March 21 proved a fine day for a long road trip to Chile’s Torres del Paines national park. The park is one of Chile’s top rated attractions offering incredible vistas of jagged peaks and deep mountain lakes. Our day included a couple of hikes along lakes and meadows and a lovely drive thru the park, dodging guanacos (llamas) and hikers from all over the world. For our return to Natales, we picked up hitch hikers John and Petra, a lovely (but ripe from hiking) couple from the Czech Republic.
On the morning of March 22, we buttoned Pazzo up, adding a 2nd anchor shackled 10 feet in front of our primary anchor, and set off for a hiking holiday in the national parks of Argentina. After a 6 hour drive, we settled in to B&B Nothofagus in the tourist town (much like a small US ski town) of El Chalten. Following pizza dinner and a good night’s rest, we hiked a fairly easy 20 km (round trip) trail for nice views of a glacier across (unfortunately) muddy Laguna Torres and the Torres (towers) peaks of El Chalten.
The following day promised blue sky and sunshine for our hike to Laguna Los Tres and Mt. Fitzroy. Capturing the sunrise on Mt. Fitzroy was on Cindy’s bucket list since she first set eyes on the cover of the Lonely Planet Guide to Argentina. So, despite the hardships of aching feet, lousy instant coffee, and darkness, we hit the trail at 07:00 for the 4 km hike to the first viewpoint (mirador) offering views of Mt. Fitzroy. Racing uphill and against the clock, we reached the mirador just as the sun was cresting the ridge to the east. Panting but grinning, Cindy was rewarded with the inspiring gilded glow of the sun’s first rays on the Fitz. As the sun continued it’s climb, Fitzroy and the surrounding Torres eased from gold to platinum – a true bluebird day! We were warned, but didn’t fully appreciate the difficulty of the last 1.5 km at an incline of 400m/Km. Yup, a real shit-kicker of a climb. Lunch was especially sweet amidst the towering peaks and pastel green glacier lakes. After 20 km on foot and a refreshing shower, we rewarded our success with a nice Chilean red and delicious lamb lasagna.
Next stop: El Calafate and the Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina’s #1 attraction. Following a short hike to Mirador Condores (Condor overlook) for nice views over El Chalten and the surrounding peaks, we picked up hitch hiker Harmony (from Lyon, France) for our 3 hour drive to El Calafate, another town dominated by tourism. By 07:00 the following morning, we were on the road with Harmony to visit the world’s most accessable glacier: Perito Moreno, named after Perito Francisco Moreno, a early settler in the area and national hero for his work establishing the border between Chile and Argentina… to Argentina’s favor, of course.
Our 08:00 arrival at the gates of Moreno Glacier National Parque put us well ahead of the trongs of tourists that would be arriving shortly on the plethora of tour busses from El Calafate. Unfortunately, our early arrival also put us ahead of park staff and their banos keys L. Despite this inconvenience, we appreciated the serenity of God’s masterpiece. The glacier measures 5km across at it’s narrowest point and is said to cover the same area as Buenos Aires, Argentina’s largest city. The height of the ice flow measures between 50 and 70 meters from water level of the glacial lake to the crevassed surface. Ice color varies from brilliant white to deep blue, depending on depth and age (compression). The very well designed and built viewing ramps allow access to within a couple hundred meters of the vertical glacier face. The sights and views are a photographer’s dream while the sounds of fracturing and calving ice remind of the forces within the flow.
With Cindy’s memory card full, we piled back in our Avis-mobile, dropped Harmony off at her Hostle in El Calafate, and made the 5-hour drive back across the border (refreshing our 3-month Chilean visa) to our waiting Pazzo in Puerto Consuelo. All well.
On March 27, we made good use of our final rental car day: laundry, shopping, dieseling, and securing our zarpe for our next leg thru the channels to Puerto Montt.