After returning from Iguazu falls, I met Marcelo in Buenos Aires before we departed for Patagonia. The plan was to meet up with his sister in law Patri and her boyfriend Sebastian who would be travelling with us. Marcelo found us a great BNB in Recoleta and we spent the next couple of days hanging out and meeting with Seb and Patri organizing the trip. We were going to do a 3 day hike to see Mount Fitz Roy near El Chalten and also see the Perito Moreno glacier near El Calafate in Patagonia.
We had an extremely early flight to El Calafate, 6am and we were up at 4am to get ready. We all managed to get up and to the airport on time but when we got to the airport, the line was so long that we thought that there was no way we were going to make our flight. After some inquiries, we found out that there was a maintenance strike that was causing all the delays. Everyone else in line was in the same boat (or plane in this instance) and after a while we all managed to board our flight. Once in the air, it was an uneventful flight and we landed in El Calafate just a little behind schedule. As soon as we landed we headed straight to the booking agent for the bus and managed to get the last tickets for the bus to El Chalten. The idea was to go straight to El Chalten and start hiking on day 1 because the forecast was more favourable at the beginning of the trip. After another short delay, we loaded our packs in the bus (more like a van) and squished in for the 3 hour trip. One thing you notice right away after landing in El Calafate is the wind. It was extremely windy and apparently this is the rule, not the exception and a precursor for things to come. The landscape was a bit barren and scrub like but everytime we saw water it was a beautiful aquamarine blue. At about halfway through the bus ride, we stopped at a cafe/souvenir shop. It was a mandatory stop that all buses take but unlike most tourist traps, it was actually quite a nice little place. All the food was home made and the owner was quite a character and loved to talk to the people coming in. We ordered a couple of empanadas and browsed the souvenirs. We were soon back on the road for the last part of the bus trip. As we started to near the town on El Chalten, we could see the mountains in the distance and peaks at Mount Fitz Roy through the bus windows. It was a magnificent sight and I tried to get a few pics of the mountains through the bus window but there was no way any bus window photo could do it justice. Little did I know, the view through the bus window would be the best view we were going to get.
We arrived at the small town of El Chalten tired from the early start and the travel but ready to start our 3 day hike through Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (Mount Fitz Roy). It wasn't quite as windy in El Chalten but it was still breezy. The wind can create havoc by changing the weather at any moment (foreshadowing). Just to prove the point, the clouds had drifted in and we no longer had a view of the mountains. Hopefully they would keep drifting...
We wandered through town looking for the trail head and eventually found it near the end of town. We climbed a steep hill to find the trail and then we were on our way. We followed the valley and wound our way up inching closer to a view of Mt Fitz Roy. Unfortunately, the view we were hoping never came but it was still a beautiful valley and we forged ahead. We made it to our first campsite of De Agostini by mid afternoon and set up camp. The wind had really picked up and most of the campsites had walls of logs built up to protect against the wind. Marcelo and I picked what we thought was a good spot and reinforced the log wall just in case. After the tent was set up, we decided to check out the lake and the glacier nearby. It was so windy that it made it difficult to even walk upright. We bullied our way through the wind to check out the lake and the ice formations that had broken off from the glacier and been blown down towards the shore. If you ever ending up hiking near Mt Fitzroy, be warned - it is WINDY! We ended up hiking around the lake and about halfway to the glacier before turning back. I was told that you could hike on the glacier but that was too ambitious for us on this trip. We returned to camp and made some friends with the local birds before making dinner and calling it a night.
The next morning starting off well enough. The sun was out and we packed up camp and headed on our way to Campemento Poincenot. We passed a couple lakes with nice beaches and the trail was pretty tame. The trail was definitely easier today as we wound our way to Poincenot. The weather started out ok but as we neared camp it started to get quite grey. We passed a chain of lakes and and stopped to enjoy the view and rest our feet. We arrived at Poincenot in the afternoon and tried to pick the best tent site. The campground was nestled in the woods but the wind still managed to pick it's way through the trees and was quite prevalent. All the tent sites had some sort of wind protection in the form of a wall built from sticks. Marcelo and I picked a site that looked like it had a pretty decent wind shield. After setting up camp, we decided to go for a "short" hike to try and find another glacier. It was a narrow trail along the river and we were to take a left at the bend in the river and the glacier was not far from there. Well it took a lot longer than we thought to get to the bend in the river. Patri had had enough and her and Seb returned back to camp. Marcelo and I trudged on, fighting the wind. After finally reaching the bend in the river, we found ourselves in front of a boulder field of mountainous proportions. These boulders were huge! Well we had gotten this far, we might as well try and make it to the end. So after picking our around, under and over the giant boulders, we came to the edge of the lake with the glacier in view. It was so windy that it felt like it was raining as the wind sprayed us with the water off of the lake. I struggled taking photos as the wind would constantly spray the front of my lens. So after a few minutes and starting to freeze, we headed back towards camp. We had hiked quite a ways by now and had at least an hour to get back to camp. We had no water with us and we were quite hungry at this point too. We were also dog tired from hiking through the headwind. About halfway back, Marcelo started to feel ill and we had to slow right down. We were both starving and Marcelo managed to find half a pack of peanuts in his pocket. It was amazing how much of an energy boost just a couple of peanuts gave me. Marcelo was not so lucky as he was feeling worse than just hungry. We trudged our way back to camp as darkness was descending upon us. Marcelo headed straight for the tent to lie down and try and feel better. I was starving so I starting making dinner. Patri and Seb had found a friend at camp and they were making mate (traditional argentine tea). So while dinner was cooking (boiling), I tried some mate. It was a bit cold as we were waiting forever for the water to boil. We figured out that the stove was running out of fuel and that was why it was taking so long. So after a fuel refill, my dinner finished boiling and I was able to finally eat and get warm. Marcelo still wasn't feeling well but he needed to eat so I made him eat something to help warm him up.
