Patagonia: El Chalten - Gateway to Adventure
El Chaltén, Argentina, makes you work for it. This deep into Patagonia, the towns are few and far between and the roads connecting them are desolate and unserviced. The colorful village, set within Los Glaciares National Park, is a hard place to get to.
We heeded the warnings of travelers before us and topped off our tank plus our spare two-gallon can at the lone gas station en route from Puerto Natales. Even still, we rolled into town on fumes.
Maybe that’s why the visitors who flock to this tiny frontier town have a certain appetite for adventure. The lack of easy access is a self-selecting filter. Make it through and you're sure to come out the other side with an epic story, a tale of adventure and human strength and endurance bordering on insanity.
El Chaltén is a mecca for the enthusiasts: hikers, climbers, mountaineers. These aren’t your passive picture-taking, gift-shop-seeking, guided-tour type folks (not that there’s anything wrong with that).
If you come to El Chaltén, you're most likely a limit-tester seeking new challenges in unique landscapes. As you share the sidewalk with dirty-faced, backpack-wielding foreigners, there’s a sense that these people know a secret, that they're here for something exciting. And so are you.
The village is nestled at the edge of the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, which lies on the border of Argentina and Chile. The ice field stretches for almost 5,000 square miles, broken only by the dark jagged peaks of the Andes Mountains. It's an idyllic testing ground for all adventures you might dub EXTREME.
We were there for the trekking, also known as EXTREME walking: a quick three day, two nighter loop that took us straight out the north end of town and up into the foothills of Fitz Roy. After three hours steadily gaining elevation, we reached the small hiker campground of Poincenot, which primed us to catch Laguna de los Tres for sunrise the following morning.
If the weather cooperates and you're willing to wake up early and hike in the dark, you'll be rewarded with glowing panoramic views of the Fitz Roy Massif catching warm morning light. Day two took us toward Camp Bridwell and Lago Torre, a small glacial body of water (icebergs included) that leads your eyes straight to the iconic peak of Cerro Torre.
Each night on the trail, we fell asleep to the liquid music of a nearby creek and a nameless guitar player moving his Spanish serenade from campfire to campfire. Glaciers still carve this remote slice of the world, and despite the well-traveled trails, the very bigness of the landscape leaves you feeling far removed from human influence.
The stars make you feel it, too. Here they are so big, bright and immediate, we had a hard time remembering that to look into the stars is to look into the past. Each speck of light took hours, days, years to reach us. The cold lights of the night are ambassadors of distant powers that burn or once burned hot and bright. The thought didn’t diminish their impact.
Instead, it reminded me of Tommy Caldwell (Fitz Traverse of all seven peaks in 2014) and all the other heroes who stood in this exact place and looked up in awe before setting out to summit one, two or all seven of the Fitz Roy Range’s peaks. This landscape is made for stars. And it makes stars, too, if you give it the chance.
Words, photography, and video by our adventurous friends at YeeHaw Donkey.
This adventure was fueled by CLIF® Nut Butter Filled Energy Bars: