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Patagonia El Chatèn, where respect for the mountains comes first

By Romina Manassero & Simone Mondino

 

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We have been dreaming of it for many years and after more than twenty hours of flight and three layovers here we are, just landed in El Calafate, in the heart of northern Patagonia.

As soon as the airport doors open, we are pushed back by a crazy wind. We look at ourselves astonished by this somewhat unusual “welcome”, we get in the car and we leave for El Chaltèn, a place defined in recent years as the “National Hiking Capital City of Argentina”.

We slowly cross the eastern side of Lake Argentino, with its amazing colors and quickly enter into symbiosis with the surrounding landscape in total absence of plants, animals and houses but so beautiful to leave us breathless.

Time runs fast, the sun starts to go down as we drive along the famous Route 40. The weather forecasts says it will snow in the evening, the sky is quickly darkening, and timid snow showers start to peep. Early that evening we arrive in El Chaltèn and as expected Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre are completely hidden by the clouds.

We are in late November, there are many hours of light and we take advantage of that to visit the village. Less than two thousand inhabitants, colorful houses and some buildings still in construction. Here you can meet real mountain enthusiasts drinking a beer and talking about their past adventures or upcoming excursions. A large family of climbers, hikers or simply outdoor enthusiasts.

Our hope for the weather to become better disappears after a few minutes because the sky gets darker. The desire to discover is great however, so we drive to the El Pilar area. The further we go, the more snow showers approach and then reach us. With immense amazement, in a few seconds, we find ourselves under a snowstorm.

The appointment with Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre is to be postponed but since the forecasts foresees a sudden weather improvement around 2 am we decide to set the alarm clock at 4 am to try to capture a breathtaking sunrise.

The alarm rings and after ten minutes we are already outside, backpack and camera ready, we move towards the edge of the park to enjoy a breathtaking vision of the entire mountains chain. There is no living soul around and the temperature has dropped below zero. The silence is something incredible, exactly as our amazement when we see no clouds on the horizon.

Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy are there, motionless, unique, breathtaking. And the silence that reigns in these moments is something magical and surreal.

After an endless series of shots, we decide to go back home to prepare the rest of the equipment and set off on our first expedition that will bring us closer to the Cerro Torre.

The hike to Laguna Torre is simple but very crowded. The trail begins with an overhanging wall that then flattens. After a few kilometers, the only real protagonist of the scene remains the Cerro Torre. We are literally amazed by the beauty that we have in front us. Facing such majesty we feel so small and insignificant and we further understand the importance of respecting nature every day.

After a couple of hours in paradise we go back to the valley and as expected the wind returns and the sky gets dark. Nothing to do, it will rain tonight.

Waking up everything seems fine, the sky is still partially cloudy but during the day some clearing ups are expected. We walk towards the Laguna de Los Tres, a simple hike for the first ten kilometers of the path but that has a difficult four hundred meters vertical part in the last section. The trail begins by crossing the river, the vegetation, rising in altitude, thins out and even the clouds leave room for a shy sun that begins to illuminate the Fitz Roy and the Piedras Blancas glacier. The trail is a “fake plateau” and as we get to the tenth kilometer we see many small ants in the distance advancing at the same pace. We look at each other and smile. Here comes the long-awaited final wall.

We reach the top and in front of us there is a white sea of snow: the lagoon is still frozen and the recent snowfalls make the landscape decidedly more wintry while, behind us, in the valley, it is already spring.

We choose a somewhat secluded place and we settle down to enjoy the view in absolute silence. Once again we cannot help but observe how small we are in front of mother nature and this thing makes us reflect more and more.

The following morning the weather is still very gloomy, we scour the area and in the late afternoon we decide to take an old non-tourist trail that takes us right above the village of El Chaltèn. Once on the summit we find the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in front of us. We take a look at the village from above: there are people walking on the streets, some sitting at the bar sipping a beer, the restaurants are starting to fill up. And what about us? We are up here, in the realm of silence and wonder.

The following morning the weather is still very gloomy, we scour the area and in the late afternoon we decide to take an old non-tourist trail that takes us right above the village of El Chaltèn. Once on the summit we find the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre in front of us. We take a look at the village from above: there are people walking on the streets, some sitting at the bar sipping a beer, the restaurants are starting to fill up. And what about us? We are up here, in the realm of silence and wonder.

“We choose a somewhat secluded place and we settle down to enjoy the view in absolute silence. Once again we cannot help but observe how small we are in front of mother nature and this thing makes us reflect more and more.”

The clear blue sky unfortunately does not last long and everything gets instantly covered by clouds. We do not allow ourselves to be conditioned by negativity and we decide to stay there even just to enjoy the view from above. We wait for a long time and, like a lightning bolt in a clear sky, a timid ray of sunshine emerges to the west to ignite the clouds for a brief moment, making us smile.

The following day we wake up finding a very strong wind and snow showers. Despite the not perfect weather conditions, we walk along the trail that leads to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado. As soon as we start to climb, it begins to snow, the weather continues to worsen and the idea of reaching the summit quickly disappears. We decide to continue for a few meters to reach at least the belvedere.

The intense snow suddenly ceases, the fog rises and the Laguna Torre appears just below us, the clouds run away quickly and some peaks emerge, including the Fitz Roy. It is an indescribable emotion. The cold is great but, the wonder we feel, forces us to stop a little longer.

We reach the car, check the equipment and we are ready to leave: our journey will continue towards El Calafate, Perito Moreno, then reaching the Torres del Paine park in Chile and it will end in the extreme south, in Ushuaia.

We look back one last time at the village of El Chaltèn.

We feel sad. A romantic nostalgia. We really felt at home there.

The atmosphere you breathe is unique in the world and as we turn on the car’s engine, we look at each other and promise: it will be a goodbye and not a farewell.

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