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Trip Report Patagonia...You took our breath away

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We just returned from an almost three week trip to Patagonia and I wanted to share some info as there really isn't much out there.

Who: My husband, daughter (11) and myself

Itinerary:
Dec 13-JFK TO EZE
DEC 14-BsAs
Dec 15-AEP to FTE pick up car drive to El Chalten
Dec 16, 17, 18-El Chalten
Dec 19 & 20-El Calafate (return car)
Dec 21-Bus to Puerto Natales
Dec 22 & 23-Natales (pick up car)
Dec 24, 25, 26 & 27-Torres del Paine
Dec 28, 29, 30-Punta Arenas
Dec 31-on to Santiago and continue on to home

Hotels:
See in depth reviews on TA
BsAs-Magnolia Hotel:Great stay, very quiet hotel, didn't love the area
El Chalten-Anita's Cabins:perfect for us, great location, very clean, can be loud with upstairs neighbors
El Calafate-Santa Monica Aparts:great location, super cabin and service
Puerto Natales-Pire Mapu:Terrific hosts, cottage a bit tight for three, neighborhood location
Torres del Paine-Hotel Rio Serrano-Superb staff, great location, comfortable in every way
Punto Arenas-Casa Escondida:Fabulous hosts, terrific cottages, great food, a highlight for us

Car rentals:
El Calafate-Servi Car-Great service, newer car (rear tires a bit bare), very positive
Puerto Natales (with a return in Punto Arenas)-EMSA-terrific car, service was excellent, they did charge us fifty dollars upon return for a "dent" in the underneath of the bumper -totally possible we did it but do check rear bumpers thoroughly

Restaurants-just the highlights:
BsAs: La Cabrera Norte
El Chalten: Patagonicus (for pizza), Cerveceria (for empanadas, salads), El Muro (for parilla style dinner), Waffeleria (obvious)
El Calafate: La Tablita (for pailla)
Puerto Natales: Murrays (sandwiches), Afrigonia (African inspired dinners), Singular (great food but an unbelievable dining room), Pizzareia Mesita Grande (obvious)
Punta Arenas: dinner at La Casa Escondida (our hotel), Lomito's (sandwiches)

Travel help-Isabel from Buenos-Aires Tours: She was fantastic from day one to after we returned home, checking in on us along the way, etc-Completely recommend!

Will give the report next...but in the meantime, you can check out the travel blog if you like

http://blog.travelpod.com/members/odie1

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    The one night in BsAs is really not worth mentioning. I know that I am in the minority here but what I saw did not leave me wanting to return. I was shocked by the amount of graffiti and trash everywhere and the crumbling buildings and sidewalks. It was quite a disappointment.

    But Patagonia...WOW...it really did take our breath away. It draws you in, like a drug does an addict. It leaves you wanting more and more and to never leave...

    Basics:
    We drank the water everywhere (except BsAs) and had no issues at all. Wifi is readily available just about everywhere as well but signal strength varied. The winds are craaaazy!!! We had lots of layers each day and we found ourselves putting them on and taking them off over the course of an hour. We loved having a car, even if it sat a day or two but if you like to take photographs, or use binoculars, then it is a must have in my book. I would have gone nuts if I was on a bus and couldn't stop to shoot pictures. Speaking some Spanish is definitely a plus. I am fairly fluent so I had no issues, although understanding some of the accents was a challenge.

    Things we couldn't have lived without-rain gear, refillable water bottles, Tide detergent packets for the sink, quick drying underwear, ziplocs, Kind bars and peanut butter, sunscreen, extra pairs of gloves and good hiking socks.

    The only things we brought that we didn't use were shorts, headlamps and thermals (though we did use zip neck capilene as a 2nd layer over our t shirts)

    First up, El Chalten-This was our absolute favorite. We loved the laid back vibe, the cleanliness, the excellent restaurants, the views, the people, the safety and did I mention the views? The ranger station here was far superior to any in TdP. They have displays, diagrams, maps, and rangers who give talks, in both English and Spanish, that are so filled with passion for the area, it is impossible for it not to radiate to you. Definitely start here before setting out anywhere. There is one gas station here just before entering the town on your right side. There are plenty of stores to get supplies at but note there is not a large supermarket. We were lucky to see Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre on two of our four days. Almost all of the restaurants and stores were exchanging 8:1 (compared to a certain BsAs restaurant that gave us 9.5:1)

    Our blog has many specifics on hikes, drives, etc so I am just going to recap:

    Hikes:
    Chorillo del Salto was an easy 4 mile roundtrip and the views were terrific.

