Patagonia: Day 6 (final)

One week wasn’t enough. But if it is going to be my last day exploring these Patagonian lands, let’s go out; with a bang. So yesterday’s theme was the Perito Moreno glacier; the main attraction in Calafate. I dunno, when I was looking at it, I thought to myself, wouldn’t it be cool if I had my lunch while sitting ON it. Well, let’s go.

After a drive back from Calafate to the glacier park and a short boat ride across the glacier lake, you arrive at the trail head for the … glacier walk. It’s about an hour until you reach the start of the ice but just check out the lunar surface to your right. Its like the pause button was pressed on a piece of ocean during a storm.

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Once you get close enough, the tour guides give a small tutorial and provide crampons. Ah, how I enjoy crunching the ice with my spikes. Welcome to the moon.

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My team had a whopping 3 hours on the glacier. We marched while avoiding small crevasses toward somewhere toward the center. The cracks in the ice are so juicy blue.

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Once we arrived at our lunch spot, I was surprised at where it was. I would’ve never guessed that there are small lagoons and lakes on the glacier. And the water is the super blue. This is perhaps one of my most scenic lunches ever.

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Ok, now its photo fun time.

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Yea, that’s me digesting my lunch, upside down hehe. There is still one more area to explore before heading back. The group marches toward a slightly higher peak toward the center to get a 360 panorama of the glacier and surrounding mountains. And Chile is just beyond those mountains there.

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So on the return trip, it’s never usually the same way since the glacier is always moving and there are no trails at all. Well, it only moves 2 meters per day but still, the guides make the trail based on their expertise. Every now and then, I noticed these networks of water flowing through the glacier like rivers on land.

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And then we all had to stop for this ice formation.

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Before you know it, you are back at the starting point where you first put on the crampons. You take them off and proceed the long journey back the to the trailhead through the area right off the glacier. Did I mention that there are some waterfalls on the way.

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I think it was a good way to spend my final day in Calafate and Patagonia. Well, it’s not officially over until you have the farewell dinner and feast like kings and queens with some steak. We dined at Esquina Varela and the food is very good. I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel with such a cool group of people. They were my family for a week and I hope to see them again on future travels. Be sure to check out the quality photos from one of our Patagonian companions: https://www.flickr.com/photos/martin-gt/sets/72157662800179278/

Well, that’s all folks. There is obviously so much more to explore in Patagonia. You can continue your journey into Chile and do the popular 4 day W-trek around Torres del Paine. You can do more trails in Chalten. You can go even further south to Tierra del Fuego, Ushuaia, Punta Arenas, Falkland islands, or even Antarctica. The world is your playground, so get out there and explore it!

Patagonia: Day 4 and 5

We left our bags at the hotel to go rafting down the Rio de Vueltas. The rafting guides briefs us and then we put on our spacesuits; wetsuit and another outer layer.

 

It was a short drive to the rafting start point.

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The rapids are level 2 and 3 so it’s nothing scary. But still, you can fall off if taken by surprise. Once you survive the rapids, you celebrate with your comrades with a group photo.

After the rafting, we got our bags and headed back to Calafate to check in to our hotel. Calafate is bigger than Chalten with more hotels, restaurants, souvenir shops. We dined at La Zaina for dinner. It was perhaps the best lamb I ever had.

Perito Moreno glacier is about an hour drive from Calafate. The glacier is 3 miles wide and looks like a giant ice wall from the front (Game of Thrones?). This glacier is stable; nots not receding or growing. Once you reach the National park, you can go on the boat ride which takes you close to the glacier. It’s almost a guarantee that you’ll see pieces crack and fall off within your time here. It’s a lot bluer than other glaciers that I’ve seen.

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In addition to the boat, there are platform paths nearby to get different viewpoints of the glacier.

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There is a beach nearby where you can eat lunch by the icebergs.

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This is a highlight to any trip to Calafate. There are other activities to do in Calafate such as kayaking, hiking, biking, horseback riding, glacier walks, etc. Guess which one I chose for the following day.

 

Patagonia: Day 3

Another cloudy day, but its way better than yesterday. Today’s trail is another popular hike called the Laguna Torre trail. The Fitz Roy was completely hidden in cloud yesterday, let’s see if the Cerro Torre (3,102 meters) is going to be the same.

The various landscapes throughout this trail are similar to the Laguna de Los Tres trail. There are several nice lookouts prior to reaching Laguna Torre. Although its considered a full day hike, it’s shorter than the Laguna de Los Tres trail with less elevation gain. So pack your water, snacks, lunch, and gear, let’s go!

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Once the terrain becomes rocky, then you know a lagoon is nearby.

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And there it is… Laguna Torre.

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We decided to have lunch just a few meters from the lake. And where there’s food, there will be big birds wanting scraps.

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The glacier in the distance breaks off pieces from time to time and end up in the lake. I found one close enough which was the size of my daypack but weighed 10x as much. After lunch we noticed there is an unmarked trail that takes you closer to the glacier and Cerro Torre. There would be more to trek back but the views are worth it.

Can you find me?

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Well that’s as far as you can go without a guide I guess. This spot is called Mirador Maestri. There were quite a few people hanging out by the last lookout waiting for the tip of Cerro Torre to come out of the clouds. After 30 minutes, we finally saw it.

