Buenos Aires, by Noelia Diaco. Photo is not visible, used only for sharing on social networks.

El Chalten: Our hike begins

March 21, 2012
laguna torre glacier el chalten hiking
We loved El Chalten — the trails, the landscape, the town, everything. It was our first stop on our vacation and in some ways it was our dry run for hiking in Torres del Paine, considered one of the best hiking destinations in South America. We were in El Chalten for fewer days and we were just getting our hiking groove on (we struggled to get on the trail before noon each day). But it ended up being our favorite destination — it was a park that rewarded you at every turn, that let you set your own route, and that didn’t feel overly crowded or commercialized.

But to back up: First we had to get to El Chalten, a prospect delayed by the fact that no one told us our flight had been pushed back three hours (and we were flying LAN, the respected private airline, not the much-maligned, state-run Aerolineas Argentina). So after a few extra hours in the Jorge Newberry Airport, during which Ben and I learned to tie bowlines, trucker’s hitches, and other useful knots, we boarded the plane for a smooth 3.5-hour flight to El Calafate, and then a 2.5-hour van to El Chalten. The terrain was surprisingly arid and without trees. We were 49 degrees south of the equator, we weren’t expecting a desert.

(If you're just coming to the blog, read more here and here about the transportation and lodging logistics for our two-week hike through Patagonia.)

El Chalten to Campamento Poincenot

Now for our first day of hiking. We got our first view of the town of El Chalten when we went in search of a few supplies (white gas, silicon spray, band-aids, map). The town’s architectural style clearly evoked rustic log cabins, and much was still being built. The “supermercado” was, in fact, a hiking store, and by 12:20 p.m. we were off.
el chalten supermarket argentina
Our bags were heavy. I was making fun of Ben at this point for all the things he had thought he wanted to bring, and that I had kept insisting were not appropriate/necessary for hiking trips. Unfortunately, I didn’t write all of these things down, but here’s what I remember:
  • A multi-tool with a hammer so we could hammer in our tent stakes. (Rocks work quite well.)
  • Eggs (packaged in water so they wouldn’t break) [Ben adds: Pre-trip experimentation demonstrated that rough shaking of a jelly jar filled with two eggs in water would produce... two cracked eggs in water.]
This was also the point at which we started to figure out that the hiking times in our Lonely Planet Trekking Guide were drastically too low. By the end, we decided that the times in the guide corresponded roughly to how long it would take you to run the trails with a small day pack, stopping only occasionally for water. Add in the fact that the trail began with a relatively steep ascent, and that we kept stopping to readjust our packs and gear, and it was a slow first day. Luckily there was plenty to look at as we hiked.

valley parque nacional los glacieres

About halfway up, we reached Laguna Capri, sitting below Mount Fitz Roy, the towering massif that is the park’s main attraction. From our photos, it might appear that we never got a good look at the mountain, which always seems shrouded by clouds in our photos. I remember getting plenty of good looks, though I’m not sure why we didn’t take any pictures at those points.

laguna capri mount fitz roy parque nacional
Past Laguna Capri, the trail flattened out and we kept trekking along. At one point it started to rain, which coincided with the only time that day when we lost the trail. Everything you read about hiking in Patagonia says the weather changes quickly. But I still wasn’t prepared for the sun to suddenly disappear, rain to start falling, and the wind to start whipping at our clothing. It had been so calm at the lake just minutes ago. And of course, we weren’t on the trail, which inspired a slight sense of panic in me, imagining us wandering around lost in a rainstorm. Ben wasn’t nearly as worried, soon we spotted a few other hikers, backtracked about 20 meters, and 10 minutes later, no more rain. Welcome to hiking in Patagonia.


  1. Nice Blog! Thanks for recounting your experiences. I plan to go to Patagonia with a couple of friends this March. Maybe you have mentioned it in another post, but what time of the year did you go? I am curious about weather conditions for this time of the year. Thanks!


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