February 16th, 2008 – by: andycox_is_now_in
Much needed lie in but didn't really get benefit as Argentinian guy in room had weirdest snore in the world with more of a groan on every breath. Enough time to have breakfast and buy replacement sunglasses before catching bus to El Chalten. Majority of journey through baron wilderness with the occassional impressive lake passing by. Arrived in El Chalten at 5.30pm. Although travelling north and away from the self proclaimed "End of the World" that is Ushuaia (as the most southerly city in the world), El Chalten definitely has the feel of the end of the world. Made up of a little network of unfinished dust roads, got off the bus to gale force winds blasting through the mountain valley sandblasting hair off all exposed skin.
After 13 weeks of travelling, still looked a novice compared to the majority of other occupants in town with the hermit, unkept, unwashed, 4 month old beards being the vogue with top of the range outdoor trekking gear set for month long solo expeditions into the wilderness looking likely, putting my Cragghoppers waterproofs to shame. The usual English and Ozzy travellers shying away with German and French taking up the challenge of the area. Not able to book the priority glacier walk until the 17th hitting my trip timescales but able to build in a contingency plan to trek around the famed Fitzroy range tomorrow. Did a shop and found a litre of red wine for 50p - got 2. Sought refuge in our hostal and Chris perfected his 5 card tricks enough times for me to figure them out.
Had a mini lie in deciding against getting up in time to see the highly recommended sunrise over Fitzroy range. Turned out to be a wise decision as weather continuing to be grim. However with nothing to do in El Chalten, decided to brave a recommended trek by hitchhiking to a village (El Pilar) 13km north (made up of 2 houses and a hostal) and then trekking offroad back to El Chalten. The plenty of traffic to find a lift turned out to be 1 car passing every 30 minutes. Thankfully, 2 cars were passing together after an hour that we managed to hitch our lift. Got out at El Pilar as planned and found our path and started back. Walk mainly through woods down a valley. However clouds completely obscuring any of the reputed views.
Managed to see the bottom of another glacier field overhanging from the side of a mountain cliff. After 2 hours, made it to the Fitzroy campsite. A couple of guided tours were stood around deciding whether it was worth climbing the hour up to the Fitzroy mirador, as it was unlikely the view would justify the effort. The 4 of us sat it out for a very cold lunch in the campsite watching which way the weather was going to turn. With chill setting in and needing to move, we unanimously agreed to make the climb having made it this far. Pathfinder Cox coming in for a bit of stick, walking through a river when there was a bridge 10 metres upstream. Warning sign for only climbers to attempt the path unfounded as demanding but steady walk not a patch on the clambering over boulders for the Torres del Paine mirador.
Pretty views down the valley and glimpses of the mountain peaks above when made it to the top and the mirador looking out at two fluorescent green lakes with 6 or 7 snow covered mountains towering above. Impressive view but with cloud obscuring much of the summits, not looking its best. Disappointingly sameish after seeing the splendour of the Torres del Paine at its best. Headed back to El Chalten with a few further impressive glimpses of mountains before flaking out at hostal.
After poor weather of the past 2 days, up in a still and starry morning for the much awaited glacier walk. Apart from the freezing cold, an ideal morning for the 3 hour trek to the glacier. However on setting out, heading completely the wrong direction towards more heavy clouds.
Turned into glacier valley and continued walk in light snow which although obscuring view from 1st mirador, was quite pleasant and fitting for the day. Interesting interlude when having to cross a raging river by clipping onto a rope pulley and pulling yourself across. Didn't quite have the technique perfected as got hand jammed in pulley mechanism ripping off half of the little finger of my glove (thank god I was wearing my gloves is what I say !!). Walked along ridge of hill giving 1st views of the glacier before arriving, putting crampons on and time for the big walk. With crampons on, walked in a line with guides cutting steps into ice to climb up ridges. Feeling comfortable with crampons but not my balance as teetered along 3 inch wide paths with sheer drops down crevasses on both sides.
Not at ease but positives of views and experience still making it worth it. Walk took us to various gulleys and holes in glacier with a bright blue hue. Great views of glacier round the bend of the mountain range. Made steady progress before having lunch in sheltered ice bowl. After lunch returned back to start after giving enough time for another challenge from Joel and Chris by dunking head into pool of ice water - warned of freezing brain but actually very refreshing - quickly put woolly hat back on before getting hypothermia. Before we knew it, we were back off glacier. Good experience, but slightly disappointed that hadnt spent more time on it. However no sooner off the glacier than wind picked up and thankful that not walking along the 3 inch path when the wind hit ! Walked the 3 hours back to El Chalten with much improved weather and fantastic views of Fitzroy Range making up for the cloud of yesterday.
On retun to town, treated ourselves to a pint in the microbrewery (very nice but very expensive, although got our moneys worth of free peanuts and popcorn). Got our 2 litres of wine and had a relaxed evening whilst Siggy sorted out copies of photos with Joel before leaving her in El Chalten tomorrow.