It was an easy walk to Poincenot campsite, and a little less crowded than the main paths to and from Poincenot and Agostini from El Chalten, because most day hikers walk in and out of one campsite and not in between the two.When we got to the camp, it was even more crowded than before. I think I counted like 70 tents here. It was nuts. And even though there were more spots around when people left on the second day, we still had some girls come set their tent up literally at our back door. They even put their stuff on the log by my entryway and Kay thought it was ours… and they blocked our path to the toilet. Poor camper etiquette! The bathrooms here were equally as disgusting as Agostini, hence the need for this amusing sign and shovel. They made the same version of the toilets on the Huemul Circuit look posh, only because they are not used so much. So much splashing and pee everywhere on the floor around the hole. And the smell… the smell. 🙁
This was the kind of toilet you would run out of with your fly down, even when other people were waiting to use the bathroom outside. Zip up later, just get out!Above you can see our campsite at #2, where we decided to stay for two nights because it was SO much warmer than campsite #1. From Poincenot, we hiked up to #3 on the map, Laguna de los Tres, to try and get a view of the elusive Mt. Fitz Roy.We could see Fitz Roy, or the clouded Fitz Roy from camp, but we were hoping that if we hiked up to the gorgeous blue-green lakes, that the skies would clear at the famous mountain would come out with the lakes just below in view.Unfortunately, when we got up there, the mountain was almost totally covered in cloud… and they were just pressing up and over and around the mountain, really sticking around the top. We decided to have a snack and wait for awhile in the sun. Down on the rocks in the sun, it was actually quite warm.Over to the left, you could see the dramatically lower elevated Laguna Sucia and some mountains in the background, but to the right and above, Fitz was still inconveniently hidden.It was pretty interesting seeing one alpine lake right next to another with such a huge drop. Also, how unreal is the color of these lakes? It was like staring at a glistening body of gems!It really surprised you how Laguna de los Tres was at our feet, and Laguna Sucia was a huge drop away.We waited 1-2h and then the wind started picking up again, chilling us out too much to be waiting around, so we gave it up and headed back down. There were just too many clouds pressing and no chance that they would dissipate. I checked Fitz Roy again several times when we were down below and the best it got that day was after sunset, but it would have been pretty windy and cold up by the lake by then, and no sun anymore to give that brilliant lake shine. We decided it was not worth the climb again considering how fast it would cover up again.We made dinner and camped the first night, and I sent Kay out at 5am to check if there would be a clear sunrise. It was clouded, so the poor guy came back to the tent to warm up and sleep some more. To be fair, I only asked him to peek his head out of the tent, but he decided to get dressed and go to the bathroom. Not my fault. 😉
When we woke up later on, the weather was OK, but hadn’t improved very much around Fitz Roy, so we hung around camp reading and lazing about. It was nice to have a relaxed day just unwinding after all that trekking! The weather around the mountain never got better, so we just stayed down, ate the rest of our meals and then leisurely walked out the next day and said our last goodbyes to the rugged landscape around El Chalten.Every time we looked back, Fitz was still covered in clouds, clouds, clouds.Nope, no chance that would have been happening. Well, you can’t be lucky every time! I thought we maybe saw Fitz when we first rolled into El Chalten, but Kay isn’t sure. And every other time we were in town or hiking around it, it was almost always covered. The few times the sky seemed to open up, we were always in the wrong spot. Our time in El Chalten was up. As we made our way back to town, I looked forward to the last steak dinner before going on to Bariloche.Up next was our 26h bus ride!
When we finished the Huemul Circuit and arrived back in El Chalten, I demanded a rest day, which worked out well because the day after ended up being a very rainy, stormy day. I was happy to stay in the hostel and only venture out for steak dinner! We also managed to take our dirty clothes to a laundry for much-needed washing.
After relaxing and restocking our food, we headed back out towards Lago Cerro, towards Camp de Agostini, to start another three night, four day trek, although this time much more relaxed than the Huemul Circuit. You can easily hike to Lago Torre and back in one day if you like, but since we had the tent and it was free to camp, we wanted to make the most of our time in the wilderness!I was also pretty excited to see Cerro Torre because it’s another really classic, striking Patagonian view. Along our way there, we spotted a huge avalanche falling off the side of the mountain. It was the first avalanche I have ever seen in person!
