We have met a lot of people in love with El Chalten. Amazing place in the north of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares and at the bottom of Fitz Roy mountain. This small village was established in 1985 and it’s very proud of being “Argentinan capital of trekking” (Bariloche, a city over 1,5 thousand kilometers to the north, also names itself with this title). We came here to verify if the village deserves the name it claims.
Trekking day number one reminds us of Dolina Kościeliska, a very popular valley in Zakopane, the winter capital of Poland. The easiest, 3-4 hours trail to Laguna Torre is full of one-day-tourists who walk without panting because of they don’t carry a backpack ready for a 4-day trek. However, our eyes look beyond them to one of the most controversial peaks in the world – Cerro Torre. Nobody will ever know who was the first person to climb it. Cesare Maestri, today a 80-year-old Italian climber and writer, claims he was the first one to do it together with Toni Egger in 1959 but few people believe him. When they were descending his partner (and the only witness) was killed by an avalanche and Maestri himself was found in snow, nearly dead, six days later. According to experts, Maestri’s report lacked important details and on the mountain there were no traces of his supposed climb. Maestri, probably irritated, decided to come back in 1970 to prove everyone that he could do it. He put 400 bolts on one of the mountain’s walls but he didn’t manage to reach the top of Cerro Torre. It was an Italian group of climbers who did so in 1974.
At the laguna, which in Spanish means lake, we have a tea-time although it’s not five o’clock. We decide to keep on trekking to the next camping because we find the one here too crowded. Unfortunately, we reach Poincenot only to realize that that there are too many hikers everywhere. But the trail it’s worth the trek anyway. The view over Laguna Madre e Hija took our breaths away.
In the morning we don’t have to rush– in Patagonia night doesn’t fall until 10 p.m. so there is no motivation to wake up at dawn. On our second day we want to reach Piedras del Fraile mountain shelter, on our way we pass by glacier Piedras Blancas and continue down to a riverbed where we got lost and reach the road. Two hours of pleasant and easy hike by the river and in the woods leads us to a little paradise. A small house between a turquoise and milky river (all waters which originate in glaciers are in this amazing colour) and rocks covered with forest. Silence. Just us and the couple who looks after the shelter and their 1,5-year-old son.
With the sunset the horseflies are finally gone, they are the only irritating thing when you hike in Patagonia (we have heard that the only way to make them stay away is to eat a lot of garlic but we haven’t tried). First it’s chilly and then it gets really cold, so we put on layers of clothes. The last one is Fjallraven’s anoraks (this is how arctic people call a waterproof jacket with a hoodie) made of eco-shell – one of the most precious things in our backpacks. The only thing we appreciate even more are Abisko sleeping bags of the same label – when temperature outside our tent drops to zero or below we tie our sleeping bags’ hoodies up and are warm and comfy all night long. They have one downside, though. It’s really hard to leave them on a chilly Patagonian morning.
On our third day we do some real trekking – we hike up the rock Piedra Negra. The mountain is so steep that stones fall below our feet all the time. There are only professional climbers with ripped trousers and sand and earth behind their nails passing by.
When we come back to our shelter it turns out that the couple with their child are gone. But there is sad and edged Roxana who is chopping vegetables for a soup. – I am having 13 Italians for a supper tonight and I am all alone – she complains. Roxana owns this place and the couple we met used to work for her but they left now unexpectedly in the middle of high season. She is desperate to find somebody to replace them because she also owns a hotel with a restaurant near Chalten. – I am so worried, my husband and two daughters are left alone. My older one who is only 12 years old is in charge of all the cleaning today – she nags.
We are sure that you know what kind of thoughts have crossed our minds at this moment. Worker of this shelter gets food, accommodation, small salary and a profit of what he sells (although there ae not too many clients, the prices are high because everything is brought on a quad). We go by the river to fish and dream. We are already picturing those four idyllic months we could spend here. But… there is work, there is our blog and different commitments waiting for us. In the evening, very reluctantly we say goodbye to the illusion we have created in our minds.
But we write down Roxana’s phone number just in case. If you feel you would need it some day too, let us know and we will share it!
Here we would like to thank Fjallraven for two sleeping bags Abisko Three Season and jackets Keb Eco-Shell Anorak and Primus for a vacum bottle (tea is hot even after 12 hours!), folding sporks (because of them we feel like humans when we eat) and a plastic spice jar (a small thing which makes our palates very happy!).