From Parque Patagonia we continued to the Argentinian border. This border crossing was tiny, just a little house in the middle of nowhere. It became pretty desolate, and we spent what felt like forever meandering over the washboard roads to the paved Ruta 40. Patagonia seemed to be taking its toll — dust and dirt had embedded itself in the zipper of our tent cover, making it impossible to close. While we were driving, the wind whipped our rain fly out from beneath the cover and snagged it on the roof rack, ripping a hole in the fly. Our awning was starting to crack on the mounting plate connection and we temporarily fixed that solution with some duct tape. Our amp/stereo contraption started to crap out while driving over the washboard roads because the RCA (wire) actually started wearing out from all of the vibration. After almost 46,000 kilometres and close to a year and a half on the road total, things were starting to show some wear. Our main goal was to just patch things up until we could get the truck on a ship and figure things out in the USA.
Eventually we arrived at the free municipal campsite in Gobernador Gregores well after dark, and fell asleep immediately as our heads hit our pillows.
We saw some familiar stickers on these gas pumps in Bajo Caracoles.
Our next destination was the northern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares— home of the Fitz Roy Range. You may recognize this mountain range from the clothing brand Patagonia as its logo features the same spires. We crossed our fingers that the weather would hold as we planned to spend several days in the park on various trails. Once again, this well-known park does not charge any entrance fees and camping is free. Looking back, this park was one of our top three favourites of the whole trip.
El Chaltén is the tourist hub located within walking distance of many of the main trailheads in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The town is known as being overcrowded, expensive, and to say that it lacks good wifi would be an understatement. Patagonia’s infamous fierce winds run rampant in this little town, sweeping dirt particles up from the road and into your eyes, nose and mouth. In peak season the campsites are unpleasantly filled to the brim with a sea of tents jammed together on the grass. Fortunately for us it was late in the season so the campground wasn’t too busy. We didn’t mind El Chaltén one bit. We enjoyed the mountain town vibes and appreciated its convenient location to the trailheads in the park.
As we were driving into town we spotted our buddy Ian (from Bolivia and Lorraine’s place in Chile), so we grabbed a couple of happy hour beers at Fresco Bar and swapped travel stories.
Our first hike was to Laguna Torre. We completed its 19 kilometres as a long day hike. We were spoiled with the epic scenery and close-up views of Glacier Torre from Mirador Maestri.
That night back at camp we had a crazy storm with a ton of wind, rain, thunder and lightning. We set up our ground tent behind a wind block (aka wooden fence), which helped keep us protected. Our little ground tent held up pretty well and we were fortunate not to have any flooding or leakage. We decided to wait an extra day before starting the Fitz Roy hike as we would be climbing to Laguna de los Tres, the lake at the base of the Fitz Roy range, for sunrise. Luckily the weather cleared right up the following day, so we packed up our bags once more and hit the trail.
The Fitz Roy Range is indescribable. It is so mesmerizing. I just wanted to sit and watch the clouds weave in and out of the seven peaks for hours. Richard would literally stop to take a photo and move five steps and take another photo and so on. It is beautiful and powerful, but mysterious and captivating. I fell in love with it just gazing at its epic-ness.
Mt. Fitz Roy is considered to be among the most technically challenging climbs for mountaineers. French alpinists Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone completed the first climb in 1952. Recently in 2014 Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold completed the first ascent of the “Fitz Traverse,” across the entire ridge-line of Fitz Roy, including its seven surrounding peaks. They documented the experience in A Line Across The Sky, which is a pretty entertaining watch if you have the time.
We camped that evening at Campamento Poincenot, which is around an hour of vertical hiking from Laguna de los Tres. We spotted a pair of Canadian girls (they had a MEC tent, classic giveaway) who spent the previous stormy night up at Campamento Poincenot. They were attempting to clean out their tent, which was full of dirt and mud, and their sleeping bags were hanging to dry in the trees nearby. Another neighbour of ours from Japan boiled water on her camp stove and filled up waterbottles to put in her sleeping bag for warmth.
Our alarm woke us at the ungodly hour of 5:30 a.m. to start our ascent. Our headlamps guided us along the trail, which involved a series of steep switchbacks and large rocks. We must have been the first ones up, as we could see a steady line of flickering headlamps below creeping up the trail in the dark. When we arrived at the top it was still pitch black out but we could see the outline of the Fitz Roy Range with large patches of snow and ice. We hid behind a giant rock as the wind was incapacitating. It felt like we waited for an eternity for sunrise. We chatted with some other hikers, ate some chocolate, worked on keeping our hands warm, and watched the white caps on the lake behind us. We could barely stand up because the wind was so strong. Eventually we found a spot out of the wind tunnel, took some pictures and enjoyed the sunrise before starting our descent back to El Chaltén.