    Laguna del los Tres: We started from El Pilar. Many reviews says this is flat, following the river until Poincenot, but it is not flat, there are plenty of uphills, but nothing too crazy. Once you reach Poincenot, the water in the rivers is accessible and potable. From Poincenot up to LdlT, it is one heck of a climb, especially if you have any pack on. The trail is narrow, mainly difficult for two to pass. We had trekking poles and were glad we did for this part especially. It took us an hour and 45 minutes to make it to the top but it was an unbelievable sight. This hike was magical! Going back was phenomenal as well. We used a GPS watch and the total mileage was 12.9 miles from start to finish. It took us just shy of 11 hours including a lunch stop and break up top at LdlT. We were well spent upon returning but there is no doubt, this was a highlight for us!

    We drove to Lago del Desierto one day. That was an adventure! We stopped and fly fished in the Vueltas River, catching lots of trout (make sure you have barbless hooks and get a fishing license). The scenery was spectacular! Completely recommend this as well.

    So many people seem to skip El Chalten. I guess that is good in a way because it will help to preserve its pristine beauty. I beg of you though...Don't go here if you are one of those people who thinks its OK to leave your footprint, especially your used TP, behind. This place deserves better than that. It is one of nature's last untouched, unspoiled spots. It truly is amazing!

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    Oh, Casa Escondida! I loved that place and meeting Pamela, Luis and Mauricio. If I ever made it back I would for sure stay there again. One of the little treasures that Tripadvisor was actually right about.

    Patagonia is a very beautiful part of the world.

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    I figured I ought to share our description from my blog, of the hike to Las Torres:
    During our trek we traversed through a variety of environmental areas. We began in a river basin with rapids so violent and loud, we had to yell to hear each other. From there we began to climb into the centuries old Lenga forests whose trees create an environment so lush, it reminds one of a mystical place from the movies. The tree's trunks are twisted and gnarled and growing every which way, their branches are covered in something like Spanish Moss and their leaves are such a brilliant, shiny green, they don't look real. We were saying we half expected to see a gnome run across the trail! As we climbed higher the glaciers and Mounts across the river valley, came into clearer view. There was the majestic towering Fitz Roy, with a huge aqua blue glacier carving it's way down a U-shaped valley where it terminated at a teal green glacial lake. There was an enormous thundering waterfall pouring from the base of the glacier into the lake. Truly one of the most impressive sights we have ever seen. Our daughter said she could never grow bored of looking at it.
    As we continued on, we became plainly aware of an ever growing, deep, echoing sound... was it a helicopter? an airplane? We turned toward the noise just in time to see a huge avalanche let loose from one of the glaciers and crash over the edge to the lake below. What a sight that was!
    As we continued hiking, I thought back to something the park manager had told us yesterday regarding the program he was telling us about. He said everyone who has ever come here and participated in that program left a changed person. I don't doubt that. Walking through that forest and experiencing nature at its absolute finest has changed us. How could it not?
    By the time we reached our first planned rest stop, four miles in, we could see the trail to the Laguna de Los Tres. We looked at it and contemplated the ridiculously steep, 1440 foot straight-up climb that we would have to make. The trail was completely exposed and was really not much more than a scramble of a scree field. As trekkers descended, we asked them about the climb and while they all agreed it was tough, they assured us it was beyond worth it.
    As we neared the base of the climb, we passed over multiple rivers that had to be either hopscotched over or crossed on one of the primitive foot bridges that spanned the river. We also knew we needed to refill our water bottles. We had learned from prior research, and had it confirmed by the Ranger, as well as the posted signage, that the water in the rivers is drinkable, no need to treat it. It was the cleanest water ever to be seen.
    Words can't quite begin to describe the climb. We knew it was going to be challenging but I don't think any of us realized just HOW challenging. We kept stopping to peel layers off and let other, younger ( well younger than my husband and I), hikers who were less laden than us, pass. Thank goodness we had trekking poles or it is certain I would not have made it.
    As we neared the top, some hour and 40 minutes later, the wind began to really pick up. When we finally crested the ridge, the scene literally shocked us! There we stood as close as one could get to Mount Fitz Roy without having to don crampons to cross the ice field at its base. The lake that lay directly beneath it, was a deep aqua blue, a color that literally matched both our daughter's hat and her fingernails! We were memorized by the unbelievable beauty that stood directly in front of us.
    Fitz Roy is a bit of a legend. It is actually the mountain used in the logo for the clothing company, Patagonia. It is the holy grail of mountains to climbers as while maybe 100 climbers reach the top of Everest in a day, only one may summit Fitz Roy in a year! We marveled at it and how minuscule we felt standing beneath its towering spire.
    The descent was almost as slow going as the ascent for fear one misplaced foot would surely end in disaster! At the bottom, we did another refill of the frigid glacial waters and began the second half of the trek back to El Chalten.
    The views from this trail were just as magnificent as the trail coming up. Every minute or so we were stopping to turn around and gawk at the mountains. We obviously couldn't get enough of it!
    The forests on this side of the mountains were even more wilder and enchanting than the other side. My husband said he felt like we were descending into "Middle Earth" and we all kept whispering "My precious."
    Our focus on the scenery is what kept us from focusing on the pain that was beginning to develop in our feet. By mile ten we were hurting pretty badly and our daughter asked me if I thought she would be able to make it the rest of the way walking on her hands. We slogged on and finally El Chalten came into view. We laughed and cracked jokes about how we were feeling and what we would love, right about then.
    13.2 miles after starting, we reached our little cabin and collapsed in utter exhaustion. We questioned whether we would do it again, now that we knew what we were in for, and we all agreed with a resounding YES!
    Our daughter said, "If I hadn't done that walk, then I wouldn't have gotten to to see it and I wouldn't have wanted to miss that!"


    El Calafate: The town itself did not excite us. It is as has been described-very touristy. The Perito Moreno glacier is beautiful though and definitely worth a visit. We did the mini trekking and really enjoyed it. Unfortunately we ran out of time and didn't get to the walkways, something we would have liked to have done. Do realize that PM is an hour and fifteen minute drive from Calafate and you need to "check in" so that can add time to the trip as well. As for the mini trekking, I am so glad we didn't miss it as it really was an unbelievably surreal experience. After donning crampons, our group of seventeen were led up the side of the glacier, where we were told it is more stable to walk on. The guides were incredibly knowledgable in explaining much about the science of glaciers, and this one in particular.
    Walking in crampons definitely took some getting used to- walk with your feet far apart, don't cross your crampons, don't walk sideways, walk flat footed so all eight spikes make contact with the ice, and so on.
    I had seen some pictures ahead of time and thought I had an idea what to expect, but boy was I wrong. We walked inches from crevasses-so deep, and so blue they are, with the sounds of rushing water echoing forth from them. I trembled with fear when we came upon the first few, but ultimately found myself trembling with excitement by the final encounters. We stopped and filled our water bottles straight from the water running over the glacier. It was so pure and clean... and cold!
    Most people think of glaciers and think of solid flat white masses, this isn't so. Glaciers are continually changing. They have peaks and valleys, pot holes and crevasses, ponds and streams and have an almost iridescent blue hue to them. They are reminiscent of the top of a meringue pie. Our guides said the blue comes from the fact that the tightly compacted snow is able to absorb all the colors of the light spectrum except for blue. The blue in the glaciers was spectacular!
    We were fortunate enough to witness two huge chunks of the face of the glacier calve. There is an initial cracking sound, followed by the sight of the ice being launched every which way as it actually breaks free from the glacier, concluding with a reverberating thud after the chunk sinks into the lake below it. Impressive to say the least!

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    Something I wanted to mention is that the gas station in El Chalten, accepts Pesos only and it keeps odd hours, along the lines of siesta times.

    From El Calafate to Puerto Natales, we took the bus. My daughter and I both get horribly motion sick and made sure to get to the bus station first to grab the front seats. This worked out very well until we realized it was assigned seating!
    Our bus ride was very pleasant as we crossed through the Patagonian steppe. I've read often how boring the trip is, but to me, I love having the time looking out the window contemplating life. The land was three shades of brown and completely devoid of color, save for the occasional bright red shrine that family members erect after a loved one has a fatal accident. There was the occasional guanaco, though well camouflaged for its environment, was plainly see since there wasn't a piece of vegetation taller than its ankle, as well as the occasional dead one, whose skeleton bleached white by the sun, stood out among all the brown. Though the entire time the craggy, snow covered peaks of the Andes were visible far off in the distance rising straight up from the mostly flat land.
    Two hours in, and the barren land began to give way to low lying dark hued bushes that grew so thickly, from our seats perched high in the bus, it appeared to be one continuous top. A dark carpet if you will as the tops blocked any ability to see the yellow grasses beneath. A quick glance out and one could have easily thought they were passing centuries old lava fields.
    The shrubs quickly gave way to a far lusher, more productive environment of green grasses and wildflowers. The hills and fields were dotted with what appeared to be thousands upon thousands of sheep. We passed marshes filled with waterfowl of all sorts and sizes, including more flamingoes. We spotted dozens of rheas, some even with their chicks. We also watched a few more condors soaring about in the ever increasing wind.
    About three hours into our drive, we turned off the main highway onto a dirt road. My husband was thinking perhaps the driver was taking us to his friend's curio shop or something but after a few miles we realized this was the road to Chile. We passed through a magnificent estancia and then arrived at a very plain one room building, the border control station. First up, everyone off the bus to have their passport checked and stamped by Argentina, before leaving the country. Back in the bus, another fifteen minutes down the dirt road and we came to another stop. Everybody back off the bus, this time taking all our belongings, including our luggage from underneath, for immigration and customs.
    Chile is very strict about you bringing any organic items into their country and this is what they were checking for. Another stamp in our passport and we were off!
    The wind by now was as fierce as any we had seen. We joked, and hoped, that our bus wouldn't end up like the one a few months ago that was blown over while on its way to Natales. The temperature was also dropping and I think because of this, the passengers in the rear of the bus, closed the fresh air vents. Needless to say, the bus became quite warm and as the road had changed from a pin straight one in Argentina, to a much more curvy one in Chile, my daughter and I both began to feel very motion sick. We were lucky that we were very close to town or I think our trip would have ended far different for both of us.
    Puerto Natales is an interesting town. It seems to us that it was once a thriving prosperous community, then must have had a large economic downfall and is now finally beginning to pick itself back up again. There is a wonderful mix of old and new architecture. The old is reminiscent of Alps-style architecture as some of the first Western settlers here were German and Austrian. The new is either a very simplistic, almost modern look or one reminiscent of American style ski towns in which they masterfully mix metal, much of it corrugated, and local woods. Walking down the streets though, one definitely gets the feel they are in a working class town in South America.

