Tag Archives: Argentina

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna Turquesa – Ushuaia

Just 2km back down the road towards Ushuaia, the hike to Laguna Turquesa is far less popular than the hike to Laguna Esmeralda.  There were only 2 of us in our transfer who were going to do it (myself and a Marcielo from Buenos Aires), and we had the trail to ourselves up until we reached the lake itself.

We were both waiting at the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre at 9am, but unfortunately a 3rd person didn’t show up to make the transfer happen.  So, it was 10am again before we set off.   Why don’t people want to get out early before the weather turns bad??!!  I’ll never understand…

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Turquesa. I actually took this when we returned – there were a lot more people heading up later in the day

Right from the outset, the trail rises quite steeply through the Lenga forest

Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Marcielo leading the way through the Lenga forest. This is the way all hikes begin near Ushuaia

and doesn’t let up until you hit the treeline, where it opens out into a green valley leading up to the lake.

Green hills on the way to Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Looking back the way we’d come on the way up to Laguna Turquesa

We actually detoured up to the right, rather than heading straight for the lake, and carefully climbed a very steep shale slope to arrive at a high lookout over the Laguna itself.

Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Our first viewpoint over Laguna Turquesa

It was an amazing view, and I was intrigued that there were actually 2 people snorkeling!  Given the temperature of the water, they had to be wearing dry-suits, and I have no idea what they might have seen in there.

People snorkeling - Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

They *had* to have dry suits on! I have no idea what they would find, but I thought they were keen to be snorkeling in Laguna Turquesa

From our high perch, we also had a panoramic view back across the Carbajal-Tierra valley towards Laguna Esmeralda, which is where I was hiking yesterday.  This provided a completely different perspective on the extent of the peat bogs, which form fascinating patterns from this birds-eye view.

Laguna Esmeralda as seen from Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Laguna Esmeralda as seen from the scree slope above Laguna Turquesa

Given there was no wind, we stayed up here enjoying the view and the peace for about 45 minutes, before veeeery carefully picking our way back down to the shore of the lake itself.  Unfortunately, because it was completely overcast, the lake was not showing off its brilliant turquoise colour, but it was still beautiful. 

Me at Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

On the shore of Laguna Turquesa

We hiked around to the far end of the lake, which looked just like an infinity pool

Laguna Turquesa infinity pool - Ushuaia - Argentina

From this angle, Laguna Turquesa looked just like an infinity pool

and climbed again to a different high vantage point that included a view of both Laguna Turquesa and Laguna Esmeralda.

Laguna Turquesa with Laguna Esmeralda in the background - Ushuaia - Argentina

I love this view! Laguna Turquesa with Laguna Esmeralda in the background. You can see the steep shale slope we climbed initially over on the left

Again, it is an out-and-back hike, with a very easy and fast descent.  Plenty of time to take in the views so you don’t arrive too early for the minivan pickup!

Hiking in the green valley - Laguna Turquesa - Ushuaia - Argentina

Heading back through the green valley towards the trail head of Laguna Turquesa

Recommendation

This is a beautiful, short day hike that would still be manageable for people who don’t do a lot of hiking.  The hike itself is a little tougher and not as interesting as Laguna Esmeralda, but I preferred the views from above the lake.

Time: The suggested time is 1.5hrs each way, but if you have some fitness you can do it in less.  In total, there was 4.5 hours between being dropped off and picked up by the transfer – which is more than enough time to visit the lake, and scale some of the steep hills around it.

Cost: The transfer from the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre costs 350ARS per person for the return journey.

Maximum elevation gain: 330m to Laguna Turquesa, 420m to our highest lookout over the lake

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna Esmeralda – Ushuaia

In contrast to Laguna Encantada, the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is the most popular from Ushuaia outside of the Tierra del Fuego National Park.  Transfers to the trail head are scheduled to leave from the main bus terminal near the Tourist Information Centre at 9am, 10am and 11am (returning at 4pm), but need a minimum of 3 people to run.

I was there at 9am, but unfortunately I was the only one ☹  So I went and sat in the sunshine overlooking the wreck of the St Christopher in the Beagle Channel for an hour listening to Frederik Elsner on continuous repeat.

The wreck of the St Christopher, which sits in the Beagle Channel in Ushuaia

One of the icons of Ushuaia – the wreck of the St Christopher

By 10am there were enough people for the transfer to run, so we finally drove the 22km out to the start of the hike.   With strict instructions to be back at the carpark at 4pm (or we would be walking back to Ushuaia), off we headed on the very well signposted route to the lake.

This hike is by far the easiest I’ve done around Ushuaia so far, but is very interesting as it passes through 4 distinct landscapes.  First up – a native lenga forest that was logged in the mid-20th century.

Lenga forest - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

As with all hikes around Ushuaia, you start off in Lenga forest

This gives way to the Carbajal-Tierra valley, one of the largest peatbogs in South America. 

Peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Peat bogs and mountains – this is very typical of the landscape around Ushuaia

Peat forms when vegetation (in this case, mostly Sphagnum moss) doesn’t fully decay in anaerobic conditions, and if you have ever tried to walk across it you know that it is very wet and spongy!  For this reason, and due to the popularity of this hike, they have built log “roads” to help hikers across the worst of it.

