Parque National Los Glaciares, Argentina
What’s more ultralight than not carrying any pack at all? Such was my experience in Los Glaciares National Park in southern Argentina.
Our bus to El Chaltén, the village inside the park, made a mandatory stop at park headquarters. After a briefing in English given by eloquent park rangers, which highlighted safety and Leave No Trace practices, we were already impressed. Yet afternoon storm clouds had covered all of the towering peaks in the distance, and we we were unable to see the legendary Fitz Roy.
In the park office Danny and I studied the many detailed maps in different colors, dimensions, and resolutions. There was one large loop in the park, but one-fourth of the terrain crossed over the Patagonian Ice Field. We were not equipped for such an expedition. The rest of the trails mostly emanated from the main trailhead that started in town. We decided to make a base camp an hour hike from El Chaltén. From there, we would do day trips to the many glaciers. Additionally, resupplying from town would be quick and easy.
As it turned out, this was a smart decision. Patagonia weather can be unpredictable, so camping at a low elevation and in the trees helped seclude us from high winds and cold temperatures. We took advantage of the long Patagonia summer days, and never ran out of day light. Instead, sheer exhaustion sent us to bed. Because we traveled light, with a few extra warm clothes, a small med kit, and plenty of calories, we could travel fast and cover long distances.
We passed through several crowded camps on our day hikes, yet most of those hikers we did not see on the trails. Our hypothesis was that moving camps and carrying heavier packs discouraged trekkers from exploring beyond the main routes.
With one backpack, carried often by my personal sherpa, my husband Danny, I was able to backpack in one of the most beautiful parks in the world, without actually carrying a pack.
The town of El Chaltén is situated next to Rio de las Vueltas. It is the only entry point for all of the great hikes and climbs, including those to Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
We set up a base camp in the protection of these wonderfully crooked trees, within view of Fitz Roy. Still, the winds were quite strong and kicked up a lot of dirt, often leaving a layer of dust on our gear inside the tartpent.
Park rangers warned us that the trails were dangerous in certain sections, such as this path across a steep rock slide above Laguna Torre. We did see a few guided groups, but we felt comfortable navigating on our own.
Cerro Torre, at 3128m, stands tall over Torre Egger, Punto Herron, Cerro Stanhardt (left to right).
On a rare day like this, with clear skies and no wind, we stretched out our breaks so that we could further enjoy the majestic surroundings.
Rock surfing next to Glaciar Piedras Blancas – another favorite lunch spot that we had all to ourselves.
Typical ground-hugging vegetation in southern Patagonia.
The ferocious wind made hiking difficult as we made our way up to Lago de los Tres. When we finally arrived, the lake was still frozen over and clouds obscured our view of Fitz Roy.
On the descent from Laguna de los Tres, we enjoyed expansive views of smaller mountains and the Argentine steppe to the east.
Snow covered mountains for as far as the eye can see. The rough waters are the only indication of the strong wind, given the calm appearance of the sky.
Yvon Chouinard climbed Fitz Roy in 1968. Can you guess where he got the inspiration for the name and logo of his soon-to-be outdoor company?
After resupplying in El Chaltén, we hiked south for our last trip: an overnight to Lago Toro. We were blasted by sleet and snow as we hiked over the pass.
The weather improved the next day during our return hike, allowing us a memorable last view. The “light” at the end is Glaciar Rio Tunel. We camped nearby the spectacular glacier the night before.
Cerro Solo. One last dramatic view before returning to El Chaltén, to catch a bus to Chile. Our amazing experiences in Parque National Los Glaciares set the bar high for our next trek in Torres del Paine.