    While in Puerto Natales we did a horse riding trip and a flyfishing trip from there. We went to the Mylodon cave as well. The cave was certainly interesting, and there was some good information to be learned about the geology of the area and its first inhabitants. Really an hour here would suffice though.

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    Puerto Natales was a necessary stop for us in order to get a car. We rented the car from a local Avis affiliate called EMSA. They have offices in Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales and now El Calafate. They now let you pick up in Punta Arenas and drop off in El Calafate. If this had been the case when we were booking the trip, we would have reversed direction of our trip.

    Torres del Paine has always been on our radar. I don't know when we first saw photographs of it, some twenty years ago I think, but it has called to us ever since and it most assuredly did not disappoint:

    Patagonia is really an indescribable landscape. The expanse is like nothing I have ever experienced but can easily be comprehended as one drives and drives and sees nothing created by human hands, other than the highway, for hundreds of miles.
    There must be hundreds of microclimates here, as you can easily have a ten degree temperature swing or go from deluge to sunshine or ferocious winds to light breezes within the matter of a mile. In some areas, the highway appears to be the dividing line of these microclimates with it literally looking like the Oregon coast on one side and the Texas pan handle on the other side; it is really wild
    Our drive to Torres brought us through some amazing country. We drove through a sea of purple lupine, unlike anything I have ever seen, that continued for miles. I can't seem to get even one to grow back home yet here they were, lining the side of a desolate highway, blooming like mad with scarcely a person passing by to notice them. We passed hills of prairie grass dancing in the wind giving the appearance as though the hills were alive with waves. And of course we passed tens of thousands of sheep! We saw sheep in Ireland but that had nothing on Patagonia.
    Torres del Paine is remote, and I mean very remote. For a national park, it lacks most things we would expect back home. Driving through the park is like attempting a death defying stunt. The road is little more than a dirt track carved through the land, so filled with washboard it is, that one's vision is left almost blurred. The roads aren't graded to standards we are used to-curves that defy centrifugal force, hills that seem to lead straight to the Heavens with no hope of knowing what's on top until you reach it and corners so blind it gives the illusion that the road has stopped. Add to that, the maniacal tour bus drivers operating on roads that can barely, safely pass two small passenger cars and one can easily understand the term "white knuckled." I suppose the one silver lining is that it appears as though they have recently begun putting some guard rails in! But with all TdP lacks in infrastructure, it certainly makes up for with its views. This is truly some of the most stunning scenery we have ever seen. As we drove through the park our daughter commented that what she had seen so far, was not what she was expecting Patagonia to look like. She "hadn't expected it to be so green and to be so grand." It clearly has struck the same chord with her as it has us.
    Unfortunately the famed Torres were shrouded in clouds for all but a few minutes but we did manage to catch a minute or two. That brief, spectacular sight left us desperately wanting to see it in all its majestic glory. They say that getting to see the Torres is even rarer then getting to see Fitz Roy, so fingers were crossed! We passed hundreds of lakes, each with its own unique color falling somewhere in the blue/ green spectrum. The winds, blowing around 75 km per hour, were creating waves up to four feet high which, with the water color, reminded us of the north shore of Maui.
    What buffalo are to Yellowstone, guanaco are to TdP; they are everywhere. We even managed to see a few babies, their fur still fuzzy!

