P.N. Los Glaciares: FitzRoy

FitzRoy (El Chaltén), with Laguna Madre in the foreground.

If Torres del Paine is Chiles park of wonders, then Parque National Los Glaciares is Argentinas fantasy land. From the giant lagos Argentino & Viedma to the massive glaciers flowing from the mountains to the misty forests of Lenga and the towering spires of FitzRoy and Cerro Torre, P.N. Los Glaciares is a land to rival J.R.R. Tolkien's middle earth.

3/2/2002; 49º20' south- Camp Bridwell. Hiked 10km in 3hrs:

This region of PN Los Glaciares is notorious for bad weather; stories abound of climbers waiting for months at a time for one clear day in which to climb Cerro Torre. So I wasn't too surprised when we first viewed the peak, and the top half was shrouded in clouds. Disappointed, but not surprised. After setting up camp we strolled up to Lago Torre, but the clouds got even lower and the wind was fierce, so we went back to camp, made dinner and hit the sack.

Cerro Torre disappearing into ever-present clouds.

3/3/2002; 49º17' south- Camp Poincenot. Hiked 4km with daypack and 10km with full pack in 5hrs:

The next morning we awoke to more of the same, but opted for a short hike up to mirador Maestri on the off chance that it might clear. It didn't. However, there were several beautiful small waterfalls on the way, so all was not lost. Afterwards we packed up and hiked over to Camp Poincenot on a wonderful trail through Lenga forest, stopping at a nice slate beach on Laguna Hija for lunch, and spotting various insects and fauna, including a literally "Pint-sized" Owl.

Lunch break at Laguna Hija, and an owl that wasn't much bigger than a soda can.

Continuing our hike around Lagunas Hija and Madre, views of FitzRoy were gradually unveiled, until the entire massif was visible on our left. There were a few clouds hanging around the summit, but the views were much better than those of Cerro Torre. It was all I could do to keep from tripping as I hiked along with my eyes on the mountains rather than the trail. Later the sun set from behind the mountain with a veil of thin clouds in front creating eerie shadows better than any movie special effects.

El Chaltén, the smoking mountain.

There are several semi-informative signs posted around the town of El Chaltén, one of which relates the Legend of El Chaltén (translated from Aonikenk to Spanish, Spanish to English, and then posted on a sign with letters that were falling off):

Chaltén is the tehuelche name given to the mountain which later would be baptised by Perito Moreno as FitzRoy. In the aonikenk language it means ‘Mountain that smokes’.

Chaltén mountain symbolises the most appraised of the aonikenk traditions of the Chonek people.

The Chonek people, created by Kooche (God), were living in a wild state, fighting hand to hand with the beasts to procure their food, and sheltering in grottoes. An exceptional child called Elal, that was not of their race is saved from the claws of a giant, thanks to the timely intervention of the swan (Kookn), who in a non stop flight, moves him from the island where he had been born to the uninhabited patagonian lands, putting him on the crest of the most beutiful and grandiose patagonian summit: Chaltén, the FitzRoy of the current geography. He stayed there three days, carefully fed and protected by the birds who had accompanied him. Released to his own means, he must fight with three enemies that were stalking to kill him: the cold, the snow and the wind. He defends himself of the first by beating some flints and discovers fire; of the second by fabricating a tent with guanaco skin, and of the third using a c__e (letters were missing from that last word- wish I knew what it was!). He transmits these inventions to his friends the aonikenk, together with the bow and arrow to defend themselves from the beasts... Elal, after having lived much time with his friends, leaves behind his wise teaching on morals and life. He went to seek the Sun’s daughter, Venus, in the form of a little bird, led by his own mother (who had been transformed into a swan with splendid powerful wings). After defeating the three challenges set slyly by the Sun he achieves the hand of the damsel upon placing the mysterious ring that was hidden in the deepness of the cavern on her finger.

Over there, next to the Sun, Elal waits for his friends, the aonikenk, offering them abundant game in the space worlds. As a test of his good will, he left printed in the sky the track of the choique (rheidae), which is the Southern Cross constellation (choiols), to indicate the way. That is why the patagonian man watches with pleasure the starry sky.

3/4/2002; 49º17' south- Camp Poincenot. Hiked 24km with daypack in 8hrs:

We woke to clear blue skies and a light wind. I gazed up at the fading alpenglow on FitzRoy where there wasn't even the tiniest of clouds on the summit, and I knew it would be a good day. After a quick breakfast we headed up a steep climbers trail to Lago de los Tres (three climbers that is, the first three to summit FitzRoy), where there was a stunning vista of FitzRoy rising out of Glacier Blanco, with the aquamarine waters of Lago de los Tres below. Mandy and I noticed a small rocky ridge even closer, and we scrambled to the near summit of the ridge for even better views with the half moon setting between FitzRoy and Poincenot. Wow. The peaks and towers of Torres del Paine are beautiful, but they lack the sharp lines and angles of FitzRoy and Cerro Torre; like comparing a Porsche to a Ferrari. FitzRoy and the surrounding mountains are also made more beautiful by the simple fact that they are actually visible for so few days in the year!