When we made it to camp, I set my pack down for a moment while Kay searched for a good spot. When I went to pick it up again, I screeched as one of these spiky caterpillars that we’d seen on the path stung my arm. It hurt!! Immediately my arm began to blister a little and burn. (I’m actually getting the shivers just seeing this photo again.)And as we saw later, these guys were EVERYWHERE. I became terrified that they would be hiding on my pack or in my shoes when I was asleep at night, so I closed everything and had a stick nearby to toss evil caterpillars away. And they seemed to like me…. they were always coming near me even in spots where there were hardly any around, climbing on the inside of the tent between the inner and outer tent, etc… Kay even accidentally had one in his pack that he took with him to Bariloche on the bus!
Caterpillars aside, Kay set us up next to the river and then got outside the cover of the trees to soak up some sun on the rocks. It was one of our warmest afternoons in Patagonia so far. If only we had known how cruel the night would be…The campsite was also ridiculously overcrowded. I think I counted over 40 tents. The most we had ever camped around before in such a small space, even compared to the Torres del Paine which was a bit set up for such hard use. Here, you still had the awful pit-in-the-ground toilets, which coupled with overuse, were a real joy to use.
After a break, we walked from the campsite to the lake itself, a quick 5 minutes away or so.There it was a bit more breezy by the lake, but we pitched ourselves and had our afternoon snack there. Unlike the Huemul Circuit, we didn’t have a long way to go, so we had the rest of the afternoon to relax, read, and enjoy the views.After heading back to camp, we made dinner for the night and then walked back to an overview of the towers and had our wine and chocolate while watching the sun set.After the wine and chocolate were through, we headed back to camp again to make our hot chocolate before heading to bed. We wanted to get up before sunrise and hopefully watch the sun rise over the lake.Below you see our tent set up for the night, which ended up being the coldest night in Patagonia, which really surprised us. After braving the far south of Ushuaia and the glacial-covered hills of the Huemul Circuit, we thought we were safe. We were not.Normally in sleeping bags, you sleep either naked or as close to naked as possible, so that there is less air between you and the bag and warms up faster, and so that when you get out in the morning and the warmth of your sleeping bag is stripped away, you have something to replace it with a little bit. (Getting up in the morning and getting dressed is still the worst part of camping IMO!) So normally I sleep in my undies and a bra and Kay in his undies… but it just wasn’t enough. Next to the rushing river, cold seeped into the tent, into our bones and shook us both.
We slept terribly, shifting and turning and waking up from cold constantly until it was finally 4:30am. I wanted to make sure we didn’t miss any of the earliest signs of the sun! So we pulled on clothes shivering, and walked over to the lake where we were almost the only ones waiting for sunrise.There we popped open a bag of heavenly pão de queijo from a bakery in El Chalten for breakfast. Lord knows why they had Brazilian food in such a small town, but I was so overjoyed to have some of my favorite gluten free balls to eat! And from there, we waited as slowly the sky turned, and others joined us for the early view.It did not disappoint. It took ages, but finally the mountains started turning pink from the tops, shifting and lighting, more and more.Finally the whole of Cerro Torre was on fire, and what a sight to see! It made your heart leap and rejoice to see such things.After just a minute or two of blazing color, the flash was gone and instantly the sky turned pastel, completely different from a moment before.From there, we decided to look just a bit more before cowering back to bed… it was still like 5:30am.Back from the campsite, the mountains flashed a bright yellow, but it still wasn’t as impressive as the fiery red from before. Meanwhile, 90% of the overcrowded camp was still asleep, having totally missed the most spectacular part of the day.We though, were pretty frozen to the core. Abandoning all thought of stripping down to our underwear again, we both took off our jackets and climbed into our sleeping bags fully dressed… and slept like babies into the sunny hour of 10 O’Clock, when most of the campers had packed up for the day.
With our easy schedule ahead of us, we lazily packed up and headed from campsite #1 on the map to campsite #2, Poincenot.