    Our first full day the weather was bad, so we opted for a few shorter hikes. Our first stop was the cascade Salto Grande, caused by the enormous amount of water from milky green Lago Nordenskjold draining into the ice blue Lago Pehoe.
    As we ate lunch in our car, our daughter observed that while the right side of the vehicle was completely rain covered, the left side was devoid of even one drop of water. We knew it was windy, not only by the waves on the lakes or the cradle like rocking of the car while we ate, but the fact that the wind had driven the rain completely sideways like that was amazing. There was a permanent sign at the trailhead warning of strong winds and while by now, we had figured that out, boy were they not kidding. The winds were insane. We made sure to zip every pocket etc to ensure that none of us got picked up by the gusts, as is known to frequently occur here. At one point, I was able to lean both forward and backward at an almost 45 degrees angle and stay on my feet. We had to cut the hike short as it was nearly impossible for us to safely continue on...crazy!
    From there we decided to head to the smaller of the two cascades, Salto Chico, located in front of the famed ecolodge, Explorer. The two cascades are roughly 3 miles apart but at Salto Chico the wind and rain had stopped and the wind had lessened quite a bit, thank goodness as this trail was a boardwalk that partly hugs the side of a cliff and had no railings. The trail winds its way around a peninsula with views down the mint green Rio Paine which drains through a narrow gorge from Lago Pehoe causing the Salto Chico cascades.
    This stop was a highlight for us as my husband spotted an endangered Huemul Deer.
    The ranger back in Chalten had told us how rare these are and that they are even rarer to see, so needless to say, we were all giddy with excitement! The deer was beautiful and did not appear to be frightened by humans at all. As a matter of fact, she happily grazed on the grasses and bushes while we stayed back taking pictures and was still there, lying down napping, when we returned.
    Having our own car was wonderful but it was not easy. There are normally two ways into the park however, the Southern most entrance, the one closest to Puerto Natales and closest to our hotel, is closed so we had to go all the way around. Under familiar circumstances that would not bother us as it allows an opportunity to see yet more scenery. The problem is, there is not a drop of gasoline to be found once one leaves Natales and it is 120 miles one way to our hotel, a little more than a quarter tank of gas. Again, not a problem if one just wants to sit at the hotel, which we clearly do not. So the dilemma is do we go out driving and sight seeing trying to calculate and gamble on the amount of gas we have left? Or do we pay hundreds of dollars to take tours from the hotel in vans that are sure to make both my daughter and I ill? Neither appealed much to me so being the resourceful gal I am :), I decided to email the fishing guide that was coming out to take my husband fishing and offered to pay him double the cost of a liter of gas if he could bring us a canister full. His response- no problema... yes!
    Since we knew we had gas coming, we decided to head out to see Glacier Grey. The drive out was of course amazing as we wound our way down a deep canyon cut by the mighty milky green Rio Grey. As we approached the end of the road at Lago Grey there sticking up above the tree tops was the tip of an iceberg so blue, that had we not already been to Perito Moreno Glacier, I would have thought it fake.
    The trail begins with a crossing of the fast moving Rio Grey, over a 40 foot suspension bridge made up of wooden planks held together by ropes. Quite nerve wracking especially as it bounced with each step taken. On the other side, we were greeted with a family of Magallenes Woodpeckers, something I had been wanting to see since Chalten.
    The Magallenes Woodpecker is the largest species in Patagonia and is quite similar to the Pileated Woodpeckers we have back home. We were treated to a female, male and a juvenile male. The male was easily chipping apart rotten wood fall looking for a meal for the juvenile which he found in the form of a grub that was about as long as my finger. It was great watching this exchange take place. I sounded like a member of the paparazzi as my camera clicked away on rapid shooting!
    As we emerged from the heavy cover of the lush woods, immense Lago Grey came into view. There sitting close to the black sand shore, beached by the shallow waters, were three enormous icebergs, as blue as blue could be. The contrast of colors was breathtaking!
    We decided to hike out to the mirador which meant crossing the 1/2 mile long beach. By the time we were half way across, the weather turned and it began to rain hard. Since we were outfitted in rain clothes we trudged on, but in hindsight didn't need to as the low lying clouds obscured the majority of the view.

    A note on Gas: Many people had bought canisters in Punta Arenas and filled them up in Puerto Natales on the way. There is gas available at the general store in Cerro Castillo, but it is not a station just a man with some barrels of gas that will sell it to you by the few liters. I also heard that the store at Rio Serrano has gas, again a few liters available. The road from Natales to Rio Serrano is scheduled to be completed in Feb BUT the management at Rio Serrano said they feared it was going to continue to be closed through next season.