The granite walls of Poincenot & FitzRoy reach to the moon.

I want to hang out at Lago de los Tres for the rest of the day, but I sense that this is a rare opportunity to see Cerro Torre. What the heck, it's only 10km over there, and I have eight hours of daylight, so I scramble back down to camp and start hoofing it over to Lago Torre. After two hours of fast hiking, I crest a small hill and at the head of the valley in front of me, Cerro Torre stabs into the blue sky. I stop for a moment to catch my breath (both literally and figuratively), and then hike another half hour to Lago Torre, take a few photos, and then sit down and gaze in awe at the peak. Words and pictures can not describe it.

Cerro Torre (no adjectives required).

To this day Cerro Torre is renowned as one of the most difficult peaks in the world to climb. In 1959 Italians Cesare Maestri and Toni Egger set out to climb Cerro Torre, and afterwards Maestri was found disoriented and unable to recall much of the climb. Alas, Egger had fallen and perished during the descent, taking with him their camera. Maestri returned the next year to recover Eggers body and the camera, but to no avail. And so the first ascent was in doubt, and Maestri returned in 1970 and climbed the peak using a compressor and drill to place bolts for most of the climb. Bolting is considered bad form in some climbing circles, and so his ascent drew storms of protest, and the more commonly recognized first ascent was achieved by another Italian team lead by Casimiro Ferrari in 1974.

3/5/2002; 49º14' south- Camp Piedra de Fraile. Hiked 20km in 5hrs:

After a beautiful day yesterday we awoke to light snow and sleet this morning, packed up and headed over towards camp Piedra de Fraile. Along the way we passed by Lago Piedra Blanca, with yet another stunning glacier tumbling down into it (every valley has a stunning glacier, thus the name of the park). Mandy notices that the trail we are hiking would be a great single track mountain bike ride, and wonders just what the brochure means by "Ask the ranger before riding your bike in the park". Several hours brings us down to a road, and then a couple more up the next valley to the north brings us to Camp Piedra de Fraile (Monk's rock) which is on private land outside of the park. Sergio the caretaker is packing up camp for the season, which is a week long process of horse trips down the valley and back. He has spent the past four months running the camp with his wife and one year old child, but now it is getting cold and it's time to head back to their home in Gobenador Gregores, Argentina. Fortunately there are some bottles of vino and some fresh baked bread still available, and there is a cozy fire blazing in the stove in Sergios hut, so we have a nice stay despite the cold camping. Sergio and his wife were wonderful people, and after chatting for a while Sergio asked me to translate a postcard that had been sent to him which was written in English. I butchered it up quite a bit, but I got the general point across that the Americans who sent the postcard enjoyed their stay.

Sergio and Mandy

3/6 - 3/8/2002; 49º19' south- El Chaltén, Argentina. Short day hikes & futzing about:

Well, the bus up to Los Antiguos on the 7th was full, and the next bus out of town doesn't leave until the 9th, so we had a few days to bum around town, do day hikes, organize, repair gear and make up silly lists.

You know you are in El Chaltén when:

Upon returning to the ranger station to pick up our bags, we discovered that an industrious mouse had chewed numerous holes in the BOB bag, and so I got out the patch kit and seam sealer and spent several hours patching the bag inside and out. I also worked on the web page and typed up some e-mails, and re-organized my gear and packed. We did several day hikes, the first of which was up the trail towards Lago del Torro to the south of town. It was cold and rainy in town, and after a while we ended up trudging through ankle deep wet snow, and so we cut the hike short once we got to a ridge overlooking the lake and Passo del Viento (windy pass).

An amazing balanced rock just off the trail to Lago Toro.

The next day I did a short hike up the road to Salto del Chorillo with a nice guy from Seattle named Chris who was staying at the same hostel, about 8km north of town. It was a beautiful waterfall with a nice pool below, and had it been warmer we would have jumped in. Meanwhile Mandy talked a local gaucho into letting her ride one of his horses across the river so that she could get good views from the hill on the opposite side.

Salto del Chorillo

I met Elizabeth (from Boulder) & friends at Lago Torre, and they guaranteed at least four hits on my web site if I would post their picture- so here it is!! :)

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