A tale of two hikes – Argentine Patagonia (El Chaltén)
Waking up to the patter of rain, one might be tempted to stay in bed. When in El Chaltén, however, light rain is not a deterrent for the trekking enthusiasts. On a recent trip there, my wife and I found ourselves waking up to this very scenario. So, like most of the travelers staying at Hostería Los Senderos (senderos means “trails” in Spanish), we woke up, had breakfast, put on some rain gear and headed out with our local guide Marcelo, who happened to live just around the corner.
Arriving at the trailhead just outside of town at the Hostería El Pilar, we were ready to go. (You can also start the hike directly from town; however, by starting from Hostería El Pilar you have the advantage of seeing an additional part of the trail without retracing your steps on the way back.) As we set off through the forest, the protection of the trees was clearly felt: at times we even needed to take off our jackets. The trail through the lower woodlands gave us glimpses of snowy peaks and glaciers in the distance. Once we arrived at the base of the hike up to Laguna de los Tres, some folks in the group opted to wait down below. We set out for the ascent. After only about an hour of climbing, we found ourselves in full snow and were able to admire a frozen lagoon at the top of the mountain. Despite the snow and ice, the trek to the top was well worth it. In all, the climb to this point was about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles).
The return to El Chalten kept our senses of exploration and discovery alive as we ended up crossing a river (there are bridges, of course), traversing a marsh, arriving at Lake Capri (rumored to be named by Italian explorers for its shape, similar to Capri, Italy) and finally making the final descent back to the picturesque little town of El Chaltén. The return was about 9 kilometers (5.6 miles) more.
On the second day, we were blessed with sunshine, with just a few high-level clouds around the mountain tops. After an early rise and an energy-packed breakfast, we hit the trailhead located a few hundred meters from our lodging, at the edge of town. Beginning the fairly steep incline, we were quickly rewarded with views of Mount Fitz Roy as we hiked along. After reaching a higher elevation, the trail quickly smoothed out and we continued for about 9 kilometers to reach Laguna Torre. Sitting lakeside and enjoying the glacial views was a highlight of the trip. The pristine environment, the sound of the light breeze (the valley protects most of the trail from high winds) and the beautiful views quickly transported us away from our day to day thoughts.
The hike back is quite beautiful and much less challenging. Along the way, you can appreciate many lovely views and endless bird life. A highlight for us was a small Patagonian owl, which we spotted right alongside the trail. After a full day of trekking that totaled 18 kilometers (11.2 miles), we arrived back to our hotel. What an unforgettable day it was!
- The Laguna de los Tres hike is easier if you start from Hostería El Pilar. This also allows you to discover more of the trail, with little retracing. However, if you want to start the hike from town, that is also an option.
- The Laguna de los Tres hike can be made substantially easier if you do not do the ascent to the Laguna, but just enjoy the trail and picturesque views from down below.
- There is an extension to the Laguna Torre hike that brings you to Mirador Maestri, where you can view the glacier from a closer distance than from the lake shore.
- Most lodgings provide a boxed lunch service at an additional cost. For a vegan, vegetarian and/or gluten-free boxed lunch, Cúrcuma, a small café in town, provides excellent options.
- Bring sun protection, as the Patagonian sun and strong winds can take a toll on your skin.