Having missed out on the opportunity to hike the famous O and W treks in Torres del Paine, we consoled ourselves with the idea of going on the adventurous Huemul Circuit. We read about it in Steve Hänisch’s guide to Argentina and after Kay saw Steve’s video of the trek on Youtube with zip-lining, he was sold. This was actually our first time hiking for more than 2 days and carrying all the food on our pack the whole time, which made me a little nervous. We had enough food and snacks for 4 days and 3 nights. Plus the ever important wine and whiskey, which Kay had dreams of drinking on over glacier ice… (Hey, Steve recommended booze!) 😉We had brought some dehydrated camping food with us from Switzerland that we had around home before the movers packed us up, and we saved it specifically for this trek, and managed to find one place in El Chalten that sold extremely expensive dehydrated bag food so that we wouldn’t be eating polenta the whole time, and so our pack was a little lighter than trying to piece together lightweight GF meals for me in the groceries in El Chalten.
We also had packed some extra running fuel gels and sports drink powders that we had at home to supplement and give ourselves extra energy during the tough parts.
DAY ONE: After stopping at the tourist office in El Chalten to register our trek and prove that we were carrying a harness per person, personal anchor, one aluminum and one steel carabiner, map, and 20m length of rope, it was time to get started. We had known we would need the harnesses and anchors, so we brought our own ones we had from sport climbing at home specifically to do this trek, and I liked knowing that our gear was solid and fit us perfectly. We didn’t know we would be required to have a steel carabiner and 20m of rope (very thin will do) so we did have to run around El Chalten a bit on our first day and gather these things along with our food supplies.
The weather was a bit so-so getting started, and I was skeptical. It’s actually snowing, and this is January in summertime down there.Kay was hoping for awhile that we would finally “get out there” in the wilderness and experience some solitude, which we did enjoy for a bit… but this was high season in Patagonia. We definitely ran into several hikers later on in the day. This trek is also increasingly popular, so don’t expect to be alone.It rained off and on, but hiking keeps you warm enough. The wind around here was pretty cold though. When we set up camp at Lago Toro (campsite #1 on the map), the wind picked up and started cutting in. I was barely warm enough to set up camp and I needed a hot tea before we even started making dinner. Even with all my layers on: shirt, pullover, down jacket, gortex shell, hat, and gloves, I was shivering nonstop.
The bathroom situation in camp was that they had a “toilet” which if we’re comparing to the toilets in Tierra del Fuego (those had running water, toilet paper and soap!) and the ones in Torres del Paine which had even HOT water, these ones were pretty crap. It was basically a shoddy tin box with a hole in the ground. And the rope used to close it was done in a stupid way that wouldn’t close the door much unless you completely re-did it if you didn’t want people to be able to peek at you in this stinking shithole.
So. After a brief bathroom stop and brushing our teeth, we went to bed around 19:30 to cuddle and try and get warm before sleeping. Brrrrrrrr!
DAY TWO:Day two was both the best day and the worst day. We got up extra early because there was a bit of a crowd at the campsite and Kay didn’t want to get stuck freezing and waiting around for people to cross the zip line. Everybody else kind of had the same idea though, but in the end, a large group of Israelis went to cross in the river in the shallow part which isn’t always possible if it rises too high, so the zip line was free for us.It was a little scary looking. Kay decided we should go over separately from our packs, so he went first and then had me send both the backpacks over individually before getting on myself.Next it was my turn. Eeep! It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but I definitely had a moment of panic where I was all alone on the other side from Kay and the packs and thought, “Crap… I have to do this.”After this came the hard part. A slippery, rocky slope with no real path, where rocks crumbled and slid under your feet and down the slope onto a glacier. These photos below are the “good” part, where I was feeling confident enough to take my iPhone out.We couldn’t really see any marked path on this part (did I mention this trek is pretty poorly marked? They mean it.) So after awhile we thought we should follow those ahead of us who were walking on the edge of the glacier below.We walked on there for about 5 minutes before I got too freaked out that we are going to slip into some unknown crevice and die, and we didn’t really think the path was going down this way, so we scrambled back up onto the rocky path where we thought maybe we saw some of the rock markers… It turned out we were right… but that didn’t make it easier. Kay had to coach me through some parts because I don’t really like walking on the side of a mountain when every step you take spurs the side of the mountain to shake and roll down beneath my feet. That’s FREAKY.When we got up a bit further, we saw that a group below us walking on the glacier had gotten off track and couldn’t tell at all where to go next until they spotted us up high. It would not have been fun to scramble up from below at that point, so I did not envy them.
