Saturday, March 6, 2010

Out of the hills

Marc and I are now fresh new people after a shower, laundry and a good meal in our bellies. Feeling very different than the sweaty stinky hungry us of just a few hours ago when we got down from our 3 day hike around the Fitz Roy range. Very impressive big solid granite blocks heading up 12 blocks into the sky. That´s a lot of vertical. Marc was very impressed. He must have said ´shark toothed spires´at least a dozen times in the 2 days. It´s his favourite discriptive of the mountains in this area. They are pretty darned impressive.

We flew into the town of El Calafate from Bariloche after our car rental explorations. The town of El Calafate is pretty much the hub of the area. Directing tourists to the various glaciers to visit and ranges to hike. Marc and I arrived, found our hotel, dumped our stuff and set out to make plans for the next few days. In just a few hours we planned our hike out of the town of El Chalten (about 3.5 hours away), booked our busses, bought food, researched and booked a rental car for when we get back into town, and found and bought road maps. Whew! Sometimes independant travel is very labour intensive. But the payoff.....ahhhh, so fabulous.

We spent that evening in our hostel-hotel chatting with a couple of french girls who we shared a table with, and ate the most amazing smorg bbq put on by the hotel. The service industry is very alive and well in this area.
Bright and early the next day off we went by bus to the town of El Chalten. This is the jumping off point for hiking the Fitz Roy mountain range. The bus driver made 2 stops on the way to the town. The first was at a little restaurant-hotel where we could get a cup of coffee and a nice treat to eat. Turns out that this rest stop was one of the first buildings in this wild west type area of Argentina. Pioneers passing through would make a stop over here before crossing the mountains to Chile. In fact Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid passed through this very hotel on their way through. They were running from the law and trying to get to Chile.
All very interesting.

The second stop that the driver made was at a beautiful view point where everyone trundled out with their cameras to snap photos of the impressive Fitz Roy range which was for a rare moment, brightly lit up with blue sky all around it. The range is notoriously hard to see as it is usually covered by low hanging cloud which forms above the glaciers.

Into town, got our packs ready and had an early night for an early start the next day.

Off we headed on day one of our hike. So easy! The town borders the park so all we had to do to reach the trail head was walk up the main street for 10 minutes. We had a gloriously sunny day. Once again, apparantly rare in this area. We walked the 2.5 hours to the first camp site. After setting up camp and having some lunch we made a day trek up a rocky river bed to laguna sucio´ a lake at the base of Fitz Roy. The mountain ranges here are like no other with big huge chuks of granite shoved up above glaciers. We´ll have to do some research to see the geological explaination of how the range was created. We spent a few hours at the lake just looking up at the massive spires, with Marc taking photos, before making our way back. The riverbed that we negotiated to get there is filled with boulders the size of cars and small houses with a rushing glacial water river beside it. Of course, this was there we chose to drop our lonely planet trekking guide book into the water (notice how I said we, rather than Marc or I. No need to assign blame) Marc bravely stuck his head under a boulder to fish our now soggy guide book out of the water. It will look adventure worn once it dries out.

Day 2 in the hills
Up at 5am to get an early start up to a viewpoint (1 hour away) for dawn. Marc is of course a much faster hiker than me (I keep blaming my short lets and knee placement) so blasted up the final portion of the trail. Once at the top, we ended up in the dark, not able to find each other for each other for over half an hour. A little early morning comedy. Back down the hill, pack up the camp and we headed off the 3 hours to the second camp site. As we walked we thought that our good luck might be turning with the sky clouding over and rain seeming emminent. But no, the travel gods were with us as we made it to camp with no rain. Very lucky. this next camp site was supposed to afford us views of the Cerro Torre, the pointiest bit of the range. But alas, low hung clouds blocked our views. We really couldn´t complain though as we had had such luck with the weather until then. We spent the rest of the day having showers in the glacial river that ran by the camp site, eating then hiking up to the nearby lake. A very full day.
Day 3
Marc woke up early again to see if he could catch a photo of the torre without the cloud. But no, the glaciers produce so much moisture that the normal state of the peaks is to be shrouded in cloud. So after breakfast, we packed up and hiked out. What a great adventure.

Tomorrow we take a bus back to El Calafate where we pick up another rental car and head out to the coast. Apparantly penguines, sea lions and whales await us. I hope so!

Take Care

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