Sunday, February 8, 2009

Hiking in Patagonia

In my previous post I had written about the two major peaks in Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia: Fitz Roy, and Cerro Torre.

One special thing about this national park is that entry into it is free. The ranger explained to us that they want to keep it this way, so that everyone can enjoy nature's beauty - and not just the ones who can afford it. I was very impressed with this sentiment.

The two main hiking trails in the park are the ones that take you to the base of these two mighty mountains, where mountain glaciers form jewel-like pools and melt into icy cold, crystal clear streams. This post is about these two spectacular hikes.

Laguna de los Tres hike

This hike is about 15 miles round-trip, with an elevation gain of 750 meters, and goes to the base of Mount Fitz Roy. It is also one of the most scenic trails in the park, and we chose this one as our first hike.

Due to the steepness and exposure to wind in some parts of the trail, caution is advised. On extremely windy days, which occur quite often here, the rangers advice hikers to not go on some sections of this trail. We were lucky to have a perfectly still day, on which we could complete this hike.

Even from the very beginning, the trail takes off steeply uphill, with wildflowers on either side, and with the views getting better and better with every turn.

The trail winds through densely wooded sections of forest, with gnarled, twisted trees with dark brown, peeling bark. These are old growth forests, with some species unique to this part of the world and the Australian regions (they shared these species when they were joined as Gondwana land). These forests seemed to me to have a different character, and a mystique about them. It was probably just my imagination ...

After a few hours of walking through the narrow, forested trail, we came to a more open and exposed area, with a cute bridge over Rio Blanco, formed from glacial meltwater, which we had to cross. The river didn't have much water in this section, but the water was clear and cold.

Soon after this, vegetation became sparse, and the trail again took off uphill. This is the section that gets closed off when it's windy, because it is quite exposed. It was quite still on this day, and we could see Fitz Roy looming closer and closer.

After some determined walking over scree slopes with pebbly trails, we went over a hill and saw the lagoon in front of us, lit up by the sun. Fitz Roy was completely covered in clouds though. What looks like sky in this picture below is really the mountain covered in clouds.

It was cold and windy by the lagoon, so although we wanted to sit down and take it all in, we decided to head back after a little while. Our fingers and toes were slowly freezing, and we still had a long way to go.

The weather in Patagonia is extremely variable, and quite windy. We were really lucky to have had good weather on this hike, because those that did it on the very next day couldn't go all the way to the lagoon, and had to turn back at Rio Blanco due to fierce winds.

It took us about 8 hours to do this 15 mile round-trip hike. We had left at around 11:30am, and got back to El Chalten by around 8:30pm, when the sun was still quite high in the sky! The hot shower and dinner we came back to couldn't have felt better. :)

Laguna Torre hike

Laguna Torre is the lagoon at the base of Cerro Torre, and the hike to this spot is 13.6 miles round-trip, with a 250 meter elevation gain. We started on this one around noon, and spent some time finding the trailhead.

And then we saw this landmark that we had read about, and knew we were on the right track. The sign says: Monument to a careless trekker. The story is that this tree's death was caused by a tossed cigarette. Due to the winds here, fires quickly burn out of control. So trekkers are urged to be careful on the trails.

For the first few miles this trail was pretty boring, exposed to the sun and very dry. I had been excited about this hike because this would take us to the base of Cerro Torre - the mountain that has had such a controversial history, and that is considered one of the hardest in the world to climb. But this initial stretch was a little disappointing.

Soon, however, we entered a stretch of dense woodland again, which was covered in bright green ferns and other vegetation. It was truly beautiful, and I soon forgot about the exposed section. There were hundreds of caterpillars along the trail, crawling slowly across it. Sadly, many had been squished by hiking boots. We tried to move many of them to the side, but it was a drop in the ocean.

Bright red Chilean firebush along the trail.

Soon we came to a wide glacial stream, which we heard even before we saw. It flowed briskly down, bringing with it a cold wind from the direction of the mountain.

Further along, all vegetation disappeared, and we were on pebbly, rocky terrain and it got very windy and cold. Cerro Torre loomed ahead, but was almost entirely covered in clouds. We could however, sense its bulk even through the cloud cover.

The trail went over a hill, and then there was Laguna Torre, dotted prettily with icebergs, with Cerro Torre and its glacier in the background.

Though it was cold, the sun was shining brightly on us, so we were quite comfortable under our layers. We sat by the lagoon for at least half an hour, enjoying the view and marveling at Cerro Torre's sheer 2km of vertical rock so close to us.

The clouds were moving fast, but continuously swirled around the mountain's peak, refusing to allow us a glimpse of the summit that has mesmerized the rock climbing community.

Once we left and were a little distance from the lagoon, I turned back to take one more look at the mountain, and to my delight, the clouds had completely cleared and I could get some pictures of the peak.

Imagine climbing this needle-like rock! And climbing it when it is buffetted by 100-knot winds is another story. Jon Krakauer writes about his experience climbing this mountain in one of his books, and it is awe-inspiring.

We did a bunch of smaller hikes in the park which were also very beautiful, but these two hikes were the highlight of our time in Los Glaciares National Park.

It's time to get my thoughts back here though because it's Sunday night, and time to get ready for the week! Have a good one.


Sepiru Chris said...

Hello Bindu,

Fantastic photos and narrative to bring us along, Bindu, Saviour of caterpillars!

I too enjoy Jon Krakauer's books; he is an excellent speaker should you chance to hear of him. You, I think, would really enjoy the Banff Mountain Book and Film Festival, should you ever have the chance to attend...

Thanks for another great hike. My legs are warm from the weekend hiking in hong Kong, to exorcise the memory of dragons.


