Week 9 – Mountaineering vs Bromptoneering

On our first day in El Calafate, we went to Lago Roca, a small lake about 45 km outside of the town. The road to there is unpaved and deserted, and our minuscule Chevy was shaking violently, but it held up. When we arrived at the lake, it was nice and quiet with very few campers and hikers around. On the way back we stopped at Punta Bandera to marvel at the color of the water of Lago Argentino and the big chunks of ice floating in it.

The next morning, we headed off to the Moreno glacier passerelles, to get a full frontal view of it from the Magellan peninsula. As we approached it, we first heard the ice cracking and then we saw the glacier itself. It is over 3 km wide and up to 70 m high. We didn’t think we’ll get so close to it. The view was stunning. A few minutes later we saw a huge chunk of ice detaching itself off the massive glacier and crashing into the emerald waters. After a couple of hours admiring this natural wonder we went on to hike on the famous glacier. We were transported by a boat to the site where we could access the glacier. The guide strapped crampons to our sneakers and off -or actually on – we went. We spent about an hour and a half on the ice, going through crevices, drinking water from melting ice, looking down the cracks, and finishing with a glass of whiskey on the rocks. The ice for our drinks was chopped directly off the glacier. It was 300 year old ice, way older than the whiskey. The trekking was fun but I wished there would be less people: the group was small but there were several groups following each other; as a result we didn’t have time to stop and enjoy the views.

About 230 km from El Calafate lays the small village of El Chaltén. It used to be a military outpost setup during a territorial dispute between Argentina and Chile. Now it’s a thriving tourist destination situated at the foot of Fitz Roy mountain, attracting hikers of all sorts. Hence, there we were, a pair of accidental hikers. After checking in in our hosteria and a quick lunch we set off on a relatively short hike, a four hours round trip, to see the Fitz Roy up close(r). By the time we arrived at the viewpoint, the mountains were clear of clouds and the view was astonishing. A cherry on the cake, while we were taking in nature’s beauty, a rare Andean condor flew between us and the mountains. We could have hiked even closer to Fitz Roy but it was a few more hours of hiking: we didn’t think we would make it, so we came back down and had a beer and watched the sunset instead.

Next morning we decided to test ourselves going to Laguna Torre, which gives onto Cerro Torre, a spiky mountain not far from Fitz Roy. It was 18 km roundtrip. We started quite vigorously and kept this pace up until we reached the Laguna. This lake is formed by melting ice from the glaciers, chunks of which are floating around. The settings was beautiful with a clear view of all four spikes: Aguja Standhardt, Punta Herron, Torre Egger and Cerro Torre. After our usual lunch, a beer and a sandwich, we headed back as energetically as we came up. 5h and 21min later we were back in the village; that included one hour we spent enjoying the view. Not bad for novices.

This blog is supposed to be about adventures on a Brompton, this is why I am reporting that I saw one Brommie in El Chaltén. There you have it!

Coming back to El Calafate we tried to find the Petrified forest of La Leona but somehow took a wrong turn and saw instead a wild llama and a Ñandú, a South American relative of an African ostrich.

On paper there were more things to do around El Calafate than in reality. As a result, the last couple of days there were lazy, split between sitting in lounge chairs on the lawn in front of our apartment sipping a beer, strolling along the main road, eating ice cream and dining out. One of those dinners happened to be New Year’s eve, celebrated with champagne and fireworks.

This week in numbers:
1 – Andean condor flew by
1 – cyclist on a Brompton passed by, as rare a sight as a condor
18 km – longest hike so far
3405 m – height of Fitz Roy, one of most challenging mountains for mountaineers on Earth
3 h – drive time between El Calafate and El Chaltén
3 – times I mentioned Brompton in this post