When we finally reached the top of paso del viento, we were rewarded with the magnificent view of the Viedma glacier ice field, which stretches out as far as the eye can see. (Blue star on the map)From another side, we could look back and see the smaller glaciers emptying into the side of the mountain we had just walked up…. and it was pretty breathtaking.This is the sort of stuff we came for! And the view made the whole hike worth it!Kay was pretty chuffed himself.
Also, if I haven’t mentioned… it was pretty freezing up at the top, even in the bright sun. We could only stay for so long before we needed to start moving our bodies again.
The ice field was so massive… it looked like a snowy highway from far away. It was incredible to think that this is all glacial ice in constant motion.At the top we had a snack before heading on to our campsite for the night.We were pretty disappointed in our fellow hikers when we got to the next campsite. After a long day hiking, three of the Israelis took their clothes off and got into the pristine pond to go for a swim, something we all specifically verbally agreed to the park ranger not to do: contaminate the glacial water sources.
It put us in a particularly sour mood because before they went swimming, they asked us if we thought they could swim and we said no, don’t swim. And when they went still, we said directly, NO, don’t get into the water and contaminate it, but they tried to brush it off that it was both not a big deal and that they somehow earned the right to contaminate the water with their ball sweat because they’d hiked up this hill. Knowing that we were pumping our drinking and cooking water from the glacial water made us even more angry. One of them even tried to come over and calm us down that what they were doing was fine, and it made me even more angry how they just did whatever they wanted.
At that point, we decided to get up really early the next day again just to limit our contact with these selfish individuals.
DAY THREE:The bonus of getting up early at 5:30am again was that we saw a really nice sunrise before leaving camp. (Campsite #2 on the map)Meanwhile it was back to hiking along the side of the glacial field again before we left it behind. The path was still tryingly hard to find. Sometimes Kay could find it, sometimes I could find it… sometimes we would just stare around for awhile and wonder where to walk. Below you can see one of the better marked path visuals, a little pile of rocks. Although in this particular spot, I don’t think the pile of rocks was that easy to spot from way down below… around here I just sort of walked what looked the most like it could be a path or steps or footprints, while Kay took the approach of “let’s just go up here, higher and higher.”Next up was the shitty, shitty part that almost made me hate this hike. After crossing the Paso Huemul, it was time to descend an incredibly steep slope to the next campsite. Only we veered off to the right at Kay’s guidance, over a poorly marked sign that meant “not the path” and dropped further and further into thicker trees that had us both saying, “No, this CAN’T be the path…” like, it had us on our knees ducking under trees with 15kg packs on our backs. Not fun.Eventually we made it back up and started the REAL path down, which I can only describe as awful…. and it wasn’t raining. If it would have been raining, I’m sure I would have just fallen/slid down the whole mountain. It was so steep it was hard not to slide… in fact, I spent most of the time on my butt or grabbing at plants and trees on the side of the trail to stop me from slipping dangerously forward.
Kay poked a hole in his pack’s main bag on a sharp broken tree and somewhere along the route, I lost my lipbalm, which was lucky considering my sunglasses case and hiking poles, which I stored away, fell out during the awful climb below the trees on the non-path mishap earlier.
By the time we got to camp below (campsite #3 on the map), Kay was disappointed to find that the camp was not at the beach, but in a sheltered area. His dreams of whiskey on ice, which he’d been saving for this night, started dissipating. We thought about moving camp, but didn’t know if there would be a spot to camp at the actual lake and if that was a smart idea with the wind situation in Patagonia… we didn’t want to find out.