    A note on the entrance fee: The rangers are being lenient on the days, especially if you are staying outside the park. We got a three day pass, but actually entered the park five days, just make sure you let them know. The one ranger wrote the days we would be coming and going on the back and then stamped it.

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    Jane-I can't imagine what it was like ten years ago. How wonderful it must have been!

    mlgb-I think it was your trip report that turned me on to Casa Escondida.

    avrooster-Isabel is the best. Thanks for the nice comments.

    yestravel-the glacier trekking was a definite highlight. I have always been terrified of the thought of trekking on a glacier for fear of falling in a crevasse. I am so glad my daughter wanted to do it. Your trip report had been a great inspiration. If I remember correctly, you didn't make it to El Chalten, and you were sorry for that. That helped seal it for us to go and I am so glad we did!

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    Hi! I am planning a very similar trip in March, and I enjoyed reading about your trip. I just had a few logistical questions if you could help me out!

    1. Did you book the Perito Moreno glacier mini-trekking trip beforehand, or is it easy to book when you get down there?

    2. I also would like to take the bus from El Calafate to Puerto Natales - how long did it actually take to get there? And do you know if there are any buses that leave in the afternoon, or are they mostly in the morning?

    3. Did you use a travel company to organize your trip, or plan most of it on your own?

    Thank you for any information you might have!

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    Odie sorry for being out of order here but up above you said "The descent was almost as slow going as the ascent for fear one misplaced foot would surely end in disaster!" about the hike back to El Chalten. I don't mind very steep slopes but I don't like cliff edges and straight downs. Was this more of a slip and roll and roll, or a slip and freefall?

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    Jade15: Odie1 said above "Travel help-Isabel from Buenos-Aires Tours: She was fantastic from day one to after we returned home, checking in on us along the way, etc-Completely recommend!"

    Have a great time in our country.

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    jade 15-
    1) We booked when we got there BUT there weren't many spaces left so you may want to book it ahead of time.
    2) it took about 5 hours including the time to cross the border. There were no other people at the border crossing when we arrives but there were as we were leaving so that can definitely add time to the trip. I believe they are mostly morning buses, but I can't be positive.
    3) as avrooster said, we used Isabel and she was fantastic. I have never used an agent before for any of our travels, but I found it very helpful for Patagonia and Isabel got us some great deals, as well as secured bus tickets, etc.

    colduphere-The disaster would have been more a broken leg or fractured skull because of the terrain. There were no freefalls on this trail, at least none that stood out to me and I don;t like heights, however the same could not be said for the trail to Los Torres (see my next entry).

    Feel free to ask anything else.

