I wake up at 6 AM as ifI had a clock ticking in my head. The real one haven’t even had a chance to ring. I feel like I haven’t slept at all but just waited for this day prepared and ready. I look through the window and it only begins to dawn, the sky seems to be quite clear but in the mountains weather is never a sure thing.
My hotel is right next to the trail entrance. I go by the gate at 7 AM, entering the Los Glaciares National Park. Today I want toreach one of the most spectacular places in Patagonia – the subglacial lake of the Fitz Roy mountain.
The peak lies on the border between Chile and Argentina, the locals call it Cerro Chaltén. The name “chaltén” comes from Tehuelche language and it literally means “a smoking mountain”. However, it’s not about the smoke but about the clouds, covering the peak 330 days a year. I have a very little chance to see it in all its glory but this is not my goal.
Its discoverer, Faranciso Moreno (‘cause the local tribes discovered it way before), saw the mountain on the 2nd March, 1877. He named it Mount Fitz Roy to honour the captain of HMS Beagle, Robert FitzRoy. The other reason was that the Native Indians named many mountain tops “chaltén”, so he wanted this one to stand out.
Despite rather moderate altitude, the walls height is about 2300 meters and the mountain is generally considered a tough enemy. Climbing requires lots of technique and preparationto face perfidious weather that changes as in a caleidoscope. The first successful ascent in 1952 belongs to French alpinists – Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone.
I am not going to climb the top but I want to reach its foot and look at it from the perspective of the famous lake. It should take me around 4 hours. Since the very beginning, the road climbs up and leads to a place, where I can look down at the town,slowly wakingup. It looks so picturesque, completely surrounded by both the river and the mountains. It’s the only town within dozens of kilometers and somehow it looks like it was hidden here from the rest of the world. Yesterday,I had a chat with the hotel receptionist. It turned out that in this place, southern Argentina, almost cut off from the world, where the basis for meal is a meat… I’ve found a vegan. And her diet has nothingin common with the traditional Argentinian diet. Fascinating how the nutrition trends reach even such places!
At the first crossroads you can take a road to Lago del Desierto (Deserted Lake), about 30 kilometers from where I am. But the goal set for today is way different. My road covers over 13 kilometrs to Laguna de los Tres, from where the view to admire Fitz Roy is the best.
It’s been already an hour since I’ve begun my climb. Although it’s still early in the morning but the sun is beating down really hard. I’m starting to regret that I took my down jacket. The birds are singing their beaks off and beautiful, black woodpeckers with red bellies are jumping over my head. They don’t care about me and just tap the trees around. Since I’ve begun my trip, I haven’t met anyone yet. Maybe it’s too early? Or too late and everyone is ahead of me already? I don’t worry about this and just enjoy the sounds of the forest.
At the next crossroads I choose the trailto Laguna Capri. I reach it in about 15 minutes and meet the first people on the road. There is a camping spot in the forest, over the laguna. It’s situated in a beautiful pleace, perfect to pitch a tent – but also for full survival.
I run into some Brasilians and Germans, who’ve been roaming the nearby trails for weeks. The laguna stay is their last one. They planisto go towards the Perito Moreno Glacier, right where I came from. We exchange advices and I’m back on the trail.
They warn me, though, that the hardest part is still there ahead of me. The last kilometer, they say, is an absolute killer. You climb it for an hour, while the rest of the road, 12 kilometers, takes only 3 hours.
It can’t be that bad, I say to myself. The sun is shining, the views are gorgeous, the green is literally bursting out of the rocks and in the distance I can see snow-capped, austere tops of the mountain range. Most of them drowns in foggy clouds but I didn’t even counted on seeing Fitz Roy in its full glory.
I find a lonelyrock at a brooke and make myself comfortable. It’s time for lunch and the spot couldn’t be sweetier. I reach to my backpack for chicken empanadas – the only thing I could buy early in the morning in the drowsy town. It’s just like a fairy tale here, I could stay in this place for long. But the time flies and I haven’t even begun the actual climbing. I fill in my water supplies in the nearby brooke and carry on with my journey.
The path is easy, I can stroll comfortably and quickly. The views make me almost loose the track of time. But signs start to show – they make me remember that ahead of me is the most important stage – one kilometer in one hour. Moreover, there are warnings that you need to be in perfect shape to continue, otherwise you should head back. Sounds serious and omnious. I reach the beginning of the path, look up and indeed, there is a really steep approach. Not that you would need ropes and the equipment but after twelve kilometers such a change requires reaching deep into yourself for energy and perserverance.