Log paths across the peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Because of the popularity of this hike, there were quite a few of these log paths to help across the peat bogs

There are also loads of beaver dams

Beaver dams blocking the river - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

You see lots of beaver activity on this hike, from felled trees to the dams that almost block the river

and the turquoise colour of glacial meltwater is always beautiful.

Glacial meltwater - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

I love the turquoise colour of glacial meltwater

The third vegetation landscape is native primary forest, though I have to admit that it looked pretty similar to the Lenga forest to my untrained eye.  I guess the tree trunks are thicker…

Primary forest - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

It looks pretty similar to the forest lower down, but apparently this is primary forest

And then you reach the high peat bog, which apparently has some very specific species of plant that are only found in areas under extreme conditions (according to the sign at the start of the hike).  Although I usually want a Geologist hiking with me, there are times when a Botanist would also be very welcome!

High peat bog - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The high peat bog near Laguna Esmeralda is really beautiful

The final ascent to the lake is back on dry ground

Final approach - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The last part of the hike to Laguna Esmeralda is much dryer

with an amazing turquoise river running beside

Me overlooking the high peat bog and river on the way to Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Amazing view over the high peat bog on the way to Laguna Esmeralda

and an incredible view of Laguna Esmeralda once you crest the rise.  

Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The view of Laguna Esmeralda and Ojos del Albino Glacier

It must be very special to camp there overnight (the camping spot looks great!) and experience this landscape first thing in the morning before the clouds come over and the wind picks up.  Next time!

Campsite - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

The campsite at Laguna Esmeralda

Behind the lake sits the Ojos del Albino glacier

Ojos del Albino Glacier - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Ojos del Albino glacier sits at the other end of Laguna Esmeralda

and although I didn’t have enough time to hike all the way there, I did hike past the lake for a while to see what I could see.  Mostly more forest with fallen tree “hurdles”, and non-wind-swept parts of the lake that had a spectacular milkiness.

milky water - Laguna Esmeralda near Ushuaia, Argentina

Looking back towards where I first arrived at Laguna Esmeralda across the milky water

This is another out-and-back trail, so the return journey was the same as the hike in.  Was much faster though, so we ended up having to sit in the carpark (not the prettiest spot) for about 45 minutes waiting for the minivan to come and pick us up.

Recommendation

This is a really easy and beautiful day hike – great for people who don’t do a lot of hiking but would like to get out into the nature around Ushuaia.

Time: The suggested time is 2hrs each way, but if you have some fitness you can do it in less.  In total, there was 5.5 hours between being dropped off and picked up – which is more than enough time to visit the lake, but not enough time to hike all the way to the glacier.

Cost: The transfer from the main bus station near the Tourist Information Centre costs 350ARS per person for the return journey.

Maximum elevation gain: 158m

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna Encantada – Ushuaia

I arrived in Ushuaia to discover that my fellow salsa-dancing aficionado from Melbourne, Autumn, also happened to be in town.  She invited me along on a hike that her and her travelling companions were planning for the next day, and I was more than keen to join despite a desperate lack of sleep.  She was a bit vague on the details of where they were going, but it didn’t really matter 😊

Turned out that after a later-than-anticipated start (who knew it could take so long to buy bus tickets?!), we ended up hiking to Laguna Encantada, which starts along the same path as that to Laguna de Los Témpanos and Glaciar Vinciguerra, but keeps going straight rather than dog-legging around to the left.

Like many hikes in Latin America, there is no public transport to the trailhead, so we ended up catching the local bus to the turnoff that goes up the Andorra valley, and then were incredibly lucky to be picked up almost immediately by a young couple who could fit the 5 of us in the back of their ute (with the rubbish) for the 5km trip to the end of the road.  Score!

The trail starts off very easy – tracking along a flat, brilliantly green river plain with steep mountains on either side. 

The green valley at the start of the trail to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The start of the trail to Laguna Encantada passes through a wide, flat, green valley

This led us past what looked like a graveyard for wooden pallets – certainly one of the most puzzling sights I’ve ever seen on a hike, and one for which we could not think of a reasonable explanation.   Closer inspection revealed that these wooden structures were not pallets, but rather looked like drying racks, similar to what I’d seen the locals use to dry fish while I was in Greenland.  Unfortunately, there was nobody around to ask, so the we had to make do with our own imaginings, and the mystery remains unsolved.

Mystery structures in the valley before the climb Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

What are these??

We eventually came to the sign at the start of the hike, and were relieved to discover a bridge that would allow us to cross the river without getting wet.  After some deliberation about which of the trails we would actually do, we decided to tackle the most difficult one first (to Laguna Encantada) and see how we went from there.

Sign at the start of the hike to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The hike to Laguna Encantada starts at the same place as the hike to the Vinciguerra Glacier. Hmmmm… which one to choose?

Like all hikes in this part of Patagonia, this one starts off by climbing through the Lenga forest, with felled logs helping to keep shoes relatively dry and free of mud through the worst of the boggy patches.

Hiking through the Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Hiking through the Lenga forest on the way to Laguna Encantada

It was a relatively steep climb which eventually ended at a large open meadow with more vibrant greenery and views of the higher mountains.

Green valley approaching Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

At the top of the Lenga forest we came out into this vibrantly green valley

And eventually, Laguna Encantada itself.

Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Laguna Encantada and its surroundings

The lake is surrounded by steep mountains, lush green grass, and sits at the base of a tall waterfall.

Waterfall that feeds Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The light was absolutely terrible for taking this photograph, but the scene was gorgeous

And seems to have been formed due to beaver dam (common around Ushuaia) blocking the water flow.

Beaver dam blocking Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Beaver dams are everywhere in this part of Patagonia. It seems that a beaver dam is partially why Laguna Encantada exists

After a quick exploration of the lake shore and a discussion in French with the only other hikers we’d seen, Jean Baptiste, Cyril and Marjorie decided that we would climb to the saddle point that you can see in the middle of the above image for a view from upon high of the Laguna.

It was steep!  And impossible to see where you were putting your feet, with Majorie ending up with a boot and trouser-leg full of mud at one point.

Climbing through the grass towards the pass above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The first part of the climb to the pass above Laguna Encantada was steep and grassy, and impossible to see where you were placing your feet

We eventually reached the top of the green slope, only to be confronted with a further, equally steep slope of scree. 

Extremely steep scree slope that we climbed to get to the saddle over Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

It was steeper than it looks… This was an incredibly steep scree slope that we climbed

And onward we climbed…

With shaking legs and bursting lungs, we finally arrived to the most incredible view from the saddle point.   On the one side, there was the view back down to Laguna Encantada.

Climbing the scree slope above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Another view of the steep scree slope we climbed above Laguna Encantada. Autumn and Cyril are still on their way up

And on the other side, a view over into the next valley, another bowl of green with a river running through.

View to the other side of the pass above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The other side of the pass above Laguna Entantada was just as beautiful

It was a stunning place.

Saddle point overlooking Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

The pass offered spectacular views all around – but it was freezing cold!

Unfortunately, as with most passes in Patagonia, it was also very cold and windy, so after about 20 minutes we started our careful descent, back the way we had come.

Descending the scree slope above Laguna Encantada near Ushuaia, Argentina

Descending the scree slope back towards Laguna Encantada was much easier than climbing it

I don’t remember much about the hike back to the trail head as I was mostly helping Autumn prepare for a job interview that was scheduled for midnight that night Argentinean time (the timezone difference with Australia is terrible from Chile and Argentina). 

When we reached the bridge across the river at the start of the hike, we very fortunately ran into some Israeli hikers who had arranged a transfer to come pick them up at a specific time.   We hadn’t done such a thing and so were facing a 5km hike down the road to where we could pick up the local bus to take us back to town.  They said we could jump in their transfer if there was room.

To keep warm, we kept hiking back down the road toward Ushuaia, and met the van coming up the road.  We arranged with the driver to pick us up on the way back down for 100ARS each, and just in time too!  Because a little further down the road there was a large, white pig-dog that we didn’t like the look of and couldn’t tell if it was tied up or not.  The local dogs who had adopted us along the way were also whimpering, so our guess is that it would have attacked us had we tried to go past.

 

Recommendation

If you want to get off the main hiking paths around Ushuaia, Laguna Encantada is a really nice hike with very few people.  It is fairly well sign-posted all the way to the Lake, though if you decide to scale the mountain to the right like we did (or climb to Laguna Encantada Superior) – there is no path – it is a choose you own (very careful) adventure.

Cost:  Although we caught the local bus (7ARS) and then hitchhiked up to the trailhead (free) and back to town (100ARS), I later managed to arrange a taxi for a similar excursion for 230ARS each way.  If you can find others to split the cost – that is a much easier way to go.

Time: We took about 7 hours return to do this hike.  If you only hike to Laguna Encantada it is much, much shorter – probably more like 4 hours return

Maximum elevation gain: 381m to Laguna Encantada, 795m to the saddle point

 

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Hiking Argentina – Loma del Pliegue Tumbado – El Chaltén

Another of the key day-hikes from El Chaltén is to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado.  This seems to be everyone’s last option (the Senda Laguna Torre and Laguna de los Tres are far more popular), but the park rangers tell me that it is actually one of the most spectacular hikes … IF you have a clear day.

Sign for the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Sign at the start of the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Unfortunately, with the exception of part of the day we hiked to Laguna de los Tres, Mathilde and I didn’t have a lot of luck with the weather ☹  Undeterred, we headed out anyway to chance our luck on things improving in the 3 hours it would take us to reach the viewpoint.

Trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde heading the charge up the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

This hike is quite different to the others in that there are not many mountain views until you have gone quite a long way.  Rather, it is a steady and surprisingly steep uphill climb through Patagonian grasslands and then Lenga forest

The Lenga forest on the way to Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

The trail passes through Patagonian grasslands and a Lenga forest that is quite extensive

until you arrive at the first real viewpoint about 2 hours later.

First Viewpoint Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

First viewpoint on the way to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Hmmm… our hope that the clouds would lift did not look like it was going come to pass.

Nevertheless, we had walked this far, so we figured that we might as well hike the final 40 minutes to the actual viewpoint.  This part of the trail is very exposed and takes you across bare, rocky ground, usually fighting an incredibly strong wind.  Fortunately, on this day, the wind was very mild – perhaps part of the reason the clouds were still lingering on the mountains!

Mathilde hiking the final part of the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde hiking the exposed final part of the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

We reached the top and headed down for what view we could get over the mountains, lake and glacier.  In fact, it looked almost identical to when I did this hike in 2015!

Views from the Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

The view we were able to see from the Mirador. I would really love to see this on a clear day!

The difference this time was that I got to share the frustration and cold with a friend 😊

Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Loma del Pliegue Tumbado.

Pictures taken, it was time for a fancier version of my regular day-hiking lunch (in place of salami, I had prosciutto in my cheese and processed meat sandwich!)  Previous hikers have built several rock walls to try to gain some protection from the normally fierce winds that blow across this exposed hill – so Mathilde and I (and several other new friends) hunkered down behind one of these to eat. 

Lunch behind stone walls at the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

Having lunch behind stone walls that were built to offer a little protection from the wind

In 2015, I think I lasted 10 minutes, even with the protection of the rock wall.  This time, Mathilde and I managed to enjoy the views from the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado for about 45 minutes before the cold and the worsening cloud cover drove us back towards El Chaltén.

But we did have one fantastic surprise along the way!  A woodpecker doing his thing 😊

Woodpecker on the trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado - El Chaltén - Argentina

I guess I’m just going to have to come back again to do this hike, as I’m really curious to see the amazing view described by the park rangers.

Recommendation

The Senda Loma del Pliegue Tumbado climbs higher than the Laguna Torre hike and the Laguna de los Tres hike.  For this reason, the park rangers don’t recommend it if the day is forecast for wind or rain.  If you get a nice day, however, they say it is an incredibly beautiful view from the end.  

Distance: 20km return

Time: 6 hours

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Hiking Argentina – Chorillo del Salto – El Chaltén

Another of the short trails that I didn’t hike on my first visit to El Chaltén in 2015, was to the Chorillo del Salto.  Given that the end-point is a waterfall and lofty views are not really part of the agenda, I waited for a day where the tops of the mountains were once again obscured by cloud (I didn’t have to wait long!) and headed out.

The trail begins in the same place as the Laguna de los Tres hike and follows the road towards the Lago del Desierto, crossing it on several occasions.

Trail to Chorillo del Salto - El Chaltén - Argentina

The start of the trail to the Chorillo del Salto

It is a mostly flat but quite picturesque walk that parallels the river and passes through small groves of Lenga trees

Various views from the trail to the Chorillo del Salto - El Chaltén - Argentina

Views from the short and easy trail to the Chorillo del Salto

and is a fantastic opportunity to explore some of the hardy vegetation of the Patagonian steppe.

Vegetation of the Patagonian steppe - El Chaltén - Argentina

Vegetation of the Patagonian stepped. It’s mostly very dry and spikey!

It only takes about 40 minutes at a relatively slow walk to reach the waterfall, and you’ll know you’ve arrived because the place is usually crowded with people who quickly jump off the buses that pass through here to have a quick look.  But I have to admit, it is a nice spot (especially if you wait for all the bus passengers to return to their vehicle) and the waterfall is beautiful.

Chorillo del Salto - El Chaltén - Argentina

The waterfall – Chorillo del Salto

Recommendation

A really great option if the clouds have closed in and you are still looking to get out and about.

Distance: 6km return

Time: 2 hours with a long break at the waterfall

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Hiking Argentina – Laguna de los Tres – El Chaltén

The reason I ended up in Patagonia this year was because I was helping my friend, Mathilde (who I met on the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland), plan her trip in the area.  I didn’t really have any concrete plans for Feb-Mar and had no intention of returning to Patagonia so soon.  But when I remembered my bucket-list item of the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition, I decided “what the heck” and worked with Mathilde to make sure our schedules aligned at least for a few days somewhere.  That “somewhere” was El Chaltén – my favourite place in Argentinean Patagonia.

I had mostly recovered from the Icefield Expedition by the time Mathilde arrived in town, and the next day we headed out to do one of the most popular hikes in the area – the Laguna de los Tres.  

Sign for the trail to the Laguna de los Tres - El Chaltén - Argentina

Sign at the start of the trail to the Laguna de los Tres

The day looked like it might be OK and we kept our fingers crossed as we raced up the initial hill and stopped at the first viewpoint overlooking the Río de las Vueltas (River of Curves).

Río de las Vueltas - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde overlooking the Río de las Vueltas – the first viewpoint on the hike to the Laguna de los Tres

It still looked quite promising as we caught our first glimpse of Cerro Fitz Roy peaking out above the trail

Cerro Fitz Roy peeking out from behind a hill - El Chaltén - Argentina

The fact that we could see the peak of Cerro Fitz Roy at this point boded well

and were ecstatic at the almost perfect view that greeted us at the Mirador Fitz Roy.

Mirador Cerro Fitz Roy - El Chaltén - Argentina

The almost perfect view from Mirador Fitz Roy

The last time I was in El Chaltén, I never managed to see this view during the 8 days of my stay.  So I was as excited as Mathilde, even though I had been here before.

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Cerro Fitz Roy - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde and I at the Mirador Cerro Fitz Roy

I loved the details in the snow and rock of the mountains, and we stayed here for probably half an hour taking pictures and enjoying the beautiful day.

Cerro Fitz Roy detail - El Chaltén - Argentina

I love the detail in the mountains

From there, we passed through more Lenga forest before the mountains were once again laid out in front of us as we approached the Poincenot campsite.  I love this view, though unfortunately we didn’t have time to do a detour out to the viewpoint of the Piedras Blancas Glacier (to the right) this time.

Approaching Poincenot campsite through the Lenga forest - El Chaltén - Argentina

Approaching the Poincenot campsite through the Lenga forest with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background

Once through the Poincenot campsite, we reached the part of the hike that I’d been dreading.  The final 1km is extremely steep, rising 400m over that distance.  Last time I hiked this trail, I remember it being very, very tough, and there are certainly lots of warning messages before you start the ascent.

Sign for the steep part of the trail to the Laguna de los Tres - El Chaltén - Argentina

Sign at the start of the very steep part of the trail to the Laguna de los Tres

Apparently, lugging a 21kg backpack around for 8 days does wonders for one’s fitness!   No, it wasn’t a walk in the park, but it was nowhere near as tough as I remember it being last time  

The steep final part of the trail to the Laguna de los Tres - El Chaltén - Argentina

It gets much steeper than this!

and the views on the way up provide a perfect excuse to stop and take photographs 😊

Views from the very steep final part of the trail to the Laguna de los Tres - El Chaltén - Argentina

Looking ahead (top) and behind to the Lagunas Madre y Hija (bottom) on the very steep last part of the trail to the Laguna de los Tres

We reached the top sooner than I expected and were once again rewarded with almost perfect views.  There was barely any wind (it was a raging gale the last time I was here) and the clouds made for an interesting backdrop to the mountains (the mountains were covered completely last time).  Absolutely stunning!

The Laguna de los Tres with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background - El Chaltén - Argentina

The Laguna de los Tres with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background

As if that view was not perfect enough, I suggested to Mathilde that we hike over to an alternate viewpoint that also reveals Laguna Sucia.  I love this place!

The Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia - El Chaltén - Argentina

Laguna Sucia (left) and Laguna de los Tres (right) at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. One of my favourite views in the world

As we stood there taking pictures, the wind started to pick up and the temperature plummeted.  We sheltered behind a large rock to have lunch and looked on as storm clouds spilled over from behind the mountains and started to obscure the view.  By the time we’d finished lunch 15 minutes later, there were flakes of snow falling!  The weather changes that quickly in Patagonia!

Mathilde and I at the Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia - El Chaltén - Argentina

Mathilde and I starting to freeze in front of Laguna Sucia and Laguna de los Tres

We took that as our cue to abandon the mountain and start heading back to El Chaltén.

Clouds rolling in over the Laguna de los Tres - El Chaltén - Argentina

We were chased down the mountain by these heavy clouds that brought snow

We detoured past Laguna Capri on our way back to town, loving the opportunity to see parrots up close

Parrots - El Chaltén - Argentina

Parrots are as noisy in Patagonia as they are in Australia

and finished off in La Wafflería sharing an enormous plate of Calafate waffles as a celebration of our amazing hike.

Calafate Waffles at La Waffler - El Chaltén - Argentina

Perfect reward after an incredible hike

Recommendations

There is a reason why the Laguna de los Tres is the most popular hike from El Chaltén.  On a day like today – it is absolutely stunning!   Of course, there are not a huge number of days like this so you have to have a bit of luck, but when it works out, it is incredible.

Distance: 20.2km return

Time: 7 hours

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Hiking Argentina – Senda Laguna Cerro Torre – El Chaltén

Although I was trying to not overdo it, I did have several days in El Chaltén before starting the South Patagonian Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia.  So, in addition to my “active rest” afternoon at the Mirador de los Cóndores and the Mirador de las Águilas, I decided to join fellow-Aussie, Brock, on the hike out to Laguna Cerro Torre.

Sign for the trail to the Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Sign for the trail to the Laguna Cerro Torre

Having done this trail before (and waaaaaay too busy talking with Brock), I didn’t actually take many pictures along the way…  But it is a nice, relatively easy hike with some glimpses of the top of Cerro Fitz Roy (if you are lucky), and the Torres (“towers”) – our final destination.

Views along the trail to Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The trail to Laguna Cerro Torre passes through some beautiful scenery

One of the few times I did break out the camera was when we had the amazingly great fortune of sighting a Huemul – a critically endangered South Patagonian deer!   In fact, such sightings are so rare, that the National Parks office asks that you let them know where and when you saw the Huemul so that they can record it.   We kept our distance, but followed this guy (who was completely unconcerned by us) for about 20 minutes, before rejoining the trail to the Laguna.

Huemul on the trail to Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Spotting a Huemul on the trail to Laguna Cerro Torre was an incredible experience!

Although it was very overcast, there was barely a breeze when we arrived at Laguna Cerro Torre a couple of hours after starting out.  This was in complete contrast to the last time I visited, where the wind would have blown a dog off a chain! 

Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The Laguna Cerro Torre. Cerro Torre is the tallest of the three peaks you can see at the end of the lake

Given the calm conditions, we decided that we’d hike out to Mirador Maestri for a closer look at Glacier Grande, one of the many glaciers in the park that flow down off the South Patagonia Ice Cap.  The park rangers are quite adamant that you shouldn’t attempt this trail if it is windy (the path is very exposed and rocky) so we took advantage of our continued good fortune!

Trail towards Mirador Maestri - Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Hiking along the trail towards Mirador Maestri at Laguna Cerro Torre. This is a very exposed and rocky trail that the park rangers advise against if there is wind

The view is amazing, of course

Glacier Grande - Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The view of Glacier Grande from Mirador Maestri

and the details are fascinating.  I love mountains and glaciers!

Glacier Grande view - Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

Glacier Grande is very impressive, as are the details in the ice

We hung out up here for about 1/2 hour – eating lunch, taking pictures, and wondering whether the patch of blue sky we could see would actually arrive over the mountains.  But when the wind started to pick up, we decided to head back.  

Rather than re-tracing the last part of the route we took to get to the Laguna, we detoured via an alternate path and a beautiful wooded trail.  Although De Agostini is the main campsite for Laguna Cerro Torre, there is a”wilder” alternative (much less known) and this trail leads right to it.

Alternate trail to the Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

The alternate trail to Laguna Cerro Torre passes through this beautiful Lenga forest. Definitely worth the detour on your way back

Checking over our shoulders periodically revealed that we took the right decision to head back.  The patch of blue sky was moving veeeeeeeery slowly, and seemed to be passing behind the mountains, rather than over the top of them.  Maybe it will be third-time-lucky for me to have a clear day to hike this trail 🙂

Views of Cerro Torre from the trail - El Chaltén - Argentina

The Senda Laguna Torre trail has fantastic views over the river valley to Cerro Torre

Thanks Brock for a fantastic hike!

Brock and I at Laguna Cerro Torre - El Chaltén - Argentina

My mandatory “bad-selfie” with my hiking buddies

Recommendation

The Laguna Cerro Torre hike is one of the most popular out of El Chaltén, and for good reason.  The views are amazing and it is not as difficult as the Laguna de los Tres hike.  Also – if you can see from El Chaltén that Fitz Roy is clouded over, you may still have luck in seeing Cerro Torre. 

Hiking Time: about 5 hours

Hiking Distance:  20km

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Hiking Argentina – Mirador de los Cóndores y Águilas – El Chaltén

The Mirador de los Cóndores and the Mirador de las Águilas (the Condor and Eagle viewpoints) are two of the three relatively short hikes around El Chaltén in Argentina (the 3rd one is out to the Chorillo del Salto).  Most travelers to the region only stay a couple of days and so tend to do these hikes plus one or two of the longer ones.  However, even though I stayed 8 days on my first visit to El Chaltén in 2015, I didn’t get around to hiking up to these viewpoints.  

On this trip, I arrived in El Chaltén 3 days before the departure of the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition with Serac Adventures and Swoop Patagonia.  Having just hiked for 5 out of 7 days around Ushuaia, and given the fact that I had a massive blister on the back of one foot, I was keen to take it a little easy in the lead-up to the expedition.  However, on my 2nd day in El Chaltén, the weather was so unbelievably amazing, I just had to head out.

As I followed the well-worn path from the National Parks office towards the Mirador de los Cóndores, I couldn’t get over the fact that there was no wind, the sun was shining brightly and there were only a few clouds in the sky – a true miracle in these parts!

Path to the Mirador de los Cóndores with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background - El Chaltén - Argentina

The trail to the Mirador de los Cóndores. You can see El Chaltén below and Cerro Fitz Roy in the background

The trail up to the viewpoint is short but quite steep, and I imagine quite an effort for the majority of people who hike it.  But the views over El Chaltén and the mountains are incredible!

Mirador de los Cóndores with Cerro Fitz Roy in the background - El Chaltén - Argentina

The amazing view from the Mirador de los Cóndores

On my last visit, I had 8 days of cloud and rain.  I never saw the top of Fitz Roy and barely managed to see the top of Cerro Torre, so it was a real treat to be able to relax on the rocks and take my time admiring these spectacular mountain ranges.  Yes, it looks like a single range – but the Cerro Torre range actually sits behind the Fitz Roy range.

Closeup views of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre from the Mirador de los Cóndores - El Chaltén - Argentina

Closer views of Cerro Fitz Roy (top), Cerro Torre (middle), and nearby glacier (bottom)

After spending about 2 hours stretched out on the rocks listening to Nanook (my favourite band at the minute – from Greenland of course), I decided to hike out to the Mirador de las Águilas so that I could enjoy more of the afternoon.  It takes less than half an hour to walk between the two and given that there’s not a big altitude gain, it is quite a nice stroll.

Trail to the Mirador de los Águilas - El Chaltén - Argentina

Trail to the Mirador de los Águilas. The viewpoint is on top of the rocks you can see to the left

From this viewpoint, you have a similar view of the mountains – but this time without El Chaltén in the foreground.

View from the Mirador de los Águilas - El Chaltén - Argentina

View from the Mirador de los Águilas

There is also a view over Lago Viedma (unfortunately the Viedma Glacier is hidden) and the Patagonian steppe.   

View of Lago Viedma and the Patagonian steppe from the Mirador de los Águilas - El Chaltén - Argentina

View of Lago Viedma and the Patagonian steppe from the Mirador de los Águilas

Another couple of hours soaking in the sun here before heading back to town made for a perfect “active rest” afternoon before the big adventure!

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Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia Icefield Expedition – Summary

If you’ve done a few long-distance treks and are looking for a new challenge, the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition with Serac Expeditions will certainly deliver!  Only about 100 people a year take on this remote trek, but it is an incredible experience in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Admiring the view - South Patagonia Icefield, Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre from the Refugio Garcia Soto

It doesn’t get any better than this. Taking in the view of the South Patagonia Icefield, Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre from the Refugio Garcia Soto

Was it difficult?

It’s the most difficult trek I’ve ever done!

Would I do it again?

In a heartbeat! 

In fact, I already have my eye on the Marconi Pass – Estancia Cristina Expedition also offered by Serac Expeditions.  But this time I want to do it at the start of the season so I can experience different conditions on the Icefield and snow-shoes 🙂

Here are a few final thoughts about my adventure on the ice this year.

