Over the past few years, Dan and I have found a mutual interest and love for hiking. The interest was sparked in 2009 on the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal and was solidified on our honeymoon in 2012 on the Inca Trail.
(Excuse the quality as I had to pull these from Facebook).
Nepal 2009 – Dan literally still wears this hat.
Macchu Picchu, Peru 2012 – After 4 days of hiking.
Being from the Midwest and living in a city like Chicago, there wasn’t much opportunity to explore this potential hobby. We’d try to go any chance we’d get while visiting my parents in Wisconsin to Devil’s Lake or Kettle Moraine State Parks and even made the drive to Starved Rock in Illinois. But it just wasn’t the same. They are beautiful of course, but not on the same scale, aren’t very challenging and the worst part: they are overcrowded. With few options to get into the great outdoors, people flock from the city and flood these small State Parks which makes the experience feel more like an amusement park rather than a hike in the woods.
Therefore, one of the big goals on this trip through South America was to get into the mountains and see if hiking is more than just something we like to do every once in awhile. Would we want to move somewhere afterwards in order to incorporate it more into our lifestyle? Do we like it as much as we think we do? We knew we could easily accomplish our further hiking exploration in Patagonia and even more so in El Chaltén.
El Chaltén is a tiny village (and by tiny I mean you can walk from end to end in less than 15 minutes) nestled in Los Glaciares National Park. It was established in the mid 1980’s in order to settle the border dispute with Chile. Today it exists solely for the purpose of tourism and a jumping off point into the well-known Patagonian mountains. El Chaltén is the definition of a mountain town, being surrounded by famous peaks such as Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. Despite the small size of El Chaltén, there are plenty of trails, hikes, camping, glaciers, and climbing (for people who can actually do that – not me) to keep you busy for many days. The best part of El Chaltén is that you can just walk out the door from your hostel or hotel and be on a trailhead in 5 or less minutes.
Being the final stop on our month long tour of Argentinian Patagonia, we decided to spend 10 mostly glorious days here. The weather can be very volatile and change in an instant so there were a few days filled with boredom in our hostel, Lo de Trivi. 10 days ended up being slightly too long but we wanted to do many hikes and spend as much time as possible soaking up the Patagonian scenery before we left for Chile. We completed 6 hikes total.
FULL DAY HIKES
Laguna de los Tres: This is the sought after hike in El Chaltén and Patagonia in general as it brings you right to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. We jumped at the opportunity on a sunny day to complete this 20k round trip hike. We had incredible views and this ended up being one of the major highlights of our entire trip so far.
Dan was so excited that he stripped down to his underwear and jumped into this icy waters from this rock approximately 30 minutes before this photo was taken.
The clouds rolled in around 2 p.m. and completely covered Fitz Roy.
If you walk to the left of the Laguna de los Tres, you find this gorge filled with a clear blue lake.
Laguna Torre: Probably the second most sought after hike in El Chaltén brought us to this viewpoint. The water isn’t quite as clear or blue as the Laguna de los Tres but there is a huge glacier at the base of this mountain which makes this spot unique. This hike was much easier for us than Fitz Roy as it is 18k round trip and much flatter. Walking around the perimeter of the lake was a highlight.
Piedras Blancas: This hike follows mostly the same path as Mount Fitz Roy but breaks off when it’s about to get really difficult (thank God). The trail takes you to a view of the glacier to the north of Fitz Roy and a lake below. It was pretty but it was very cloudy and windy.
The glacier is actually this blue!
HALF DAY HIKES
Los Cóndores y Las Águilas: This trail is a very easy and enjoyable half day hike. The trail splits into two where you have two very distinct view points. Los Cóndores gives a full view of Fitz Roy and the city whereas from Las Águilas you can see Lake Viedma.
Chorillo del Salto: This is the easiest hike (it’s completely flat) around El Chaltén and was perfect to do the day after a long hike when your legs are burning. I took this one on by myself as Dan hurt his foot the day before and wasn’t really feeling it. Not that I didn’t miss my hiking companion, but it was really nice to have half the day to myself.
Laguna Capri: This is 4km into the hike to Fitz Roy so Dan and I decided to try this one out on a “take it easy” day. Unfortunately when we showed up it was pretty cloudy but on a sunny day, I’m sure the views of Fitz Roy are stunning.
After this entire month of hiking I had a lot of time to think. I realized my love for hiking is curious because there are parts about it that I do not enjoy. Hiking makes me feel like a pack animal; carrying around a bag the size of a small child on my back, flies incessantly buzzing around my head, falling into line with other hikers whose trekking poles start to irrationally annoy me (like rolling suitcases in an airport). But unlike a pack animal, I am extremely NOT sure footed. I question my every step across a stream or over rocks because I am clumsy. Every time I look up from the ground, my oversized hiking boots get caught on a tree root sticking up from the ground and I trip. Or I catch a stone which causes my whole body to roll and I almost fall backwards. Then there’s the up and down of it. Going up is physically difficult for obvious reasons and going down is strenuous because it pains my knees, ankles, and brain (because of how much I have to concentrate).
Despite all of my overdramatized complaints about hiking, the reasons that I love it far outweigh these annoyances. After a short time, I’m able to push those negative thoughts out of my mind and enjoy myself.
Hiking is my form of meditation. I’ve always wanted to meditate but I have a hard time turning off the noises in my brain. When I’m hiking, I’m somehow able to zone out and my mind becomes completely clear. I’m able to focus on the simple rhythm of my steps and be present in what’s going on around me. I think because my mind becomes so void of the stuff that usually clouds it, I’m also able to remember and think about the most random things which can make for entertaining conversation with Dan on the trail.
It’s a challenge. I take a lot of joy in the feeling of the reward at the end of physical and mental excursion. I have to admit that I’m not too keen on hikes that are challenging for no reason, they have to lead to somewhere worthwhile such as a glacial lake, ancient Inca ruins, or even a kitten living in a cabin.
It has taken me to amazing places. Although some locations such as the Inca Trail or Chorillo del Salto for example, are accessible by car, train, or bus – many of the most beautiful sights in the world are so remote that you have to hike there. I believe helps preserve the beauty and sacredness of the place (and also keeps out all the yahoos who may not appreciate it!). I took one look at Fitz Roy and Cerro Catedral (Refugio Frey in Bariloche) and was excited to hike!
It gets me outside. On this trip, I have come to a full realization of how little time I spent outside in Chicago and how badly I want to change this moving forwards. I love to feel the sun, smell the fresh air, and be active. Hiking provides all of these things in a nice, neat little package without having to practice or get a certification or spend a lot of money on gear (like my other new hobby, scuba diving).
So now the question lingers whether a full month in Patagonia has convinced us to make mountains and hiking part of our future lifestyle. I must say that answer still hasn’t fully come to me yet. What I do know is that I would prefer the mountains to be more accessible and more feasible than they were when living in the Midwest. It would be nice to add hiking to my typical repertoire of binging on Netflix, cuddling with my cats, and drinking BUT I also want to explore some other lifestyles, such as beach and oceanside living.
I also know that we have hiked our hearts out. We feel ready for a hiking break and a change of scenery before Dan’s toe nails start falling off and I turn into one giant peanut butter sandwich. It’s been an incredible month full of achieving goals and exploring the outdoors but we look forward to our third country, third month, and next phase of our trip in Chile.