What Kay did do was hike down himself to the lake… I decided the non-path he took was too much for me after such an awful climb down, so I explored around camp before putting things for dinner together… and just as I was folding our cups up, look who showed up at camp carrying a big chunk of glacier ice in his hat! (You can see where he went down in blue next to campsite #3 on the map.)Yaaay… dreams do come true. Kay was able to break off a little piece from a chunk floating near the shore of lake viedma. We enjoyed a nice big glass of cold whiskey… so well deserved after a climb down like that.DAY FOUR:Our night around lake Viedma actually ended up being the warmest of all the nights on the trail, possibly because it was such a sheltered campsite. We decided to get up again because the campsite was small and overcrowded and we again wanted to spend most of the day hiking just the two of us.We actually got up early enough that even though several through hikers had passed our campsite the night before and gone on to camp in unofficial areas, we overtook them all.We were also rushing a bit again because we knew there was another zip line coming up that we didn’t want to get “stuck in traffic” for, and we had heard from the weather forecast that it would rain later that day, so we were trying to avoid bad weather.
Once again, Kay went ahead with the zip lining first, although this one was set much lower and closer to the water. At first, Kay wanted to set his backpack on the same level as himself, until he just set off and I said “NO, that will be waaay too low, attach the carabiner directly to the hook and not to the anchor”. And as you can see… with the weight of it all, Kay sank right in and flooded his boots and pants.Also, we realized that the rope got stuck on the bigger rocks in the river, and there wasn’t enough of it to let him get all the way across, so he was kind of stuck. I had to help him sling the rope over the rock so that he could wheel himself to safety. Can we all just imagine how wet his pack would be if it were on the same level as his butt?? He didn’t even put his iPhone in his watertight bag because the last zip line was so safe and dry!! Meanwhile, while Kay was struggling, I was quickly pulling off my boots and socks and pant legs and putting on my tevas. We also decided to send my pack over by itself because the weight was dipping everything too far together.When I went, I was pretty carefree and more concerned about Kay taking photos of me than remembering that the stupid rope was going to get stuck on the rock again… which it did! And this time, there was no one on the other side to help sling it over.Kay spent some time shouting instructions to me that I couldn’t hear and getting annoyed with me that I wasn’t slinging the rope from where I was… but the problem was that when the rope had too much slack, you couldn’t get it to lift out of the rushing water, yet if you pulled it too tight, it was stuck on the rock. This was too hard to convey to Kay from the middle of the river, so he continued angrily pointing while I tried to wheel myself closer back to the rock to get a different angle and rope length to sling it over.Eventually I got it, although not without scraping Kay’s hands up in the process on the steel cable (oops!).
I would like to say that this was the end of our Huemul Circuit, but when we arrived at the ferry pickup nice and early, a bus had just left literally seconds before we arrived, and we had no idea when the next one would come, so after waiting an hour and having a snack, Kay decided we should walk the “extra unmarked route” back to town, which ended up being pretty damn unmarked. (See map, where we trail off any marked path…)
I would say it was fun… but I was pretty tired of walking through swampy cow area and there was literally NO path. At the end, we didn’t really know where the town was and it was starting to thunderstorm. Eventually, we were just walking through spiky, painful bush across and up hills, with spooked cows nearby as the skies threatened us.
We ended making it back to town alright, although not before I cried out of fear and frustration, and eventually started walking on my own to again, what I thought looked like it could maybe be a path. And later that night it stormed pretty badly El Chalten, so I am very happy that we finished the trek when we did! This was definitely an extremely challenging trek, between the tricky/slippery path on the second day, the zip lining extras, and the awful steep descent and bonus cow shit scavenger hunt at the end.
After our high seeing Torres del Paine, I was very excited for our next stop. While Kay hadn’t really been interested in Patagonia before our trip, I had demanded that Perito Moreno Glacier was on the list. So, after a night in town, we hopped on a tour bus with several other tourists and drove out for a day trip to the glacial field.