I start climbing the rocks, arranged in the way like you had to climb four steps with a single move. To make it even harder, it’s slippery because mountain brooks run on and in between them. After 15 minutes I realize that it’s not going to be easy. As I climb up, I pass by some people, resting with gloomy faces. A couple of them decided to move back, giving up the path.
It takes me almost an hour to the top and in every moment I have the impression that the road nastily gets longer and longer. More and more people give up. What’s funny, those are usually young people, students, whining at the top of their voices, why on earth someone came up with such a climb. Indeed, the Earth and the Nature… they definitely have a wild imagination. The only one who valiantly push forward are – suprisingly – the seniors, roughly in their seventies. Hard-bitten in mountain hiking, they walk upwards, no resting, looking at the youngsters with a slight disdain, as they give up and lay on rocks. Lesson in life well taught.
But the reward that awaits me over the last ridge leaves no doubts. In front of me stretches the azure Lagune de los Tres, contrasting harshly with snow-capped Fitz Roy. Its peak is still covered in the fog but it does not lessen the view even a little bit.
Very few people reached this place, so I find me a sweet spot on an advanced rock and I savour my victory. It’s gettig cold, so I dig out my cap and down jacket. This time I’m glad that I took it.
Suddenly, as if by touch of a magic wand, something begins to happen. The sun rises above the peak along with a strong wind. The fog around the peak quickly disappears.
In 10 minutes I can see the Fitz Roy in all its glory and full figure. The time, just for a moment, stands still. Now I can see how behemoth and majestic this mountain is. I can’t take my eyes off it and sit hypnotised by the view. It must be some kind of a sign. By a pure accident I came here in one of the 30 days in year when the view is not covered by the fog and the sky is blue. The mountain outlines stand out clearly from the scenery. Such an intimate moment, alone with the nature. I feel really honored and touched. I have the impression that here I am rewarded for my efforts, and Fitz Roy teaches me that you have to earn the beauty of nature. Nothing of worth comes cheap.
It does not last, though. Half an hour later, the peak is covered with fog again and the upcoming people sigh with disappointed. They don’t even know that only few minutes separated them from seeing a wonder of nature.
Time to head back. All in all, I’ve got 4 hours of the way ahead of me. It seemed that the return would be easier but hell no. My knees hurt from constant bending and although my pace is quite high, the way back drags on. Despite all of that, encouraged by the view and weather getting better, I spontaniously decide to take the indirect route and see the Cerro Torre.
It’s another impressive peak in Los Glaciares National Park – 3133 meters above the sea level and it’s the highest peak in the group of four, which also includes Torre Egger, Punta Herron and Cerro Standhard. Because the weather changes all the time in this area and because of the structure – the western wall is 2000 meters high – this top is considered one of the technically most difficult mountains in the world. I am lucky, the sky is flawless and I can admire all the three impressive peaks.
The twilight comes quickly and I cover the last kilometer in almost absolute darkness.
When I reach El Chaltén I can only think about a fair steak and a glass of wine. No wonder that it’s the most favorite dish of the Argentinians. In these conditions it’s all that one can crave for. Trekking took me exactly 12 hours. I am beaten but I can’t fall asleep for long. During the night I dream of snow-capped peaks and Fitz Roy looming in the distance.
The next day I drive to the outskirts of the city and wait for the sun to rise. Fitz Roy is famous of another trait – with the sun shining on it at dawn, it looks like it was made of pure gold. I am lucky again – no clouds in the sky. The mountain decided to show itself to me in full image, sparkling beautifully in the light of the dawn.
Suddenly, out of nowhere, at the horizon emerges a genuine Argentinian cowboy (called gaucho).
I look at this picture in awe – sparkling and light Patagonian mountains and cowboys riding horses towards the destination known only to them.
I am here. Really here. At the end of the world, in a place so different from many others I had a chance to see. I stand in the middle of the road and I am a part of this unusual, South American dynamic.
Then, I feel this feeling again. Awe, mixed with gratitude and respect for the beauty of nature. For its perfection and unpretentiousness. I thank deeply for such a moment and get in my car. Now there’s only the way back to El Calafate, via famous Route 40, where I have to catch a plane that will take me back to Buenos Aires.