El Chalten

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balzaccom
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El Chalten

Post by balzaccom » Tue Apr 19, 2016 8:13 am

Anybody ever been there? We're thinking of a trip next year...


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Teresa Gergen
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Re: El Chalten

Post by Teresa Gergen » Tue Apr 19, 2016 9:33 am

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Re: El Chalten

Post by balzaccom » Wed Apr 20, 2016 10:02 pm

Thanks Teresa! Just what I was hoping to hear. If you have a minute, could you give me your favorite hikes in that area?

And it sounds like you did all of your hiking without a guide. Can you backpack in the park without a guide, too?
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Teresa Gergen
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Re: El Chalten

Post by Teresa Gergen » Thu Apr 21, 2016 8:11 am

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Re: El Chalten

Post by balzaccom » Thu Apr 21, 2016 9:43 pm

Excellent! just the kind of info I was hoping to get!

I owe you one.
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Re: El Chalten

Post by tomba » Sat Apr 23, 2016 6:31 pm

We were there last December. On the map that we had some trails were marked to require a guide.

We got a shuttle to Rio Blanco, hiked to Lag. De Los Tres (when we were there the wind picked up so much that we couldn't stand and had to crawl) and back to the town. The next day we hiked to Lag. Torre, then Lag. Nieta, and cross country back to the trail we took the previous day back to town.
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Re: El Chalten

Post by wildhiker » Thu May 19, 2016 12:40 am

Balzaccom,

Southern Patagonia is definitely worth a trip at least once in your life. We did 10 days at the end of December 2014 to beginning of January 2015. I know, peak season, but that is when we had time available. We hiked the "W" circuit in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, and then hiked around Monte Fitzroy in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina (the area around El Chaiten). The mountains are spectacular. Huge granite towers rise up 6000 to 7000 feet from the bases! - like stacking Half Dome on top of El Capitan in Yosemite. And add huge glaciers. Weather can be iffy down there. It was better around El Chalten (rain shadow effect) than in Torres del Paine. The Fitzroy region is also better situated for day hiking right from the town, which has a wide range of accommodations. In Torres del Paine, if you are not backpacking, your choice is luxury hotels or poorly located campgrounds where you pretty much need a car. We flew into the El Calafate airport in Argentina (about half-way between these two areas, and close to the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is a must-see!) and rented a car, so that was not an issue for us.

This is a big international trekking destination and you will never be alone on the trails! There are so few trails, and so many tourists, and the terrain is so rugged (really, only mountaineers can go cross-country), that all the trails and backcountry campgrounds are mobbed. Oh, and you must camp only in the designated campgrounds. Ironically, although this area is expensive and time-consuming to reach and generally unpopulated, you get more solitude on just about any Sierra trail (excluding Mt. Whitney, Half Dome, and the JMT) than you do down in southern Patagonia. There are no quotas on the trails or campgrounds - the rangers just pack them in. At the backcountry Campamento Italiano in Torres del Paine, there were literally 250 tents in an area of about 5 acres. Think Camp 4 in Yosemite Valley. At Campamento Poincenot in the Fitzroy area, there were about 100 tents in a similar sized area. You can travel on your own without guides. The trails were well constructed and easy to follow. The rangers in the visitor centers were very helpful and had decent enough maps either free or for sale. I actually ordered some topos in advance from Amazon because I like to study them before the trip.

Travel is easy. You don't need any Spanish - all the tourist infrastructure folks speak some English so they can cater to all their international visitors. Regular bus service runs between the towns and parks, or you can rent a car in El Calafate (about $100 per day for a tiny compact). Most of the visitors are couples in their twenties and thirties. My wife and I, in our 60s, were definitely the oldest folks backpacking in the areas we visited. What you do need is a pile of money. Like all distant outposts of civilization with a short tourist season, this area is expensive - think US major destination prices.

Although you can hike just about all the trails from El Chalten as day hikes - some long - I think it is worth doing the backpack loop up to Campamento Poincenot, and then the next day over to Laguna Torres before heading back to town. That gives you plenty of time to spend at the Mirador de los Tres, where you have this view of Fitzroy towering 7000 feet above you:
126P1080466+hikers_descending_from_MiradordeLosTres-Fitzroy_in_back.jpg
The day hikers roll in mid to late afternoon and have to turn right around to get back. Since the weather is very changeable, you want to maximize your time in this area. In the course of one day when we were there, it went from clear, to totally clouded up, back to clear again.

Oh, and did I mention the weather? In particular, all of southern Patagonia is known for its nearly constant high winds. We lucked out with nearly a week of no wind and only a little rain, but hikers I met said the previous three weeks in Torres del Paine had been nearly continuous horizontally driven rain. Go at the height of their summer (early January) to maximize your weather chances. If you wait until after the Christmas/New Year's holiday, prices will be a bit cheaper, and maybe the crowds will be thinner, too.

There is lots of information online, so poke around!

-Phil
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