Monday, 9 February 2015

0200 Around El Chilten - Hike up Mt Fitz Roy !

7-8th Feb 2015

Today, Saturday the 7th, was a very lazy day.  I have walked nowhere, I have only driven about 20 kms, and I have taken very few photos.  Excellent day !!  But it is all part of a Grand Plan, weather permitting !

I slept like a log last night – obviously my body recovering (or trying to) from all this sudden strenuous activity !  Woke up to a typical Patagonian day – blue skies with a few fluffy whites, but also some black clouds over some of the peaks.  You never know whether it will rain or blow here, so, a bit like in Scotland, you just get on with what you were planning to do anyway, and let the weather take care of itself.  The plan is to just wander back down the road to the other camp site I had noted yesterday, over night there, and then do the Lago de los Tres hike the next day, thus allowing my legs a full 24 hours recovery. 

First of all, I enjoyed Los Tres Huevos Argentinias for breakfast, and very good they were too – Especially with some more of that yummy bread from the El Chalten bakery to wipe up the yolks afterwards !  It was still cold, so I am still wearing my thermals to keep warm, and by 10 am I was headed south – After giving the camp site gaucho a kangaroo stick pin as a Gracias, which put a BIG smile on his face. 

Passed the little waterfall beside the road, and stopped at a few other points just because – The jagged mountain peaks to the east were now covered in cloud, and the higher peaks to the west were completely invisible. (No black wine gums around today !!)  About 15 kms down the road I stopped at an Argentinian “Historical Marker”, and it was about a battle fought here on the 6th November  1965 when the Gendarmeria Nacional Argentina recovered the territory from the Carabineros de Chile.  I post a photo of the sign so you can read all the details for yourselves (!). 

I then visited a couple of Hosterias that were not the one I was looking for as a starting point for my walk, but very nice accommodations out here if one was wanting a hiking base, or even just a quiet getaway.  Eventually I found El Pilar, and the markers showing the start of the trail – I hope it is finer tomorrow because it didn’t look too inviting up in the hills today.  Fine glacier hanging over El Pilar though – The Glaciar Fitz Roy Este, I believe. 

Having worked out where to go tomorrow, I went just another couple of kilometres down the road and there was the little camp site I wanted – Perfect, and right beside the Rio de las Vueltas. As I drove in, there was a truck camper with Colorado plates backing out that looked familiar -  It was the couple with the dog we had met briefly at Chivay hot baths in Peru back at the end of November !  So had a chat with them before they set off to the northern end where I was last night, and I set up camp beside the river. Met and had a long chat with Daniel from Switzerland who is travelling with his brother. They bought a car in Chile and have been up to Bolivia and Peru, but after 4 months are now having car problems and having to have the engine rebuilt – Not much fun for them. 

So far the plan to have a total rest day today is working – Just enjoying sitting around, talking, reading, etc, and hopefully the  weather will be OK in the morning when I go off on the hike.  We shall see !

Pics here :-

8th Feb 2015. Hike to Mt Fitz Roy

Woke up ready for my hike – To rain and a cloudy sky !  It had also rained quite heavily during the night – Hmm – Not good.   Well, it might rain for the next week, so I might as well go for it, and by 9.30 I was on my way up the dirt road to the parking place at Hosteleria El Pilar. The valley ahead was shrouded in mist ? / rain ? / snow ?  Couldn’t tell, but it wasn’t sunny !  El Pilar is a lovely little Inn set beside a rushing glacial river out in the middle of nowhere – Not a bad place for a getaway week if you wanted to hike or cycle the area.  It was bitterly cold, so as I set off I was rugged up in about 4 layers, and my beanie pulled down over my ears – It could be a long day.

Even from the bottom of the trek, I had a view of Mt Fitz Roy – And there was a fresh sprinkling of snow over everything.  It looked superb, even shrouded in cloud, as I set off up beside the river.  Soon I was into a forest and climbing gradually up hill – After all, this route was supposed to be the “easy” way up !!  A sign said it was 5.5 kms, but I think that
was only from where I was to where the trail joined another trail, because the total was certainly a lot more than 5.5 kms !   I started to get glimpses of a magnificent glacier through the trees to my right – The Glaciar Fitz Roy Este, or also called Piedras Blancas.  As I walked I continued to get great views of the Cordon Adela through the trees, and then there was a Mirador up to the glacier and the ice blue lake below it.

