February 12, 2004

Argentina flagUp early yet again this morning, as our bus to El Chaltén was supposed to leave at 7:15 am. We were ready at that time, but no bus arrived. Instead at around 7:45 am a taxi picked us up and roared us over to the main bus terminal, where the bus was about ready to go. A couple of people arrived after we did, though, so we weren’t last!

The bus left at 8 am, stopped at the YPF gas station to fill up, and then we were off. The sky was clear so the views out to the Perito Moreno glacier were spectacular. The bus journey was another 5-hour trip through the steppes over dusty, sandy roads. We stopped about halfway, at a little confiteria called Luz Divina. They had homemade baked goods and not packaged cookies, so Paul bought a couple of buns, which had dulce de leche inside them and were coated with cocoanut. Rosemary said they were “alfajores”, which it turned out they were. They also had a baby guanaco as a pet, which wasn’t at all bothered by all the passengers.

The views of Cerro Torre and Monte FitzRoy were very spectacular along the route. No clouds on either of them! We could see them soon after we left El Calafate, but as Patagonian mountains often do, they disappeared behind other mountains as we got closer to them and we couldn’t see them again until much closer to El Chaltén.

Our first stop in the very small town of El Chaltén was the national park’s information centre, where the park ranger greeted us. Although we are a long distance from El Calafate we are still in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. The passengers were divided into Spanish-speaking and English-speaking and given the Introduction to the Area talk, about the rules, the trails, and so on. Our English-speaking ranger was named Alejandro and he did a good job of telling us what was what. He even pointed out a lifer bird for Paul, a Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle (which the Argentinians sensibly just call “aguila mora”). He also gave us an area map and told us that the park had no funding, so donations would be appreciated.

After piling back onto the bus we went the rest of the way into El Chaltén, to the bus’s company office. Here we all collected our packs and beat the dust off them.

Since we had had the snack earlier, we didn’t feel very hungry. And besides, we were excited to get going because the weather was so perfect. So we just put on our packs and hit the trail towards Cerro Torre. For the first hour we climbed in the hot sun, about 250 metres through open forest, until the trail levelled off at the mirador with the first view of Cerro Torre. From there to the campsite it was another couple of hours over fairly level ground, with only a few moraines to climb over. The views along the valley were absolutely spectacular, and we couldn’t have hoped for better weather conditions. We both agreed that this trail rates number 1 in our book of trails done: spectacular scenery, fairly easy grade, and not too long.

The trail was quite busy, being full of day-hikers from the various hostels and hotels down in El Chaltén. The campground, Campamento d’Agostini (formerly Bridwell), was in an open forested area next to the Río FitzRoy. It was quite full, but we eventually settled on a spot that gave us a view of the river and a partial view of Cerro Torre.

Laguna Torre was about a 10-minute hike up from our campsite. It is between the glacier below Cerro Torre and its old moraine. So after setting up camp, we walked up there to have a look at it. The sun was directly behind Cerro Torre so we couldn’t take any photographs.

Dinner was the usual camping stuff: Soup, then Lipton’s pasta with butter and herb sauce, plus green beans. Neither of us really wanted hot chocolate so instead we had peach juice, made from the concentrate we had semi-accidentally bought in El Calafate. After dinner we headed back up to the lake to watch the sun set behind the high peaks. There wasn’t a red sunset because of the total lack of clouds, but Cerro Torre became more beautiful because it was the only remaining peak lit by the sun.

On the way back to our tent we stopped to talk with a couple who turned out to be from South Africa. They were part of a group camped right next to us, who we had overheard speaking a language that wasn’t really German.

Before going to bed Rosemary decided to check the river one last time for Torrent Ducks, which we had missed last year in Torres del Paine. And lo and behold, there they were, a male and a female! We grabbed the binoculars from the tent and enjoyed watching them swimming in the turbulent river for a while. They are very pretty birds. The South African group enjoyed it too; the couple we were talking to had been complaining about how boring the flora of southern Patagonia was.

By this time it was after 9 pm and we were both tired from the day’s activities, so we decided to go to bed. It was still light out, but that was because we were at 49 degrees south latitude.

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