanks guys for a lovely dinner, and the trekking pole!

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It’s those granite spikes again: this time, forming a most suitable backdrop for the Mighty One.

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And leaving El Chaltén. Don’t forget to look back…

Top Tips:

There are stunning views of Fitz Roy, and its neighbour, Cerro Torre, from various points in the area.

I really enjoyed the 10km walk to Laguna de los Tres. It’s takes about 7-8 hours, round trip. If I’d had a backpack, I’d have camped out at Poincenot and enjoyed the sunrise from there. A note – even if it’s sunny, brings plenty of layers. It’s frigid and unbelievably windy by the glaciers.

The 4 hour roundtrip to Laguna Torre is another popular day hike. For a sunrise fix, Mirador de los Cóndores is just a brisk morning walk from El Chaltén; yet another great spot to see that classic red light bleed across its granite peaks.

El Chaltén

El Chaltén is a pricey little hangout, both for accommodation and grocery shopping. Bring a wad of cash – dollars are best, in these times of Argentinian economic instability. The ATM only works sporadically too, though many of the stores take Visa. There’s a few mini supermarkets for all the basics. My favourite spots were the climbing/ chocolate cafe (I forgot the name, but you need to go there) and the excellent Almazen, which has delicious local honey for 20 pesos a pot, and shelf upon shelf of herbs/spices/nuts and more. A Casa de Cyclistas of sorts, tourers can cram their tents into the yard of wonderful, crazy Flor – it’s tucked away in ‘upper El Chaltén’ behind the big, ugly red hotel. When I was there, I counted 13 tents in the yard, plus plenty more bodies sleeping in the house.

Oh, and wifi is head-bangingly slow in El Chaltén, so either get what you need done before, or save it until El Calefate, a couple of hundred kilometres down the road.

18 thoughts on “Monte Fitz Roy, Patagonia: variations on a granite theme.

    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Yes, that’s the one. Thanks. What a fantastic place. I’m ashamed to say I only discovered it on my way out of town.

      Reply
  1. Oliver

    Incredible photos, as usual! Impressive contrast and saturation. Do you use any filters or some post-procession? I’m a huge fan of your images and was already thinking about “turning one into a story”…

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Thanks kindly, Oliver. I use a mixture of presets I’ve concocted in Lightroom over the years, and recently, some of the VSCO ready-made ones – with a little tweaking. It’s hard to know exactly how they’re going to look, as I’m limited to my 11in Macbook Air screen. I try and keep to a few favourites, so the images have a ‘look’, and stand together as a set. At least, that’s the intention!

      Reply
      1. Oliver

        And I think your intention works pretty well! :) Thanks for your reply and these details Cass, much appreciated!! Will get back to you soon discussing a wee idea I have in mind since quite some time. Actually since I stumbled across your site and saw your impression from the road…
        Take it easy and speak soon!

        Reply
  2. Alex

    Eric is an absolute legend among British climbers. I remember him from my climbing days, he runs/ran the cafe underneath Tremadog; a popular crag in Gwynedd, north west wales. He couldn’t be more unassuming, they don’t make them like that anymore.

    Lovely snaps

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      Unassuming, for sure. I’d never have known what he’d been (and still is) up to unless I’d checked wikipedia…

      Reply
      1. Tom

        I grew up spending all school holidays in a little village not far from Tremadog – and always knew him from the Cafe – he sold his books there along with photos on the walls. Quite a man – the perfect antidote to the latest ‘rock hot shot’ come to try their hand at the crag above.

        Reply
  3. Jesse Martin

    El Chalten pricey? I spent $217 US for a whole month there last year (granted I was sleeping in the hills three quarters of the time). The key is to exchange your US dollars through the blue market (*cough*illegal*cough) in Buenos Aires or Bariloche before heading into the hinterlands. When I left it was 10 Pesos to 1 US at the blue market & about 6 Pesos to 1 US officially.

    Ahh, your pictures are making me miss Patagonia. That place has 5 months of my life so far 😀

    Reply
    1. Cass Gilbert Post author

      And the blue market rate is creeping up and up. 12 at the last count. Trouble is, all the store prices are going up too. And, unless you’re coming from a big city, it’s hard to get that rate elsewhere; certainly not in El Chaiten. Worth noting too is that $25 bills and less command a lot lot less. People like $100 bills most, tatter-free.

      Unfortunately, I have only a few US dollars left, so I’m working on official rates )-:

      Reply
      1. Jesse Martin

        If you are still in Puerto Natles, make sure to drink some beer at Baguales on the edge of the park in the center of town. Bloody good local beer (the Brewmaster is a climber).

        Reply

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