Somewhere in the forest I met an English couple, David and Annie – They were staying at the El Pilar hostel and were out for a stroll – I don’t think they got much further though !  They had just finished a 19 day cruise out through the Falklands (whoops – Sorry – Las Malvinas !) which they said they really enjoyed.  Would loved to have talked to them for longer but I had to keep moving ………..

Suddenly the sun came out, and it warmed up, and I had to start stripping my layers off.  That is the trouble here – the sun is hot, but the wind is freezing, so it all depends on which is the dominant one !  It makes it very difficult to regulate your temperature, and one is for ever stripping off or adding layers back !  Out of the woods we continued to climb, now through scrub, which eventually, after a couple of hours walking, opened up into a large plain with just small bushes on it. I was now getting seriously good views of Fitz Roy, and although it wasn’t clear at the tip, the misty cloud added a lot of mood to the view, and in the sunshine it was turning out to be a great day.

2 hours and 10 minutes into the hike, my trail joined up with the (supposedly more difficult)  one from El Chalten to the south, and I met a couple of Canadians from Banff – Neil and Joyce (I think – Sorry of not !)  We chatted for a while – they were going to bus / hike it up through Patagonia and then on up to Columbia, so were just starting their trip. She works as a volunteer at the park campground in Banff where we stayed several months ago – Who knows, she might have been the lady who let us in at the park gates that day !!  Anyway, after another half an hour wandering across river beds and through woods where there was a lovely campsite for back packers, I came to the little sign that said “Trail is very
steep – Good physical condition required”.  That’s me !!   So off we went.  Neil and Joyce soon disappeared up the cliff face as I took it very easy, more concerned about having enough fuel in the tank to get back down again afterwards !  This section is supposed to only take an hour – I think I took nearly 2 !!  It was certainly 4 hours in total since I had started by the time I reached the top ! I seriously thought about giving up several times, but the increasing spectacular views over the valley below kept me going.  And the fact that you couldn’t see Fitz Roy as you climber meant that you kept climbing just to be able to see it.  Finally, I staggered up to the top, where everyone (including Neil and Joyce) were sitting around enjoying the view and the sunshine, despite the cold wind off the glacier.  And it was pretty special – especially with Lago de los Tres at the foot of the glacier.  The majesty of the mountains in front of me was just fantastic – I have left a lot of photos in there because they paint the picture far better than I can.  Unfortunately there was no black wine gum today – She stayed shrouded in mist – But it was WELL worth it. 

There was a second glacier (Rio Blanco) over to the left, and this had its own lake – Lago Soucia – which is supposed to be even more special, and several people had told me to go over and see it.  But one had to climb down a steep trail to see it, and come back up again, and tempted though I was, I decided discretion was the better part of valour, and I reluctantly gave it a miss and after enjoy my cheese and ham roll and a banana, set of back down the mountain.

The hike back down wasn’t was bad as I had feared – Maybe I am starting to get fitter ?  I was down in an hour – The same time it was supposed to have taken me to go up it !!  Once down the steep part it was just a case of putting one foot in front of
the other for a couple of hours, across the plain,  through the bush, through the forest past the Piedras Blancas Glacier, and finally back to the El Pilar and the car.  Almost exactly 7 hours walking.   I was totally stuffed.  I managed to drive the 5 kms along the dirt track back to the campsite,  where I bought a large bottle of cold beer and sat down with my Swiss friends Daniel and Joel and rested my feet.  I had a hot shower, heated some spag, and fell into my bed before 10 pm !   I really enjoyed the hike, but it sure was hard going.  Very satisfying to have reached the top though.  The weather had turned out to be good, and I reckon the walk was about 24 kms round trip – No wonder I was tired !!

More pics here :-

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