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The long journey back was nice since the sun came out.

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Oh it had to be done…

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And we’re back at Chalten village.

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We dined at La Tapera once we got back to Chalten village. Really good food here. There are other trails in Chalten, but of course there is never enough time.

Patagonia: Day 2

There are so many trails around the Chalten area. Just remember to prepare for all seasons as you’ll most likely experience all types of weather on your journey.

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The whole day was dedicated to the most popular hike; Laguna de los Tres. Remember those peaks from yesterday? How about hiking to a lagoon really close to the Fitz Roy (3,405 meters). Well, it’s gonna cost you a whole day of hiking in unpredictable weather. I prefer circuits instead of out-and-backs when it comes to trails. A good circuit type trail starts from the Hosteria El Pilar. Doing the Laguna de Los Tres hike from here ensures that you can finish in Chalten village without retracing steps. It’s about a half marathon distance with 1000+ ft of elevation gain.

Well, these mountains are known for hiding in the clouds. The grand finale of Laguna de Los Tres trail is to be close to the Fitz Roy. I’ll just say that this day was not a good day for it. Please feel free to Google this hike on an ideal day (non-cloudy). Also, it rained every now and then. So you either plan around it, or make the best of it.

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About halfway through the hike to Laguna de Los Tres, there are viewpoints for glacier Piedras Blancas.

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A bit more walking through the steppe, forest, meadow, and river crossings.

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The non-stop uphill climb is more toward the end past tree level. Ice still hasn’t melted yet (mid November). After the uphill is over, and the landscape becomes completely rocky, you are there… the lagoon. Um, it’s still frozen and Fitz Roy is completely covered in cloud.

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Fail. Well, photo time anyway.

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However, it’s a short walk to get a glimpse of another lagoon that isn’t frozen; Laguna Sucia. You can take a path to the base of this lake, but we were short on time and could not do it.

We stopped for lunch. So the wild foxes come out hoping for scraps.

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Time to say goodbye to the shy Fits Roy and head back to the village through the various landscapes.

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The hills are alive…

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The wind and rain combination made it a bit messy but you get rainbows.

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The fire bushes are cool.

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And one last lookout of the valley.

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Finally back at Chalten village. Time to bathe, change, and eat a cooked meal. Cerveceria was a good choice. Tomorrow is another day for exploring Chalten.

Patagonia: Day 0 and 1

Patagonia is a place that was on my mind for some time and so I decided to finally embark on the long journey to the south. Just the sound of it, Patagonia, sounds like some faraway land in a movie. These next few posts covers a typical one week itinerary and doesn’t include the Torres Del Paine trek or the southernmost tip of South America. It does cover the Calafate and Chalten region.

This is my first time past the equator, first time in Argentina, first time in South America. From NYC, I flew an 11 hour red-eye straight to Buenos Aires. Not knowing much about the city, I just gave myself a walking tour and snapped photos of random places.

I thought the Steel Flower was pretty cool. It’s the flower version of the Chicago bean. I heard that the petals open in the day and close at night.

I made sure to eat steak before the night was over. Desnivel was a restaurant recommendation that had good steak and the portions are huuuge. Then I had to sleep for the early morning flight to Calafate.

From Buenos Aires, it’s about a 4 hour flight to Calafate. My journey actually starts in the Chalten region and I return to Calafate for days 5 and 6 of my trip. Day 1-4 is for the Chalten region. It’s a 3 hour bus ride from Calafate to Chalten. Yea, I know, so much traveling and we haven’t even gotten to the 8 hour hikes yet. The drive consists of driving around lake Argentino (Argentina’s biggest lake) and toward Viedma lake. Huge glaciers melt into both of these lakes; Perito Moreno for lake Argentino and Viedma glacier for Viedma lake.

Between Calafate and Chalten, there is a popular pit stop right before you reach lake Viedma called La Leona where you can get some food and snacks. Only 11,168 kilometers from home.

Spotted some guanacos (like a llama) on the way.

From here, there are many lookout spots that are worth stepping out of the car/van for. It was a cloud-free day which is rare in these parts and a great introduction to the Fitz Roy massif. Fits Roy is like the Matterhorn of this area. I soon found out that these mountains aren’t part of the Andes mountain range.

Welcome to Los Glaciares Parque Nacional. It’s the 3rd largest ice-field on the planet (1st and 2nd place goes to Antarctica and Greenland). The national park is shared between Argentina and Chile.

Chalten is a small mountain village in the middle of nowhere so don’t expect the best wifi. But instead of wifi, you get some of the best views of Patagonia and the trail-heads are just a few steps away from your hotel. There are many restaurants, small supermarkets, and gift shops to choose from. Bienvendos!

As it was already midday, there are still some small trails to explore. With one hour to spare, the Mirador de los Condores trail is a great choice. Yes, from time to time, condors fly around the land here but I couldn’t get a good enough photo of any. The lookout gives great views of the mountains and village given there are no clouds blocking.

There is another main peak called Cerro Torre with its own massif which is behind the Fitz Roy massif. Beyond Cerro Torre is the ice-field.

We headed to the Patagonicus restaurant for dinner. Lamb pizza was on the menu.

Tomorrow will be a very long hiking day. Time to get some rest. But if there is a clear night, be sure to check out the stars.