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January 4, 2013 / JustinKays Porter

El Chalten: The Mother of all Hikes and Epic Good Luck

Anyone who mildly enjoys hiking and has been to El Chalten will tell you the same thing: if you can, hike to Laguna de los Tres. The caveat “if you can” is definitely a relevant one! The hike is about 9 miles each way, with more than 2000 feet of elevation gain. Of that elevation, 1200 feet is in the last mile. Yes, it's pretty near vertical! The other thing that keeps most people away from this hike is the weather. That last brutal mile of switchbacks is on a barren landscape, completely exposed to the elements. But the reward is other-worldly. Laguna de los Tres is at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy, the biggest and maybe baddest mountain in the area. Cerro Fitz Roy towers over the crystal blue lake, and tends to play peekaboo; its peak commonly shrouded in ever-shifting clouds. From Laguna de los Tres, you can also overlook the emerald green Laguna Sucia, and see all the way out to Lago Viedma. We have been told many, many times that it is absolutely stunning.

With all that said, we left town early this morning with the hopes of getting to the lake before the weather turned and before the crowds arrived. Our first stop on the trail was at a lookout with views of Cerro Fitz Roy. The sky was still blue, but thin wispy clouds had started to appear and the breeze definitely had a chill to it. While admiring the view, we heard other hikers speaking English. We learned that they were from Madison, but had been born in the San Francisco area. So of course, we had things in common and chatted for a few minutes before setting off again. As soon as they left the view point, Justin said, “I wonder if those are the people Bob told us to meet up with.” And then the lightbulb in my mind went off. We caught up to them a few minutes later, and I asked if they knew Jean Mescher (a long-time friend of my Grandpa Bob's). They both looked at me and said, in unison, “That's my mom!” So, on the other side of the world, in a tiny town, on a trail where we hadn't seen anyone else, we met up with the only people we knew of in Patagonia. Talk about a small world!! We chatted for awhile longer, took some photos, and went our separate ways. Hopefully Peter and Lorraine also made it to Laguna de los Tres and had a wonderful time in Patagonia.

Back on the trail, we decided to hike as fast as possible to try to beat the weather. And as luck would have it, we made it to the top of the crest just above Laguna de los Tres while there was still blue sky and views of the peak. As we sat on the crest, admiring the views of Laguna de los Tres and Cerro Fitz Roy (and yes, it's better than everyone says!), clouds started to bubble up right behind the summit of the peak. It almost looked like the mountain had started to smoke, the way the clouds rolled up and over the peak from the backside. And as we continued to watch this new phenomenon, we saw the wall of grey clouds approach from behind Cerro Fitz Roy. We scrambled down to the lake and were able to snap a few more pictures before the wall of grey totally engulfed to summit of Cerro Fitz Roy. Twenty minutes later and we would missed the peak completely!

Laguna de Los Tres and Cerro Fitz Roy. Stunning!

See the clouds?

We still managed to stay at Laguna de los Tres for almost two hours, wandering around the lake, admiring Laguna Sucia and the glaciers from above, watching Cerro Fitz Roy play its customary game of peekaboo in the clouds. It really is a magical place. The pictures may capture the views, but there is something that just feels different up there. Maybe it's the colors, maybe it's the wind, maybe it's the Argentinian power bar we had for lunch… whatever it is, it's a very special place.

Laguna Sucia

We hustled down the switchbacks and made it off the exposed part of the trail before the rain and wind really picked up. And it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be, but I can imagine it would be brutal on those switchbacks! We walked back to town, and played a game on the trail to entertain ourselves. We guessed which hikers would make it to Laguna de los Tres, and who would not. Terrible, but very entertaining! Everyone once in awhile we would look back, up at Cerro Fitz Roy, and every time we looked it was covered in clouds.

Check out this link for a 360 view from Laguna de Los Tres:

Hopefully that works!


One Comment

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  1. Chels / Jan 6 2013 9:03 pm

    Woah! Very cool, love the 360!

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