Oh, Patagonia. I can’t even come up with the words to describe your beauty. From your jagged granite peaks, flowing glaciers that reflect every color of blue imaginable, clean flowing rivers and lakes packed with trout and salmon, to your wild wind swept grasslands, with an abundance of grazing Guanacos and Rheas, Patagonia you have lived up to and exceeded all of our expectations. It has been some of the most amazing part of our journey so far.
After our amazing introduction to Chilean Patagonia, we continued on to the town of El Chalten, in Argentina located within the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares (Glacier National Park) and at the base of the impressive Monte Fitz Roy and it’s cousin Cerro Torre, who stand guard over the little town with towering granite peaks. Coming into town, the wind had been blowing us around the road, and when we finally found a place to camp, as we started setting up, two guys next to us were packing up and heading out after having their tent poles snapped in half by the wind. “Oh well,” they told us, “now we have an excuse to enjoy a few days in a hostel.” There are many wonderful things about this part of the park, the most important being there is a great park information building in town with knowledgeable people to give advice on hiking, climbing and trails, the park is full of well signed well maintained trails that offer a variety of views for everybody from the out of shape to the intrepid hiker, and all of this without any kind of entry fee. We decided to go all out and hike the 18km roundtrip trail into the base of Fitz Roy. It was a beautiful hike, with the trail winding up through beautiful wooded valleys offering up breathtaking views of the granite towers above, ending with a brutal 45 minute climb straight up the boulder strewn mountain side to finally arrive to an amazing view of the glacier and lakes that sit at the base of the granite towers. We took a few minutes (or maybe hours) to catch our breath and have a snack, but eventually we realized, yes that climb was worth the view.
We had planned to enjoy a few more hikes in El Chalten, but unfortunately for us out of shape hikers, we were too sore to do any more hiking for a few days. So instead we enjoyed some delicious eating amongst the many great places in El Chalten, then headed south to El Calafate. There wasn’t really much to see in town, it had a street lined with cheezy tourist shops and overpriced restaurants roasting sheep over the fire. After the unique touristy yet cool vibe of El Chalten the cheezy shops of El Calafte didn’t compare. The next day we headed out to get up close to the giant wall of ice known as the Perito Moreno glacier. This spectacular glacier lies within the greater Southern Patagonia ice field and is pretty impressive. It covers 97 square miles, with a length of 19 miles and and its greatest depth of 2,297 feet of pure ice. It is also pretty special, as it it one of only a few glaciers in the world that is still advancing rather than retreating into nothing like so many others out there. Standing at the base of the glacier and looking up at the 200 plus feet wall of ice, you realize it is one of those special natural phenomenons that really helps put into perspective how infinitely small we humans are in the scheme of things. Another great thing about this glacier is it location near a peninsula that allows visitors to walk around right near the base as it spills out into the lake around it. We spent hours walking the rail lined walkways to get different views of the blue hued ice, always waiting for a big chunk to break off with a thundering boom and go splashing into the water below.
Leaving El Calafate, we headed back into Chile, via a remote little border, to Puerto Natales. Here we met up with our friend Nicolas, whom we had met way back in Ecuador while he was traveling with 4 other friends in an old Nissan Petrol they had bought in Colombia. After hanging out and enjoying some awesome burgers and craft brewed beers (made with hops from Northern California no less!) at the brewery where he works and stocking up on groceries we made our way north to Torres del Paine National Park to try our feet at some more hiking. Like Fitz Roy in Argentina, Torres del Paine is a series of spectacular mountains with huge granite towers that make most climbers drool, surrounded by rolling hills of wild grasslands and turquoise colored glacial lakes.
We spent a few nights in a campground near the trailhead to the base of the Torres, and spent another day on an ambitious 18 km roundtrip hike up to the base of the Torres. The hike was very similar to the one in Fitz Roy, with the trail winding through beautiful woods and valleys, then another horrendous jaunt straight up the skree and boulder strewn mountain, to arrive with a breathtaking vista of a glacier lake sitting at the base of the granite towers of Torres del Paine. The weather wasn’t cooperating very nicely with us, and by time we dragged ourselves over the last of the boulders, the clouds were moving in blocking some of the view. We spent some of our hike back down walking into strong gusts of wind pelting rain and ice into our faces.
As with our other over ambitious hike at Fitz Roy, we had a few painful days of sore feet and blisters to nurse, so we moved camp to another spot with an amazing view and spent our time on the easily accessible hikes within the park.
Heading south again, we made our way down to Punta Arenas, situated on the shores of the Straights of Magellan. We spent a day in the Zona Franca the duty free zone searching for a new Thermarest for Lacey, the previous one having developed a giant bubble that had slowly spread to encompass the entire bottom of the pad. Having no luck here, we decided to head south to Tierra del Fuego, but not before (luckily for us) we realized that our break pads were shot and in immediate need of replacement. After another day of hunting down break pads and getting them put on, we headed out to the ferry landing for a ferry ride across the Straights of Magellan and onto the island of Tierra del Fuego.
After hours of waiting in a line of cars at the ferry, more hours on a horrible dirt road, and a border crossing back into Argentina, we made it to Camping Hain to meet up with our friends Life Remotely, who were heading north from Ushuaia. We spent a great few nights at the campground, enjoying views of the lake, catching up with the Remotelys (if you meet them have them cook for you) and hearing jealousy inspiring stories of their cruise to Antarctica (you really should check out some of their jealousy inspiring photos here).
We both were excited and a bit wonder struck thinking about all the amazing scenery we’d past through in the last few months of Patagonia and how close to Ushuaia we finally were. Crossing the Straights of Magellan I had started thinking back to history lessons so long ago in grade school, learning about the intrepid explorers sailing around the end of the world. As a child, these places had seemed so far away and unimaginable, and yet, here we were driving our way through only 100 kilometers from the end of the world.