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.
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 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.