El Chalten, the home of the Fitz Roy traverse has been on my bucket list since I got into climbing and discovered my love for the mountains. It’s also the logo for my favourite clothing company.. so that can’t be a coincidence. We rolled into town after fighting Patagonian winds for a couple hours on route 40 and then route 23. It is an amazing drive as you get to stare at the Fitz Roy range for an hour before you’re even close to town.
Pulling into town there is a motor home parking lot just beside the visitor centre, so we made that our home for the next 3 nights (one morning was particularly interesting, the story is below!). The visitor centre in town is great and they are very informative about the weather and what days to go for certain hikes to get the most of the views.
In camp we met another Canadian who, seeing our license plates, assumed we were also from British Columbia. He’s be living in his VW Westfalia for 4 years since leaving BC in 2014. Steve and his girlfriend make a living and continue travelling south by selling homemade jewelry out of the van or by selling treats that they whip up.
For dinner, we met up with Jacob Moon (@moonmountainman – on instagram). He’s a professional photographer and was happy to meet us for a burger and beer at a local gastropub called B&B. It was very cool meeting him, as he had just returned from Antarctica and was about to head off solo on a 4 day trek from El Chalten.
Our first full day in town we went for the Cerro Torre hike, which leads you 10km behind the Fitz Roy range towards Lago Torre, a windswept but stunning lake. We arrived it seemed at the bulk of the wind and watched as a full grown man was blown to his knees from a particularly strong gust of wind. The weather at this point wasn’t awesome so our views were obstructed by some cloud, though the mountain ranges did poke through every once in a while. That night, we tried Che Empanadas (a restaurant recommended by Jacob Moon) and they did not disappoint, my favourite empanadas of the trip so far!
Day two was the day we were all looking forward too, the Fitz Roy hike! It’s a casual 10km hike until the last 2km, which test every persons mettle. Essentially 2km straight up, you gain 450m of elevation in less than a kilometre which just sounds obscene. However the pain of the approach is no match for the beauty of the view. The lake surrounded by the Fitz Roy range left us all speechless. Even turning around and looking out at the surrounding valleys was a view worthy of the hike.
After an hour, and about 500 photos, we started the descent. That night we treated ourselves to dinner at La Waffleria for dinner. Yes, waffles for dinner, though we all got savoury waffles. Mine was ham and cheese, and Becca got an awesome one with chorizo and chimichurri. We were even lucky enough after getting back to camp to be treated to some pisco sours with Calafate liquor by our new best friends Loren and Karen. It was a nice treat after the long hike and free booze is the best booze.
At this point we had covered more than 40km in 2 days of hiking and our bodies started to wear. The next day the weather wasn’t looking up so we went to a camp ground where we got some showers and spent one last night in the best town of the trip so far. I ended up getting a little antsy after sitting around for most of the day and there was one waterfall hike I wanted to do. I strapped on my shoes and went for a little trail run, which was only 3km to the waterfall. The Patagonian wind made sure the run to the waterfall was well earned. It was stunning as expected, though a bit busy as it is the easiest hike in the area and has a parking lot about 400m from the falls themselves. It was good to get out anyways and keep the legs moving.
Becca and I made a nice pasta dinner using the kitchen at the campsite (because yes, we’re still out of propane) and met a lovely Australian girl named Cat who we spent the night talking to inside Alfonso. Ivan and Tash treated themselves to a proper Argentinian lamb dinner and weren’t home till quite late. Had Becca and I worried sick!
The next morning, the weather hadn’t improved, so we decided it was time to get moving to Chile and try to finally get some propane back into Alfonso so we can cook and clean for ourselves and stop stealing propane from other Overlanders (thank you Karen and Loren, our Minnesotan friends who we’ve been happily bumping into constantly!). We took our time in the morning and went to the only gas station within 300km of El Chalten, where it turned out about half of Argentina wanted gas as well. With 1 pump, 1 attendant, and no gas stations for miles, we waited in line for an hour and a half while the 40 cars before us filled up… glad we weren’t in a hurry anywhere!
**Mouse Story: Not required reading!**
In the wee hours of the second morning in El Chalten, we were all awoken to Ivan calmly saying “hey guys, don’t freak out, but there’s a mouse in the van.” Needless to say we freaked out and were not all that surprised, as Steve (the other Canadian) had warned us that mice were known in the camp site. Unfortunately for us, Alfonso isn’t exactly air tight, water tight, or (apparently) mouse tight, and the mouse was able to get in through a small hole near the engine. For Ivan it was worse, as he had awoken to the mouse on his neck… He watched as the mouse scrambled into his backpack and was able to quickly get it out of the van. At this point, it was 6 in the morning and we were planning on getting up early to do Fitz Roy so I never fell back asleep. Good thing too as about 15 min later, Ivan wakes us up again going “guys… there is another mouse” this time the little bugger was sitting in a bowl on the dash board. I had left an apple core in it the night before and the little fellow was just trying to get all the bits I missed. Ivan reaches back looking for a book to trap the mouse and we can all see the mouse in the light from his headlamp. Quick as a flash Ivan has trapped the mouse in the bowl and like a pro calmly walks the bowl outside to be released back to nature. Needless to say, we cleaned the van spotless for the next night and plugged all potential mouse entry points with socks and carpet. After Fitz Roy we all slept like angels.