El Chaltén gives off a feeling of a completely artificially created village. Small and lost on the outskirts of Los Glaciares National Park, it was in fact created in 1985 to provide a base for those coming to hike the many trails that surround it – and offer views of the spectacular Mount Fitz Roy. It’s a bit of a mess of a town. The one ATM never works, the supermarkets are tiny, busy and empty of anything but packet pasta sauces and browned fruit, the roads are often barely more than trails, and a lot of the houses seemed to be only half finished. But it’s got a few good places to eat, a wonderful ice cream shop, and obviously, terrific surroundings.
El Chaltén takes its name from the mountain that looms over it; in the local indigenous Tehuelche language, meaning ‘smoking mountain’. But the peak’s official name is Cerro Fitz Roy, after the captain of the Beagle, the ship of Darwin’s 1834 expedition.
I walked two of the main trails in the area – first a short one to the Cerro Torre viewpoint, an easy and mostly flat walk that leads to a very windy albeit beautiful view of Laguna Torre and the mountain of the same name. I’ve sadly got no photos of Laguna Torre, because the wind blew so much water into my camera that all my shots are decorated with water droplets…
But it was nothing like the next day’s hike: longer, at 10k each way, with a tricky uphill last kilometre that took a lot out of us (especially on a moderate hangover). But then we got this view.
I’ve always been more of a city person than a lover of nature. I’ve got a huge thing for the ocean, and will happily sit for hours starting at waves, but mountains don’t have a special place in my heart. But Patagonia showed me the emotions that come with a long, exhausting hike to a monumental bit of nature. And the icy blues and pure whites did right by the sucker for colours that I am. I think only the landscapes of Iceland and the beaches of Brittany top this view for me.
Our first peek at Fitz Roy during the hike
The view from the first viewpoint
Starting a trend that would last throughout our time in Patagonia, the clouds surrounding the top of Fitz Roy cleared just as we arrived, and the weather turned right as we stared walking away, gracing our hike back to town with an apocalyptic ‘winter is coming’ background.
But the whole way down I was feeling this exact level of happiness: