Monday, 9 February 2015

0198 El Chalten - Hike to Laguna Torre

5th Feb 2015

Had to sleep with the top down last night due to the wind, but it wasn’t a problem. Slept pretty well, and woke up early this morning with the plan being to hike up to Laguna Torres. They had told me at the info centre that this was the best hike to do if the weather was overcast or rainy.  And as they had said the weather forecast was for rain and even higher winds, I planned accordingly.  It was cloudy and very grey as I had my breakfast and made sandwiches for my trek – and I packed my rain jacket and trousers as well as a fleece in case it got cold as well, and at 9 am I set off on my ‘splore.

It was a 2 km walk through town to the turn off, and up the hill behind town to the official start of the hike, and a few other people were heading in the same direction, although, as usual, no one had stirred in the campsite till about 8 am.  I was concerned about whether my legs had recovered from the climb up the volcano Chaiten in Chile last week, but all seemed good on the first uphill sections. The trail is very clear and well marked, but it is quite an obstacle course over tree roots and rocks, and in places is very narrow between bushes and trees.  The rushing river flowing down from Laguna Torres was beside us all the way to the top, and there were a couple of Miradors (views) down over it as we climbed up.  We soon started to get views of the mountains – Even Fitz Roy and its neighbour Poncenot – but their tops were covered in cloud.  Even the Cordon Adela, above the Glaciar Grande, were covered in thick cloud.  Unfortunately it did not look like a promising day for seeing the mountain peaks, but then that is the wonder of the mountains – they have their own weather and you have to play the hand you are dealt.

The climb continued, sometimes winding through scrub, sometimes over open river beds, but always  heading towards the Laguna and the Glacier, and these and the mountains gradually came more and more into view. Tantalisingly, small sections of blue sky started to appear, and with all the climbing it was starting to get quite hot – In some respects the cloud cover was good as it kept the temps down a little.  There was a large flat area we skirted around that was just white dead trees - Not sure if these were killed by cold, or wind, or what, but it certainly made for very dramatic scenery.  (Similar coloured gum trees in the High Country of Victoria are the same white, and these are due to fire many years ago).  Then, after a climb through the trees we came out right beside the river, and after a tough section through a rocky river bed, we started the final rocky climb up to the lagoon. After not seeing many people on the trail, suddenly people were everywhere – It turned out there was an organised hike of about 30 people of all ages,  I think they were Americans, and I had caught them up.  We climbed up to the Laguna – And when we got there, I was a bit surprised to see it was a kind of grey colour – I guess I expected it to be the vibrant ice blue of some of the lakes we have passed over the past few days.  But it was no less dramatic for being grey, especially with a few large “icebergs” floating around on the surface !!  The glacier on the far side flowed right down into the lake, and what looks like rock along the water’s edge is in fact just ice covered in dirt and rock after its long journey from the ice field at the top of the mountain.  The rugged range up to our right was visible below the cloud, and as more and more blue sky appeared, their amazing shape was highlighted quite clearly. In some ways it was almost more dramatic that we started in cloud and grey skies, and it all slowly cleared as we watched.  But not so Cordon Adela, above the glacier, which was never revealed to us, and from the lake we couldn’t see round to Mt Fitz Roy.

I found a sheltered spot amongst the rocks, and sat down to eat my lunch – It was 11.30 when we arrived at the laguna, so the 11 kms had taken me 2 ½ hours – Not too bad for the old man !!  And what’s more, I didn’t feel too bad !  But my sandwiches and banana went down a treat – Good job I had bought them.  Then suddenly, in only about 15 seconds,  the wind strengthened and the temperature dropped 10 degrees – Everyone had been sitting in the sunshine in T shirts, and suddenly was scrambling for jackets and beanies.  The sun was still shining – Just the wind suddenly increased.  I sat amongst the rocks in a sheltered spot just enjoying the view (and my rolls !), and at about 12:15 decided the clouds were not going to lift for me, so I decided to head on back to El Chalten.  As I went down, I kept turning around hoping the clouds would lift……………..

There is a little tent camping site just below the lake, hidden in the trees, and lots of backpackers were there, using is as a base to do other hikes in the area, or just so they could be at the lake at dawn or sunset and maybe see the mountain peaks then.  But a great little camp site for them  I would say that 50% of the people I saw today on the hike had big packs with their tents etc, and were planning on staying up in the mountains.

Coming back down was hard work – The legs were starting to feel it, so I took it steady.  It was also quite hot – Almost clear skies now meant that this time I was walking in the sun most of the time, and it was a welcome relief to get among the trees occasionally for some shade. 

THEN, about 2 hours into the hike down, I turned round, and there in all its glory, was Mt Fitz Roy !  The clouds had cleared off it, and apart from a few little whisps remaining, it was as clear as a bell.   HAH – I knew it would.  I am just so pleased to have seen it as it was such a major attraction for me on this trip.   I have another hike I am going to try tomorrow (legs permitting ), and that will take me closer in to Fitz Roy, so lets hope that rain and cloud doesn’t come in tomorrow !

I was seriously struggling by the time I got back to the campsite – 6 hours and 22 kms in all.  Luckily not so steep as last week’s hike. But a nice cup of tea, and a couple of Ibuprofen will hopefully have me ready to go again in the morning !

In the meantime, I am sitting in Troopie, and tents are literally blowing over all over the place – It is only all the stuff in the tents that is keeping them from just blowing away across the paddock !  No way I can put Troopie’s pop top up – She is rocking enough in the wind as it is.  But oddly it is now a clear blue sky – Just this incredible Patagonian wind that can be so prevalent here.  I can understand how people on motor bikes and especially bicycles just get blown over in the wind.   And to keep things interesting in the camp site, a Dragoman tour bus (google it) has just pulled up near me, and they are trying to pitch about 10 tents in the wind !  Everyone is doing one tent at a time – Holding it in place while others bang the pegs in, then they all move on to the next tent.  We will see how many tents are still standing in the morning.

Not quite sure how I am going to cook my supper tonight.  Too windy to be out the back, and with the pop top down I will have to be careful I don’t set the inside alight if I cook inside !!  I will let you know the outcome tomorrow !

Photos here :-

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