It was an early night as we had no fire and it was quite chilly with the wind. The next morning we awoke to a bit of a surprise. Upon opening the tent to greet the morning, we realized that we were sitting in a fairly large and deep puddle of water. It had rained quite heavily the night before with the wind pushing the rain through the camp site. We also had the misfortune of picking a tent site that was slightly concave. It looked flat but upon closer inspection, it had a slight dip in the middle exactly where I tent was. So all the rain pooled under our tent creating a mini lake that we were floating on. Luckily it didnt quite go high enough to get inside the tent but all our gear that was left outside was totally soaked. This included our packs and my pack had all my camera gear at the bottom of it. So my fstop bag's durability was going to be tested on this trip and I have to say it did pretty well. All my gear was moist from condensation but not wet. Even sitting in a puddle did not penetrate the bottom of the bag. So after drying off what we could as it was still quite damp in the morning, we packed up and heading off for our last day of hiking. It was a shorter day as we made our way back to El Chalten and civilization. The sun poked out not long after starting out and we followed the valley back to town stopping only for a few photo ops. After a few days of dehydrated food, it was now time for a lunch time feast. Steak, fries, wine and beer warmed us up and filled our bellies. So after another 3 hr bus ride with the same cafe stop, we made our way back to El Calafate and a date with the Perito Moreno Glacier glacier.
It was another early morning to catch the taxi to take us out to the glacier. It was about an hours drive before we entered the national park. From there the taxi dropped us off at the entrance to the glacier and promised to pick us up later in the afternoon. We didn't have a ton of time to explore so after getting our bearings, we started off on one of the trails that headed down to the glacier. I don't think I have seen a glacier of this magnitude up close and it didn't disappoint. I have never been to Alaska but I think I could be disappointed if I ever go there to see the glaciers after visiting the Moreno glacier. It was only a couple hundred feet of water that separated us from the wall of ice that stretched as far as the eye could see. It was truly magnificent. Looking at it was both calming and serene until you heard the unmistakable rumble of a chuck of the wall crashing down into the water below. If you forgot the power that Mother Nature has, you were quickly reminded. I tried to take some video of the ice melting and crashing into the water but I really couldn't do it justice. We made our way around the various trails, posing for photos in front of the mammoth ice wall before heading down to the water to take a boat ride for an up close visit with the glacier. It was an hour or so tour that got us up close and personal with the glacier. We watched as huge chunks tumbled into the icy water below with a thundering boom. It was quite a site to behold. The boat returned us to the dock where are taxi driver was waiting for us. She was asking what we were going to do next and we had nothing. Her suggestion was to drop us off at the ice museum and bar before heading back. With nothing else planned on our last night in Patagonia we said why not? So in the middle of the afternoon we arrived at the museum. We weren't really going to see the museum, we just wanted to see what the ice bar was all about. Inside, there was a lobby with a cafe and two ticket lineups. One for the museum and one for the ice bar. It was pretty apparent which venue was more popular. We purchased our tickets for the bar and waiting for the next opening. The bar was pretty small and could only accomodate about 15 people at a time. Oh, did I mention that your ticket included unlimited alcohol!! Now you only had about a 20 min time limit to stay in the bar and I think they said it was because of the cold but I think we know the real reason...The door opened and we were ushered into the dressing area where we donned space parkas and space gloves to keep us warm. There was a temperature guage on the wall to show us the temperature inside but I think it only said -5 C which really wasn't that cold. Space suits adorned, we were greeted by the unmistakeable thump thump thump of electronic dance music and multicoloured dance lights. Everything was made of ice, from the walls to the chairs to the glasses themselves. It was pretty cool and a little weird at the same time. Not the bar itself just the atmosphere of being in a dance club at 3 in the afternoon in the countryside of Patagonia. We lined up for our free drinks and we found out why they were't too worried about the unlimited alcohol. It took about 5 min to get one drink and you could only get one at a time. So in reality, unlimited was really only about 4 drinks. Nonetheless, it was pretty cool and we had a good time whooping it up in the ice bar at the three in the afternoon :) We emerged from the dim ice bar to bright sunshine streaming through the museum lobby windows. It felt like we had just woken up but it was late afternoon. We climbed back into our waiting taxi and heading back to town for our last sleep in Patagonia. We left early the next morning for our flight back to Buenos Aires and to meet up with Marcelo's family to see Buenos Aires like a local! The next 10 days was going to be relaxing in the capital with no real plans.