This is perhaps what most of us expected when we thought of “Patagonia” – mountains, glaciers and lakes, and our time in Los Glaciares National Park has definitely delivered!
We started in the southern section of the park, staying for 3 nights in the town of El Calafate. Looking a bit like a ski village, the town is full of camping stores and adventure tour operators offering a range of ways to experience the nearby park. The area’s most famous attraction is the Perito Mereno Glacier.
This glacier is remarkable for a number of reasons – unlike most of the world’s glaciers, this one is advancing not receding, and it is very active, moving up to 2m per day – the result is that you can observe spectacular “calving” where chunks of the face of the glacier break off and crash into the lake below. The location of the glacier means that it is possible to see the face from land, and an extensive system of walkways gives a great variety of observation points.
Some of the group chose to experience the glacier from the lake as well, doing a short boat trip on the lake which allowed them to get a perspective on the height of the face, which dwarfs the boats below.
Another way to experience the glacier is to walk on it, which Geoff and Tony headed off to do.
After a lovely couple of days in El Calafate, we boarded a bus (for the last time before the truck joined us!) to the small town of El Chalten. The town was only established in 1985, and it retains a real “frontier town” feel, with wide windswept streets and small town friendliness. The town proclaims itself to be the “national capital of trekking”, and that is what brings everyone here – the opportunity to explore the surrounding mountains on foot. There are a number of treks available, from short, flat 1 hour hikes, to multiple day hikes, something for everyone really.
On our first day, most of the group decided to set off on the trek to Laguna Torre which was recommended as the most sheltered of the walks, and with windspeeds of over 40kmh expected, sheltered sounded like a good idea! It was a spectacular walk, offering fantastic views of Cerro Fitz Roy (Mount Fitz Roy), and Cerro Solo, and a surprising variety of terrain and environments from windswept (bit of a theme in this part of the world) rocky outcrops, lush woods and sandy scrublands. Our efforts were rewarded by views over Lago Torre and the Grande Glacier. Estimates vary as to how long the walk actually was (anywhere from 22km to 30km), but safe to say that everyone was very pleased to sit down and take their boots off at the end of the day, many of us reconvening in the Cerveceria (micro brewery) to compare aches and pains!
For some, the walk signalled the beginning and end of their trekking ambitions, and for others, it was just a warm up for the “W” trek in Torres del Paine the following week. There were treks available to suit anyone really, with walks to a viewpoint over Viedma Lake, and the lovely Chorillo del Salto waterfall being great shorter options, and plenty of longer treks for the keener (and fitter) amongst us.
El Chalten is the gateway to the Viedma Glacier, and so spurred on by Geoff and Tony’s reports of the ice trekking in El Calafate, Lisa and Anthony headed off onto the ice for a great day which culminated to Lisa’s delight with a Baileys served on glacier ice (although Anthony was hoping for the whisky that Geoff and Tony had enjoyed at the end of their trek in El Calafate!).
El Chalten was also where we were finally united with Ithaca and reunited with Pete and Graham. Having driven 3,000km in super quick time, they had arrived a bit earlier than expected and it was a very welcome surprise, and we were all ready to start the next part of our epic journey!