Training

I’m still relatively new to long-distance trekking, so my previous relevant experience was only:

plus a lot of day-hikes (many at altitude) in various places around the world.

Images from each of my previous treks

My previous relevant experience from top left to bottom left: Torres del Paine Circuit Trek (Chile), Ice climbing on the Viedma Glacier (Argentina), Unplugged Wilderness Trek (East Greenland), and the high-altitude Huayhuash Circuit Trek (Peru). Yes, I’m fascinated by ice!

My “training” specifically for the expedition was 5 separate day-hikes around Ushuaia, and the Lago Torre hike from El Chaltén in the previous week.  Yes, I agree.  It could have been more extensive 🙂 And although my day-pack tends to be heavier than most (thanks to my camera gear), it would have been good to get some full backpacking in there as well.  Nevertheless, it was entirely doable for a fairly small person, even if a little tough! 

To be honest, the most important thing for this trip is your mental attitude.  The expedition is not overly technical (though there are a few moments) – but depending on the weather and your fitness, you must be willing to push yourself at times.

Gear

I’ve discovered that having the right gear makes the world of difference!  Although this expedition was much colder and wetter than the Unplugged Wilderness Trek in East Greenland, I was more comfortable here. 

The equipment provided by Serac Expeditions (in my case, tent, sleeping bag and pack) were all excellent and high quality, and as for my own gear – I can highly recommend:

  • Hunger Hiker Carbon Fiber Trekking Poles.  This is the first trek I’ve ever done with hiking poles, and I have to admit they made a huge difference!  They help get you up the hills (by taking some of the weight off your legs), save your knees on the downhills (though I’ve still yet to master this – sorry Rafa), provide 3rd and 4th points of balance (really critical at times) and are amazingly strong and unbreakable.
  • LOWA Mountain Expert GTX Evo Boot.  Yes, they are heavy.  Yes, they take some getting used to.  Yes, they rubbed holes in my feet.  But boy are they amazing!  After 6 days walking on ice and slush (and 5 days of hiking through the peat bogs near Ushuaia) my feet were still dry.  They also have insulation built in, so my feet were rarely cold on the expedition – very unusual for me.
  • Outdoor Research Verglas Gaiters.  This is the first time I’ve ever worn gaiters and these ones were comfortable and seemed to do the job they are designed for.  
  • Black Diamond Pursuit Cold Weather Gloves.  These were magic!  Along with perpetually cold feet I have constantly cold hands.  These did a wonderful job of keeping them warm and dry (despite quite a bit of rain on Day 7).
  • Mountain Hardware Ghost Whisperer Down Jacket.  Surprisingly warm given how small and light it is – and I really feel the cold!  Would have been better to buy the one with the hood, but oh well.
  • North Face Women’s Resolve Waterproof Pants.  Kept the bottom half of me nice and dry.
  • Buff.  I was always a little uncertain about these things, but I bought a merino wool one for the expedition and it was magic!  
Me in all my gear - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Me in all my gear. Everything performed fantastically well – very pleased and much more comfortable than I’ve been on previous treks.

Logistics

Given that my previous long-distance treks had all been supported (ie we only had to carry a day-pack, the rest of the gear was transported for us), the day-to-day logistics of this expedition were a little different.  There were two main things that struck me, mostly because I’m a sociable person and enjoy talking to others:

  1. Because the terrain was so difficult and we had to be roped together for a fair portion of the expedition, it was not possible to chat much during the day while trekking.
  2. I really missed the communal dining tent and the ability for the group to sit around in the evening chatting.  I really appreciated the days we spent at the Refugio Garcia Soto (Days 2 & 3) and Refugio Paso del Viento (Day 6) when we could all get together properly.

For these reasons, I found it a much more solitary experience that my previous treks.  Not necessarily good or bad, just different.  Though I must admit that meeting and forming friendships with the others is one of the things I really love about long-distance trekking.

Refugio Paso del Viento - eating together

Because the trek was not supported, we did not have a communal tent to hang out in. I really appreciated the 3 nights we had near huts, when we could all sit around together

Food

The food provided by Serac Expeditions is largely what you would expect/hope for on a trek like this:

Breakfast: a choice of cornflakes or porridge

Lunch:  Argentinean empanadas and “brick” sandwiches

Dinner: instant soup, a very tasty main meal, and something sweet for desert 

Each tent-pair shared a bag of tea/coffee/powdered milk/sugar and several different packets of biscuits, and we each had our own “snack bag” filled with chocolates, alfajores, energy bars, muesli bars and lollies.

However, there were also some very welcome surprises! 

The evening meals on Day 1 and Day 6 were as gourmet as you can get for something that comes in a packet and is cooked by boiling the whole thing in water.  And the cheese/processed meat/peanut/olives/crackers platters that magically appeared on Day 2 and Day 6 were a real treat!  Thank you Serac Expeditions!

Images of some of the food provided for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition by Serac Expeditions

Some of the fantastic food we had on the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition: Argentinean empanadas and “brick” sandwiches stuffed with huge amounts of meat and cheese (top), hot dinners (bottom) and our luxury item on 2 of the days – a meat, cheese, nuts and olives platter

The Guides

What can I say – I love Juan and Rafa!

