On Saturday, February 16th, I said goodbye to Puerto Natales and temporarily, Chile. I boarded the bus for El Calafate, Argentina, site of one of the most impressive glaciers around. After a more than 6 hour bus ride, I arrived at the bus station to find my friend Matt waiting. After dumping my bags at the hostel, we headed out for a steak dinner in town. The town was larger than I expected, very touristy, and upscale.
We awoke to a cold Sunday morning which soon warmed up around noon. We found a tourist agency that could take us to the Perito Moreno glacier later that day and take us up to El Chaltén, our next stop further north, up Route 40. At 3, we boarded our bus to head to Los Glaciers National Park, home of the Perito Moreno glacier, among others.
From seeing pictures of the glacier, I knew it would be impressive, but being next to it in person was even more awe-inspiring. It is 30km/19mi long and 4.5km/3mi wide. The glacier is moving and still growing. I was surprised since many of the glaciers I have seen are in retreat from global warming. As the glacier approaches the land, pieces small and large break off with thunderous sounds hinting at the impending break. We stood and watched the glacier for about and hour waiting patiently for the next piece to crack and fall.
On Monday, we boarded our early bus for the long bus ride to El Chaltén, Argentina’s youngest town with only 22 years in existence. It borders a mountain range that includes the stunning Fitz Roy mountain. It was just as impressive as the mountain range of Torres Del Paine. The entire town sits in the northern zone of Los Glaciers National Park and before entering, everyone gets an orientation session with the park ranger.
Matt and I found a cheap hostel where we could dump most of our stuff. We were here to trek and camp so other than a little bit of clothing, food, our tent and sleeping bags, we didn’t need much. After a quick stop at the grocery store, we headed north on foot to the trailhead leading into the mountains. The skies were mostly clear but the area was marked by a strong wind coming off the mountains. After a beautiful 2.5 hour march, we arrived at the Poincenot campsite. My legs were still good to go, but my back was definitely ready for the stop. We were prevented from hiking out another hour to see a glacier beyond the camp due to bad weather on the mountains.
That night, it rained and we awoke to cloudy skies and intermittent rain still falling. Our option for a hike out to mountain lake region was stifled. So, the only decision became, do we continue on to the next camp site where the skies looked better? Frustrated by the prospect of having to stay at the same campsite for a second night, we marched on. The first hour we walked in the rain, but then we walked out of the affected area. By, the time we reached the De Agostini campsite, the sun was out. We got our tent up quickly and the rains came again. We were mostly protected and they passed and did not return. Near the campsite was a large mountain glacier, whose runoff fed the river nearby. Out of water and with the recommendation of the park ranger, I went to the river to refill my water bottle with the fresh glacial water. It was cold and clear with a grayish blue hue signaling the potential for a strong mineral taste. But, there was none, only the taste of pure water.
On Wednesday morning we awoke to a sunny day. I went out to take some pictures of the glacier which shined brilliantly on the mountain. We headed out of the camp toward El Chaltén. I enjoyed the trip and the camping and was glad that I finally had completed my first true trek. Granted, it was easy as far as treks go. But, I didn’t care. I had wanted to do a trek for a while and with Matt as my trekking sensei, I was prepared and in good hands. I also felt vindicated for not having trekked the trail in Torres Del Paine. After getting back to the hostel, we showered, bought a few groceries for dinner. After dinner we went to bed. The hostel had 12 people per room situated on 3-stacked high bunks. The room that night featured a snoring orquestra between 2 snorers and a Belgian woman who sang and yelled in her sleep. I finally fell asleep and for all I know, I may have joined in the orquestra.
On Thursday, we boarded the bus for the long trip up to our next stop, the town of Perito Moreno (not the glacier). From there we would be able to cross back into Chile to start up the famed Carretera Austral, or Southern Highway. On the map, it doesn’t look that far between El Chaltén and Perito Moreno, but with a gravel road most of the way, speed was limited and it was a 12 hour drive – 13 for us since we had to stop to change a blow-out suffered on the road. The landscape on the east side of the Andes is barren and dry. It extends all the way to the Atlantic Coast and was almost the same I had seen near Puerto Madryn, except this was even drier with even less vegetation. One stop was at the Estancia Siberia; I thought it was appropriately named. Tired and haggard, we checked into our hostel and got some much needed sleep. The next day we would be crossing back into Chile and with no information yet on how we would do it, we would need the sleep.
Originally Published February 23, 2008
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