When we finally piled out of the bus for our 3-ish hour tour and made it down to the viewing platforms, Kay was audibly impressed.It was BREATHTAKING. Literally, the power you can feel and hear in the air from the glacier cracking and groaning and constantly moving forward, inching its way further out into the lake, was incredible.Kay missed it, but shortly after we arrived, I saw a huge chunk of ice burst off the side and crash into the water to join the other ice chunks floating on the surface. The sound. The force…. Despite global warming, I kind of hoped I would see some more pop off soon just because it was so amazing! We kept hoping the whole time that we would somehow see this scrawny bit in the photo above crack off, but alas it did not happen. Don’t move too fast, Perito! Also what surprised Kay was the color of the glacier. It was extremely blue! Somehow, we both thought that it would be white or if anything, gray or brown from dirt and rocks and earth, but it had the prettiest blue tone that flickered in the sunlight.The lake was also a typical-for-Patagonia unreal teal color. It looked magnificently clean, but I can only imagine how freaking cold that water must be!Kay, who hadn’t thought much about his visit to Torres del Paine a couple days previously or this visit, was totally enjoying himself and blown away by the sights that Patagonia had to offer. It was like nothing we had ever seen before!Although we were in broad daylight during summer in January, there was a pretty icy breeze coming off that glacier that chilled us.After a long time taking photos, we headed along the side of the lake towards the cafe to warm up with some hot drinks and lunch, admiring these floating iceberg chunks as we went.After lunch we headed back out for a bit more viewing before it was time to head back, and the sun was starting to peek out a bit in the mountain range in the back that had been cloudy when we had arrived.Now this looked truly magical and like a scene out of a novel about far off lands with snowy tundras. We also imagined just how dangerous it would be to walk on this glacier… It has an average depth of 74m (240ft) and a max depth of 170m (558ft) and the whole glacier is in constant motion with ice cracking and moving and reforming constantly. Imagine taking your next step and suddenly plunging deep into the Earth, getting lodged between ice on all sides. Not a death I plan for! Eventually it was time to head back up to the bus and back into El Calafate.We would only stay one more night in El Calafate. We came to see the glacier and there’s not much else to El Calafate, so it was time to get on to the wonderland of El Chalten and all it has to offer!
In late December 2016, when we booked this trip, images of Torres del Paine were how I envisioned our time in Patagonia. As Kay began to map our trekking routes in early January for our time just a few weeks away, he wanted without a doubt to do the “O” trek.
However, when he went to book it, he realized it was point-blank impossible because we wouldn’t be able to secure camping permits, something recently introduced in autumn 2016 in the park. (Greeaat, just like our timing with the permits for the Inca trail in Peru… we are always missing out!)No fear, we can still do the “W” trek, a portion of the O trek. Only… as Kay went to book the sites, one of the key camping points was booked up, making the entire trek impossible for our time there. CRAP. But I NEEDED to see those towers… I mean, LOOK AT THEM.
Although we could not do any type of through trekking here, we could pay the pricey fee to camp at one of the sites at the base of Torres del Paine and then hike up in the morning. So after heading up from Ushuaia and spending a night in Puerto Natales, we got to the park and set up camp for just one night.The bonus of still doing a night camping was that we would have an early start for the summit and avoid the mass of crowds that come in with a tour bus around 10am and start their day hike then.And boy, was it a good idea. We only had one shot at this, so we prayed for good weather. Meanwhile, we put our one night of dinner together and enjoyed the atmosphere at the campsite, which was something like Disneyland with how many excited hikers were there camping out.
Also, with the towers just above the campsite, it was a great place to enjoy the view and get a taste of what we would hopefully see the next day if the weather was kind to us.In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and then set off with the sun still getting started. We could see the towers from the base, but would they still be visible by the time we got up there?After getting up around 5:30am and racing excitedly to the top with just our daypacks wearing us down, we were greeted with this fantastic view:The stuff Patagonia is made of.The weather was slightly tricky as the clouds were always rushing over the tops of the mountains, constantly hiding at least one of the towers.But what a sight to behold.I think we could have stayed here all day… but we had to turn around eventually and tear down our campsite before making the bus back to Puerto Natales in time.Kay was always waiting just a bit more to see if all three of the towers would be all the way visible… but the clouds pressing up and over from behind them were teasing us. Now? No… what about now? Ohh….This was probably the best we had below, before I told him we really should head back if we wanted to make it out of there on time.Sadly, it was time to leave. As we set off down the path, we were passed by about a million of the day hikers coming in off the buses. The further we walked down, the more the clouds covered the towers and it started lightly raining. By the time we got to the start, we looked back up at the towers and they were completely covered in rain and clouds. It looked terrible. Terrible for all those day trippers…Sometimes it pays getting up early y’all and being there when the day starts! And with Patagonia, you just plain need some luck on your side. I’m thankful that we were still able to see this view with just a day in the park!
Up next, we head back to Argentina to see the Perito Moreno glacier!