Vamsee said...

Those photos are fabulous, especially the ones of Cerro Torre. I don't know how you managed to walk 15 miles on one day and 13 the next day. It must have been fulfilling and exhausting.

I actually do not agree about free entries into national least in India where they don't have much awareness. Lots of people go, just because it is free and mess up the place.

bindu said...

Chris - the Banff festival sounds more and more interesting. Banff is definitely on our list for a hiking trip, but now we'll try to plan it around this. Thanks for the info!

Vamsee - we took a day in between these two trails to do shorter hikes. Re- your comment about entry fees, it's a good point ... I feel that you can have environmentally conscious people and destructive people among the haves as well as the have-nots. What is really needed is not to screen the poor people out, but conservation education, and to have environment on the national agenda, so that the park system will receive funding to appoint rangers who can patrol widely and impose heavy fines on those who damage the environment. It's a difficult issue though, and would be a great topic for discussion over a cup of tea. :)

ArtSparker said...

Extraordinary overland journeys with wonderful prospects.

Blu said...

Thanks again for sharing your trip into a cold and unforgiving land. The views are mind blowing, with the cold hand numbing. Facinating rock formations and curious trees too. Bravo Blu x

~ ॐ ~ said...

I am sorry I did not read through the entire post, but I went through the pictures twice and they are absolutely gorgeous !!!!

justin manas prince jaspher ligin said...

enticing photos of the natures beauty..

Leslie said...

Wow, what a hike and such beauty all along the way. Your photos are wonderful. The turquoise blue of the lagoon just looks surreal. Really nice trip...thanks for sharing Patagonia with us all.


Jude said...

Once more, stunning photographs, thank you, what an experience???Yes, it looks cold but you were very lucky with the weather, itwould have been a shameif you had walked all thatway and notbeen able to see anything. Thank you

pink dogwood said...

I don't know how I missed this post Bindu - it is just amazing, the writeup, the pictures. I hope to one day do this - 15 mile hike - quite impressive.

namaki said...

this is a beautiful trip ... so much hiking up ... thanks for the explanation as well ...
very nice !

Lakshmi said...

I just get over the pics..they are stuck to my eyes..and a wonderful trail..thanks Bindu

Nancy and the fatties said...

You hiked for 8 hours? Bindu, you rock! thank you for sharing these amazing images....

bindu said...

ArtSparker, Om, Justin - glad you enjoyed the pictures!

Blu - I thought of you while walking in the forest a few times, because of your interest in taking pictures of your forest!

Leslie - that's the reason I love glacial lakes - their incredible color! There's a similar one is Glacier National Park in Montana too, that I love.

Jude - you're right. Can't tell you how many times I gave thanks for the weather!

Bhavana - I'm sure you'd like that hike too!

Namaki, Lakshmi - thanks!

Nancy - I just love these long walks in the forest, so it was really very fun. :)

painter girl said...

Wow Bindu!
As always, I am so thrilled to be able to live vicariously through your travels. Your pictures and writing make me feel like I had a little adventure!
Thanks for your blog.

Anonymous said...

Found you on Nancy's art blog...these photos are beyond amazing.

T and S said...

WOW...It seems such a beautiful place, thanks for sharing it with us through your images.

Kelley Carey MacDonald said...

Wow, what an interesting and beautiful blog. It's amazing that I can see these wonders sitting here in my dining room in RI. I like your writing, too, it's clear and direct.

Shayla said...

Bindu, these are such inspiring photos. They set off a longing. I realized how nature starved I am from being in the city. Must hike!

I'm sure you're right about that forest being special. Most forests have unique characteristics. From the photos the trunks appear more curved perhaps. Maybe they're older, and likely a different variety. Gives everything an exotic feel added to that sacred feeling from being in the woods and , ahhh!, something very special indeed.

Mridula said...

I am readin this at the end of a hectic day, gosh, want to drop everything and run to the hills.

Don Madden said...

Thanks for doing all the walking for me. My feet hurt just thinking about this all. Beautiful photos.

GMG said...

Hi Bindu! Your pictures are making me ever more envious... ;))
For so many years I was planning to go to Patagonia and never found some days off to get there... :(
Great post!!
Interested in Rajasthan? Blogtrotter has it! ;) Enjoy, comment and have a great weekend!

Chris said...

This must have been the trip of a lifetime. Every photo you have taken is just breathtaking.

Catherine said...

Beautiful photos...which bring back memories of a different part of Patagonia that i really enjoyed hiking through...Torres de Paine on the Chilean side

Barbara Martin said...

The photos of the mountains are wonderful capturing the pristine wilderness of Patagonia. I don't mind the hiking, but I'm not one for climbing or mountaineering. I prefer to look at other's photos of their feats.

GMG said...

Hi Bindu!
So, everybody was busy with Valentine’s Day, nobody paid attention to Rajasthan? Great mistake... ;))
Have a great Sunday!!

~vagabond~ said...

Beautiful photos...sounds like it was an awesome hike...long hikes dont seem quite as painful when you're walking amidst scenery as breath taking as's the day after that you realize just how much your legs hurt. ;)

Robyn said...

I love the contrast of the turquoise blue pools with the rock and whiteness of the snow. Stunning! What an amazing trip!

Sydney said...

Just going abck to look at your trip and I still feel I have so much to look at. These pictures are just so gorgeous, I can only imagine how it was to be there. We thought the same of our trip to New Zealand, but this is so much closer!

Thank you for the posts. You must be busy. Look forward to hearing what's going on.

And ps: How do you get the nearly invisible Bindu on the picture?