Argentina Snapshot Travel

A Snapshot of…Patagonia, Part I

November 19, 2015

My fascination with Patagonia began when I saw the documentary 180 Degrees South, just a couple of years ago. It is most definitely worth watching if you are interested in hiking, travel, climbing or anything to do with mountains, nature, and conservation. The footage in that movie was incredible and not like anything I'd ever seen before. And beyond the beautiful, picturesque shots - the movie has a deeper message about the importance of our connection to and preservation of nature. Go see it!

However, once putting Patagonia on the bucket list, I had to address one major hiccup: I really hate the cold. So I decided that when I go - it would need to be in spring, when it wasn't frigid but not quite summer when the scene would look a lot different. After a bit of research, I settled on two primary areas of Patagonia that I wanted to visit (the region is immense), both on the Argentinian side.

El Calafate: Big Ice
The first stop was El Calafate, where the primary attraction is the Perito Moreno Glacier. I arrived late afternoon and booked a guided tour to hike the glacier the following day.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of 48 in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, a landform shared with Chile that contains the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world. It is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that are not retreating. The glacier is 18 miles long and three miles wide, with an average height of 240 ft above the surface of the water of Lake Argentino. The depth of the ice can reach over 550 feet! (Stats provided by Hielo Adventura, the company who led the tour.)

Early the next morning, I set out for a long day - a 7 hour tour. The bus first took us to a viewing point where we could see the enormity of the glacier amongst the breathtaking surroundings of Lake Argentino and the Andes. What a great tactic for newbies - because seeing the glacier from that point of view made the idea of actually walking on it that much more spectacular. It was truly surreal. As if on queue, while we were admiring the glacier from afar, a giant piece of ice along the edge broke off and fell into the lake. The sound was astounding. Imagine the crackle, roar and BOOM of thunder as if it were right below your feet. It shakes your bones and vibrates throughout your body. And then just as quickly as the sound and vibration filled the space, it became eerily quiet and still again. It's like she just wanted us to know she was there and very much alive. Perhaps welcoming us and showing off the magnificence of nature.

We lucked out with an incredible day - not a cloud in the sky. We set out on a boat to cross the lake and deboarded on the shore. Given the sun there is so strong, it was warm enough to shed a few layers as we set out on a one hour trek along the lake to the entry point of the glacier. The group was split into two groups, and I'd say I lucked out with my guide as well. A bit of a renegade, he would end up taking us further out into the center of the glacier than the other group, noting that this could be one of the last days it was safe to go out so far given it was warming up and the surface was starting to soften. He was determined to get us some amazing views.

We strapped on some crampons and had to put a harness on (in the event we fell in, it was meant for an easier rescue). Our guide led us out onto the ice, and we trekked for about 3.5-4 hours. The surface was not what I expected at all. I had visions of being on an ice skating rink-type of surface, but it wasn't at all so smooth. There were mounds of ice and snow, completely uneven and then, of course, there were the expected crevasses and sheets of ice. There were points where we had to step over large cracks in the ice, where you could see down into the depths of the glacier. The crampons could keep you from slipping, but couldn't save you from falling in the water! And while I never felt unsafe, I definitely had to watch each and every step carefully.

At one point we stopped to sit and eat our lunch while admiring the view. Sitting in the middle of a glacier surrounded by ice, snow and enveloped by mountains - I couldn't think of a more unique experience. To accompany our lunch, we all refilled our water bottles right from the crevasses. The best water I ever tasted. It literally disappeared as soon s it hit my mouth, without a trace of any taste.

After lunch, we walked around for another hour and half before reaching the land along the lake and hiking back through the woods. Exhausted and feet hurting from the cramp ons, I slept very well that night!

El Chalten: Finding Fitz 
The next day, I left for a 2 hour bus ride to El Chalten and sat behind two girls who I had met in the hostel in Calafate. Liz and Molly are both traveling nurses living in Seattle, and invited me to join them on their hike the next day. We all agreed it would be a good idea to start "small" and warm up before tackling the big hike we were there for - Lago de Los Tres. This was the hike that would give us the best view of the iconic Fitz Roy, the mountain that is the basis for the Patagonia clothing line logo.

So I spent the next two days with them, first hiking to Laguna Torre and then to the Huemel Glacier and Lago del Desierto. Now, these girls are true hikers (and 10 years younger!) Living in the Northwest, they have their choice of hikes on a daily basis; and as they both like to travel, they have met many mountains. So they hiked at a fast clip, and I was relieved I could keep up with them! They were also incredibly sweet and down to earth, so we had some good chats and lots of laughs.

The Laguna Torre was an amazing hike, as we passed multiple types of landscapes on our way to the lake - dense forest, grassy land, open space, rocks and sand. All the while being looked down upon by the big sky and wrapped up in the mountains. The following day, we took a short bus ride to Lago del Desierto with another girl from their hostel, Kim, where we hiked through a forest to get to the Huemel Glacier. But this wasn't just any old forest...
It was straight out of a fantasy-type movie and should have been called the Enchanted Forest. I am convinced that this forest comes alive at night - the trees having a chat and a giggle about all of the tourists that tramped throughout them that day. You'll see what I mean when you look at the pictures. Apparently, the birds pick off the the moss (I assume to either build nests or maybe as food), and let's just say they have quite a sense of humor. 

With Lago de Los Tres left to complete, we were disappointed to hear that the following day was going to be cloudy and foggy, as we would likely not have a good view of Fitz Roy. And while Liz and Molly had a couple of more days to fit that hike in, I had a flight booked the day after. So I mentally prepared myself to accept the fact that I may not see Fitz...
(continued here)


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