Guest Post: Hiking in Patagonia
Sam, a native of London, has been living a semi-nomadic life for the last four years, teaching English around Europe and travelling to Asia and the Middle East. Finally, after seven years together, his partner Zab joined him and they left on one-way tickets to Buenos Aires in January 2013. You can follow their journey on their blog Indefinite Adventure.
Easy Hiking in El Chalten
Tucked away just past the far west end of Lake Viedma in Argentina’s second southern-most province, Santa Cruz, on the other side of the border from Chile’s famous Torres del Paine National Park, is a small town surrounded by mountains and a great place for easy day hikes. It’s called El Chalten.
While Torres del Paine does offer some spectacular views of the surrounding mountains, the hiking there is not so easy, and often requires multiple day trips and carrying one’s own tent.
El Chalten is a great alternative. The town itself is an unremarkable street lined with the usual (and slightly overpriced) hotels, hostels, restaurants, cafes and convenience shops, but it is the setting that attracts so many hikers.
Mounts Torre and Fitzroy loom over the town, which despite only being in the 3,000m range, weren’t ascended until the 1950s. While many people now travel to El Chalten specifically to climb them, that certainly doesn’t count as easy hiking!
What does, however, are many of the trails starting in the town and going out towards the base of the mountain range, the most popular of which is probably the route to Laguna Torre, a lagoon at the base of Mount Torre.
It’s an all day hike, lasting at most 4 hours in each direction with only 200m of up and down over the whole route, most of it at the beginning where you must ascend from the valley where the town lies up one side. There are a few points where the path narrows, and force you to walk in single file, but it is mostly a very easy path with great views along the way.
Finding the trailhead in town is easy; there is basically only one and it clearly indicates that it leads to Laguna Torre. If in doubt, just follow all the other hikers!
Once you begin the relatively easy ascent up out of the valley, you’ll get lovely views over the town, the river flowing through it and over the other side of the valley. As you press on and the path flattens out, you’ll start to get views of the top of Torre Glacier in the distance.
After about two hours, including some up and down, you’ll come to a viewpoint (mirador, in Spanish) out over the river valley and an unobstructed view of the glacier.
Then you’ll begin to descend slightly, passing an eerie dead forest and coming down beside the river itself. Here the path is flat and at its easiest for just over an hour.
The last twenty minutes or so are probably the hardest, with a shallow ascent up a path of loose, volcanic rock. It is also the most desolate at this point, with almost nothing growing except for some moss. But once you reach the lagoon, the views of Mount Torre and its glacier can be spectacular.
Unfortunately, on the day we were there, there was a lot of very low cloud and we couldn’t actually see the peak! It was also very windy as is often the case in El Chalten and the surrounding area in summertime due to its location right next to the Southern Andean ice field and the cold wind coming off it meeting the warm air in the valleys below.
This meant that although we didn’t need our coats for most of the hike, we definitely needed them for the area around the lagoon, as well as our hats and gloves. However, the views, despite the cloud, were definitely worth it.
If you are planning a visit to Argentine Patagonia, and would like to fit in some easy hiking to take in all the beautiful mountain scenery without actually going up the mountains, El Chalten is definitely the place for it.
Click here for more information (in Spanish) about the hike in El Chalten, including a basic map. Have a read, too, of what I wrote about visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier near El Chalten in El Calafate, which is much bigger and more impressive than the glacier I mention in this post.