From Buenos Aires we flew down south to El Calafate from where our pre-arranged transport took us straight to El Chalten, the trekking and mountaineering capital of Argentina and maybe all of South America. The town itself is nothing special but there are some nice restaurants and bars around which are great after a long day of hiking.
Our hotel was a nice, chalet-style house close to pretty much everything. On the day of arrival we walked around the few streets and got some supplies from the small supermarket for our first hike planned for the next day. We went for dinner in a rustic looking restaurant called La Tapera and tried the local speciality; lamb stew. It wasn’t the last time we would eat here.
Our first hike was from El Chalten to Lago Torre, a small glacier lake at the feet of Cerro Torre, with 3’128 masl one of the highest peaks in the region. Heights in general are not a problem when trekking in Patagonia, very different from Ecuador or Peru where you already start at way above 3’000 masl.
We started at 8 AM, just a few minutes after sunrise. It promised to be a wonderful sunny day. The actual trail starts only a few dozen meters outside of El Chalten. It’s quite a beautiful hike, through bush landscapes, forests and along the river. Not too far into the hike, we could take a first look at the peaks that were awaiting us at the lake but with another 10 km in front of us it was a bit too early to think of the end. Overall, it wasn’t a hard hike and even if it had been, it would have been worth it for the views.
Back in the hotel, we had a little apero like back home with red wine, cheese and some potato chips.
Maybe it was the wine that suddenly made me think it might be a good idea to try and observe the sunrise up at Mount Fitz Roy. My buddy at the reception confirmed my suspicion, in order to make it for the first sunrays I would have to leave at around 4 AM the next morning. Well, it sure was a good thing I still had that headlight in my bag.
There was no moon when I left the hotel and as soon as I made it out of the town, everything around me turned pitch-black. It was a great experience, all alone in the mountains for several hours. Turning off the flashlight left me in the dark until my eyes adjusted and the clear sky exposed a sea of stars. Until the second campsite, about 45 minutes before reaching the top, the only other soul I encountered was a skunk sharing the path with me for a minute or two. It was 7.15 AM when I sat down to wait for the sun come up. A few others made it up for the spectacle from the close-by campsite. And a spectacle it was, indeed!
Usually, the way back down is rather boring and tiring. Not this time. Hiking up in the dark meant that I haven’t seen my surroundings along the way. Walking down in the morning sun let me appreciate all of it.
In fact, it was such a great hike that Barbara and I did the 25 kilometers together once again the next day, half of it in the dark. We had only one flashlight, Barbara led the way and I followed for the most part. We made it up just in time for the sunrise. Although the mountain wasn’t cast in the same warm colors as the day before, it was still beautiful and something we will remember.
Back in the hotel, celebrations were in order for Barbara’s first and possibly only night ascend ever. Oh, and there was steak, too.
Happy with our experiences, we relaxed on our last day in El Chalten and headed to El Calafate the day after. Glacier time!