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    We woke again to overcast skies and rain, feeling a bit disappointed as we still had not had a clear day to see the Cuernos or Los Torres. We had only seen them briefly upon arrival into the park.
    We had planned on a hike that we knew would be a similar challenge to the one we did to Fitz Roy but would hopefully be just as rewarding. There was some concern on our part on whether this hike was going to be too difficult but as a family decided if we didn't attempt it, we were denying ourselves the opportunity to succeed.
    When we checked in at the ranger station and told the ranger where we were headed, she told us we needed to be very careful because even though it had been nothing but rain where we were, it fell as snow higher up. This news pretty much had us figuring we would not be making it to the top and I think honestly left us with a mix of feeling relieved and disappointed.
    As luck would have it, by the time we had driven the hour plus to the other side of the park, the rain had stopped and the slight outline of the Torres were beginning to appear through the parting clouds.
    We knew this was going to be a tough hike without any added complications of snow, so our plan was to hike as far as we could, then turn around. The first two miles of the trail were essentially straight up. It was a brutal climb on a completely exposed trail but the views were breathtaking, both literally and figuratively. By the time we reached the top of the first ascent, we had a 180 degree view of the park and its rolling green hills dotted by lakes each their own shade of blue. The Rio Asencion, though now easily more than 1,000 feet below us, could still be heard roaring through the steep canyon walls and its blue color was even more vivid looking down on it against the black rock it had carved its way through.
    Since we made it to the top of the first difficult climb, we decided we should at least go on the half mile to the first camp in hopes of catching a glimpse of Los Torres. Up to this point the trail, while ridiculously steep, had seemed more like an area carved by frequent washout than one carved by human hand, but all of that was about to change.
    As we rounded the first bend in the trail, all aspects of it appearing nature made changed. The trail from that point on to the base camp, which we could see sitting on the river bank in the valley below, clearly had been carved by humans.
    The wind, which had been unfortunately almost nonexistent during our sweltering climb up, hit us with such force we dropped to the ground for fear of literally being blown off the edge which at this point was no more than a foot beside us. As I sat there pinning myself against the rock, clinging to my daughter, it took everything I had to keep myself calm and not let her see how horribly frightened I was. I was ready to admit that there was no way I would be able to continue on but realized once again, I couldn't deny our dreams because of my fears.
    There was a "lull" in the wind, so we scrambled to our feet and continued around the bend. I just kept telling myself, "Look at the trail, one foot in front of the other, don't look down over the edge, one foot in front of the other...breathe." Thankfully, our daughter didn't seem to be the least bit bothered by the unguarded precipice to her immediate right.
    It turns out the trails in Torres del Paine are very much like the roads are-they are built with completely blind corners, into the sides of mountains with no guard rails and they are barely wide enough for safe passing, especially if one is a wide load (ie carrying a huge trekking pack). Thank goodness we did not come upon one of the horses that also share the trail with you. Our daughter was very funny in acknowledging that she was extremely thankful we had not opted to do the first part of the trek by horseback as she made it very clear that there was no way she would have been able to ride once we hit that pass! She likened it to how we felt watching the people travel down the Grand Canyon on mules-no way!
    As we continued to wind our way down to the camp, our daughter confided to me that she didn't think she could go beyond the camp. I think the physical and mental challenges were a bit taxing for her, they certainly had been for me. I told her not to worry, that would be fine, we'd have lunch then head back.
    By the time we had finished lunch, we were all feeling refreshed. The tips of the towers could be seen over the steep green hills and it left us wanting to see more. We decided to continue on a bit to where we might get a better glimpse. The trail from here was fantastic. It was a rolling trail through forests seemingly so alive, you half expected the trees to reach out and tap you on the shoulder. We made our way across wooden foot bridges that had been cobbled together from fallen logs and passed waterfalls by the hundreds, some crashing thunderously down, others merely trickling from fissures in the rock. The forest floor looked as though a green blanket had been laid down upon it from the thousands of ferns that grew. We commented that it felt as though we had entered a forest that one might see in a Disneyland ride. It was truly enchanting!
    We stopped numerous times to fill our water bottle from the rivers and creeks that flowed. The enjoyment our daughter got from this was obvious. I think she takes great pleasure out of doing something that is so simple and pure and so strongly connected with nature. She commented many times that water will never taste the same to her again.
    The views of Los Torres were completely blocked by the heavy canopy above our heads so we agreed to walk to the next camp, still searching for a better glimpse. We made great time and reached the next camp faster than expected. We could still only see the top quarter of the towers but they were clear as could be, not a cloud anywhere. We decided we had to continue on, up to the top.
    The climb up was more of a rock scramble than a hike. We were glad we didn't have hiking poles this time as we frequently used both our hands to maneuver over the boulders. The first half was forested and protected from the wind but once we gained elevation the trail turned into an exposed scree field. There we saw the first bits of snow and suspected that this morning it was probably quite treacherous but by now, at almost 4:00, it was fine. When we rounded the last bend and cleared the last massive boulder, we could finally see the majority of the towers. We continued forward with much anticipation to take in the whole of our surroundings. A resounding "Wow," was declared almost in unison by the three of us. It stopped us dead in our tracks. The three, 12 million year old towers with their sheer red tinted faces rise up from a milky green lake straight into the sky like three fingers shooting up from the grave. The scene was beyond anything we ever imagined and could most assuredly inspire even the most die-hard city-phile.
    We found some shelter from the wind behind a huge boulder and sat in silence staring at the majestic view before us. Shortly thereafter, the silence was broken by a loud cracking noise, like the sound of a tree snapping before it falls. We looked around to see a small avalanche of rocks come crashing down the side of the hill, plunging into the water.
    We spent about 45 minutes up top reveling in the beauty before making the long descent. By the time we got down to the base camp, our knees were aching and muscles shaking. Looking on the bright side of things, we joked what good shape our legs would be in for ski season this year.
    By the time we reached the "WIndy Pass" (as we later learned it was actually named) we were relieved in knowing it was nothing but downhill from there. By the time we reached the bottom we were hurting! This hike was definitely more difficult than the Fitz Roy hike, even though it was two miles shorter, at 11.2 miles. We limped our way to the car and our daughter said she was going to put her head down and to please only wake her if we saw a puma. "Of course," we assured her.
    We headed out, watching the Torres get smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror but still never losing their majesty. As we headed up a hill, I noticed a herd of guanacos all running full speed across a hill. I told my husband to slow because there was a reason they were running so rapidly and sure enough we rounded the corner and the road was blocked by a huge group of people standing there with their binoculars and cameras. We stopped, rolled the windows down and questioned what they were all looking at, even though we knew the answer... pumas... three of them! We had missed them by seconds!
    Our daughter was a little bummed that she missed that opportunity but having been so lucky to see Los Torres, clear as could be, she assured us it was OK.

