Ice Trekking and Camping in El Chalten
El Chalten Travel Blog› entry 13 of 20 › view all entries
An early morning start to the day as we had to be at the hostel at 7:00 AM for the trek to Glaciar Torre. Jim, Susan, and I would be joining a larger group for the Glacier Trek and then staying behind to camp when the group returned. Overnight the rain had swept through and the morning dawned cloudy but dry. And the wind was again brisk with gusts probably over 40 mph. As we walked up the street to the hostel, the wind would occasionally reach up and nearly pick one up off the ground. All that said, I had a small idea of what to expect of today because I had chanced upon kelleeoo's blog entry from 2 weeks prior while I was in El Calafate (kelleeoo - El Chalten).
It was a 2 hour walk to Base Camp and our guide enforced strict marching orders pretty much the entire way. Luckily we had some stragglers in the group so I was able to stop and get some pictures of the scenery and look around a bit. For the most part it was low growth forest with the edge of the mountains surrounding us. As we climbed gently through the forest we came to one lookout where we should have been able to glimpse Cerro Torre were it not shrouded in clouds and mist at the far end of the lake. Once we reached base camp, a bit after 9 AM, we had some cookies and juice to refuel for the next stage of our trek. We met our 2 glacier trek guides (different than the guide that brought us up to base camp), and they gave news that didn't totally surprise me at the time.
After the short break where we got our crampons and harness that we would need shortly we were off walking again. We quickly reached the terminal moraine of the glacier and trekked up and along Laguna Torre, a beautiful, barren glacier fed lake. After crossing the terminal moraine, we climbed up to the rocky lateral moraine to journey along the south edge of the lake. Except for one small problem: the Rio FitzRoy was exiting the lake was blocking our path to the glacier.
After crossing the river we had a short walk along the lateral moraine approaching the glacier. However before we reached the glacier the nice path along the moraine and the valley closed in directly on top of the lake. To approach the glacier we had to skirt to the top of the valley and walk along the ridge and descend back down to lake level and the glacier itself.
I had noticed as we approached that the wind had died down since we had left base camp. So we would get the chance to tie on the crampons and get out on the glacier. Thankfully because after the time and effort to get out here I would have been severely disappointed to not have had the opportunity.
We headed out and the glacier was amazingly beautiful. Our two guides wound our way out and up into this beautiful void of white and Cerro Torre itself peaked out from behind the clouds. The sunlight playing off of the glacier and the jagged spire of this incredible mountain just boggled the imagination. As incredible as Torres del Paine was the week before, this had the benefit of seeming more rugged, more remote, more in tune with the danger around us. Of course in reality we were in perfectly capable hands. The guides assisted us over a few small crevasse jumps that we had to make (some people needing more assistance than others).
After our all too short break for lunch (20-30 minutes) we climbed out of the recess to find that the wind had picked up again. Not quite as rough as what it was back at base camp, but enough that it made keeping one's footing a bit more challenging. Unfortunately this meant that we would not be able to try out the experience of climbing an ice wall with an ice axe. Looking back after our trek back this turned out to be a good decision for several other reasons as well. So we headed back off the glacier by a slightly different path than the way we came and was able to experience more unique views, ice formations, and streams of water rushing across, around and under the glacier.
Eventually we cam back down to that area where the ice and rock began to mix and soon we made the final jump off of the glacier back on to solid rock again. Crampons came off and the long trek back had to begin. And, man what a long trek it would be. Our group of 20 or so on the trek included a few that at this point were pretty much physically exhausted. As we proceeded to climb retrace our steps back to the tyrolean traverse we had to make the climb and descent of the ridge.
It was nearly 6:30 back at base camp, a relatively sheltered area east of Laguna Torre. For Jim, Susan, and myself we were done hiking for the day as we would be spending the evening in the camp. Everyone else had the 2 hour hike (at least) back to El Chalten. Good thing it stays light until almost 10:00 PM. The base camp where we stayed was a semi-permanent "tent city" with a kitchen and dining tents in addition to regular sleeping tents. One could stay in one of these tents as part of the organized treks or bring their own equipment and set up for the night as well.
We had a decent camp dinner, and settled in to relive the days trek.