Our guide and assistant guide for the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Juan and Rafa

Our guide (Juan, right) and assistant guide (Rafa, left) were absolutely brilliant and huge amounts of fun

They were great fun, very safety conscious, and very patient with the photographer 😉  Big shout-out to Rafa who was usually the one that would drop behind to help me catch up to the others after taking photos!

These guys have a tough job!  While we just retreated to our tents and stayed nice and warm and dry, they ferried hot water, food and anything else that was required between the tents – regardless of what the weather was throwing at them.  Nothing was too much trouble and they were always ready with a smile and encouragement. 

Seriously guys – you are awesome!  And I’m so happy to have met you 🙂 I hope we can trek together again in the near future!

In Conclusion

I’ve managed to see the world’s 3 largest Icefields in the past 14 months – Antarctica, Greenland and now South Patagonia.  All of them have been incredible, and immersing yourself in the environment and experiencing it on foot makes it even more special.

So far, this has been the most challenging trek I’ve done, and it was made even more so by the fact that I was taking photos.  This is not a trek where you have plenty of time to stop for photos, but rather an expedition where you have to keep moving.  That being said, the photography opportunities are incredible – but you have to be prepared to shoot quickly!

Despite the challenge, it has only increased my desire to do other, even tougher expeditions in the future.  My not-achievable-unless-I-win-the-lotto goal is to do the Greenland Crossing with Icelandic Mountain Guides, but in the meantime I have my sights set on the Marconi Pass – Estancia Cristina Expedition in November 2019 with Serac Expeditions and the Liverpool Land North-South Traverse with Tangent Expeditions in April 2019. 

Who’s in with me?

Read more about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day South Patagonia Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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Trekking Argentina – South Patagonia Icefield Expedition – Day 8

Despite low cloud hiding the tops of the mountains, dawn over the Bahía de los Témpanos was a celebration of this beautiful area. 

Dawn over the Bahía de los Témpanos - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

An incredible dawn light over the Bahía de los Témpanos

Unfortunately, we couldn’t linger to watch it fully unfold, as we had to be at our pick-up point by 2:30pm, and we still had a 15km trail in front of us.  So off we set across the steppe that characterizes such a lot of Argentinean Patagonia.

Patagonian steppe - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Early morning on the Patagonian steppe

We were farewelled by one last rainbow over the Viedma Glacier

Rainbow over the Viedma Glacier - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Our last rainbow for the trek – looking across Lago Viedma to the Viedma Glacier

And enjoyed moody vistas of the southern end of the Fitz Roy mountain chain.

Mountains obscured by cloud - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

The partially obscured mountains loaned a bit of drama to the otherwise not terribly interesting steppe

It was a fairly easy and uneventful hike through the typical vegetation of the region: Lenga, Coiron, Nenao, Paramela, Calafate, Siete Camisas and Mata Guanaco – most of which are low, dry, and quite spiky plants.  It helps to pay attention before you sit down!

Steppe vegetation and Lago Viedma - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Vegetation on the Patagonian steppe and Lago Viedma

The most difficult hiking was through the boggy patches, and Reto commented that at times it felt as if we were walking through the Everglades.  “I hope we don’t come across any alligators!” I responded, reveling in the fact that my feet were still blissfully dry.  I LOVE my boots!

Negotiating the swampy bits - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

Negotiating the swampy bits. This “bridge” was a luxury, we were generally just walking through water

To be honest, the scenery was not as interesting as it had been for the rest of our trek, and it felt like a bit of a sprint to the finish-line in the end.  We had one more obstacle to overcome first, however.  Another zipline.  Though fortunately this one was angled downwards and it was easy sliding from one side to the other.

 

We arrived at the dock at the same time as our transport and were rewarded with ice-cold beers and a Fanta for me.  It was a relief to ditch the pack for the last time, but the end of every long-distance trek is bitter-sweet, and I was disappointed that it was all over.

Group Photo - South Patagonia Icefield Expedition - Argentina

We made it! Our South Patagonia Icefield Expedition group from L-R: me, Rafa, Juan, Reto, Anita, Jan. Thanks guys for the amazing trip!

The 40 minute drive back to El Chaltén was uneventful and, after a visit to the police station to get stamped back into Argentina, we had to say our farewells to Juan and Rafa.  Truly awesome guides and fantastic fun.  Love these guys! 

Right.  Now where’s that shower…

Hiking Details

  • Hiking time:  5.5 hours
  • Distance Covered: 15.5km
  • Altitude:  +381m, -357m

Read more about the South Patagonia Icefield Expedition

If this post has piqued your curiosity, read about the rest of my adventure on the the 8-day South Patagonia Icefield Trek with Serac Expeditions and Swoop Patagonia:

  • Prelude – leading up to departure
  • Day 1 – El Chaltén to Laguna de los 14 
  • Day 2 – Marconi Pass to Refugio Garcia Soto
  • Day 3 – Gorra Blanca summit
  • Day 4 – Refugio Garcia Soto to Circo de los Altares
  • Day 5 – Circo de los Altares to Laguna Ferrari
  • Day 6 – Laguna Ferrari to Refugio Paso de Viento
  • Day 7 – Refugio Paso de Viento to Paso Huemul to Bahía Témpanos
  • Day 8 – Bahía Tempanos to El Chaltén
  • Summary

Alternatively, check out my other posts about hiking and trekking in Argentina and around the world.

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