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    Thank you so much for including your blog link. I was home with a cold today and able to read the whole report. Your photos are great. We often travel with our daughter, aged 18, and my son and his wife. We took our daughter to Manu in Peru for a week when she was 14. Her motto is still if she could spend a week in Manu with all of the bugs, snakes & sweat, she can do anything! It is a really wonderful experience to travel together, make decisions together, and endure the wonders as well as the discomforts of travel together. I hope we can follow in your footsteps as your trip is pretty much exactly how I would like to do Patagonia.

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    colduphere-It's a good thing I hadn't heard about that before otherwise I might not have made it to begin with. In Hindsight, it probably wasn't quite as bad as it seemed at that moment but still...

    Jade15-I can guarantee you that my trip report does not begin to do it justice...just you wait!

    cjon-So glad you were able to read the blog. I relish every trip we take with our daughter. I hope you can do Patagonia. it truly is remarkable.

    yestravel-We too were very lucky and just tonight, as the slide show was playing on our TV, I was almost ready to say, "ooh, we have to go there." when a photo came across.

    mlgb-I remember reading along with your trip. I just looked at your photos and laughed so ahrd when I saw the sign for the bridge. That bridge is now closed, they have built a new one, but it is still standing. I actually took a photo of it as it made us howl in disbelief when we saw it. I don't know what we would have done if we had come to it this trip. I think my daughter and I would have about dies first watching my husband cross in the car, then us to have to follow. It also seems as though the trail up to the Torres, is a bit less of a a scramble.

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    Hello, odie1, I have traveled a lot (48 countries), but I have never been to South America.
    I am nearing my retirement and planning a trip/adventure to South America mostly on buses once I get to S.A. possibly Ecuador. I am looking for forum(s) where I can get some information on hiking Patagonia.

    My concerns are:
    1. I am not going S.A. just for Patagonia. I am going to several different countries with my backpack and when I get near Patagonia, I would like to hike/trek. You mentioned about renting a car, is it necessary? Are there any public transportation I can use to do hiking?

    2. I have just finished El Camino de Santiago (600 mile hiking in 37 days with 17 pound backpack) in May, 2014. Not knowing how hard it is to hike Patagonia and how long it takes to see a minimum or recommended hike, I would like some info on this.

    3. Good time of the year to go. Not the busies time, but not busy, but still a good time.

    4. Is it okay to combine travel/visit and hiking in one trip? Because what I need to pack maybe different.

    5. Where to start. The recommended course, etc.

    Can you recommend me a forum(s) where I can ask all these questions?

    Thank you in advance.

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    tominrm-I will do my best to answer your questions:

    1: We only went to the southern part of Patagonia and while you can navigate it by bus, a car for us was wonderful. I think it depends on where you are going. A more specific itinerary for Patagonia would probably be helpful.

    2. I am not too sure what the hike is you finished, but I can't imagine that any of the popular hikes in Patagonia could be any more stressful. We did not hike the entire W circuit in TdP, only a part of it, but even that was completely manageable.

    3. Nov-Feb are the optimal times but I understand that the very end of Dec-Jan is quite busy. We were there the middle of Dec-end of Dec and it was not crowded at all and we had fantastic weather!

    4.Not too sure what you mean by this question. There is much to see/do/experience beyond the fantastic trekking.

    5. The Fodors forums are great for some things as far as Patagonia is concerned but I would start on TA forums for more info on specific hikes/routes etc. There are not many forums for this part of the world, at least none that I came across.

    I would be happy to try and answer any moire specifics but we weren't overnight trekking.

    It truly is one of the most magical places in the world!

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    Hello Odie 1,
    I am planning to go to Patagonia with my family in Nov - Dec 2014. You mentioned about " Travel help-Isabel from Buenos-Aires Tours". Could you please let me know the website or email to contact her.

    Thanks

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    Tien: odie1 is talking about Isabel, an independent local travel agent.

    Her website is: http://www.buenosaires-tours.com.ar/

    You can research her and draw your own conclusions by typing "Isabel" in TA's search feature here:

    http://tinyurl.com/nw9f4

    Have a great time in our country.

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    Tien-
    I can't say enough good things about Isabel. She was always available for questions and worked very hard to get us some good deals that are usually hard to come by. She definitely helped out with understanding how to travel from Point A to Point B and secured our transfers ahead of time.

    Good luck with your trip!

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    @Odie1, Thanks so much for all this great information on Patagonia. I have a question regarding rental cars- How did you manage to book EMSA/Avis ahead of time? I am not getting a response going through their website so have been considering using Europcar instead, but as you probably know, it's quite difficult to find reviews that give me the confidence to do so! Thank you for your help.

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