Patagonia-trip report

Old Apr 24th, 2006, 11:06 AM
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Patagonia-trip report

Warning: it's longer then I intended

We went to Patagonia with the expectation of beautiful mountains, unpredictable weather, strong winds and Spanish language barrier.

What we got was: beautiful mountains, nice people, unbelievable weather and fact that you can get by with limited vocabulary of the Spanish language.

After doing some research on the web and monitoring the discussions, the destinations were set, tickets bought.
We flew to Punta Arenas and stayed at Hostal Parediso, , where the owner turned out to be very sweet and caring lady, the hostel was quiet, very clean, with access to the kitchen, and generous breakfast included, we chose to sleep at a double room with private bath for 20.000 pesos for the room. We stocked up at big supermarket Abu gosh for the trip to Torres del Paine and did not regret it as the stores in Puerto Natales are much smaller and the selection is limited.

There are several bus companies connecting Punta Arenas and Puerto Natales, we chose Bus Fernandez (4.000pesos/pp). The trip took 3 hours, at first the road winds along Strait Magellan’s, then turns inland. Along this route was the first time we saw guanacos and rhea grazing peacefully in their natural environment.

Puerto Natales is small town with beautiful views of the fjords. The accommodation at Casa Cecilia (18.000 pesos for the double room, access to the kitchen, shared bath, breakfast incl.), did turn out to be friendly, efficient and very clean place, standing up to its good reputation. They organized a bus transfer to Torres del Paine with bus JB (10.000 pesos/pp) for the next morning.

Traveling to Torres we sat on the left side of the bus soaking up the views of the fjord, the mountains and eventually the Paine massif. After paying the entrance fee of 10.000 pesos/pp we chose to be dropped off by the ferry crossing the Lago Pehoe (10.000 pesos/pp). The weather was nice and this way of transportation gave us great opportunity to see Los Cuernos and the glaciers hanging from top of the mountains from the distance.

After disembarking the ferry we were met for the first time with the famous winds and tried to push our way up on the trail passing Refugio Grey (3-4 hours from L.Pehoe) to our destination camp Las Guardas (1 hour from Ref.Grey). This place is near the overview of the Glaciar Grey, beautiful several km long glacier. Because it rained heavily overnight we decided to stay one more night and hike along the ridge toward John Garner pass, after 2 hours we reached the camp Paso and just few hundred meters past it found a nice spot with the views across the Glaciar Grey and enjoyed the scenery with the clouds hiding the mountains on the far side, there was no way to make it all the way to the Pass.

The next day was quite long as our destination was camp Italiano and the rain that started at 2 pm continued throughout the night. Therefore we did not have a chance to see Los Cuernos from the trail. Campamento Italiano consists of 2 parts along the river, we found a nice spot on the upper part by the tiny stream. In the morning we hiked toward the Valle Frances, the mist changed into the rain and as soon as we stood on the floor of the saddle from which the famous valley can be seen, the total white out prevented us from either seeing anything nor continuing up the ridge. We spent couple of hours hiding under the small boulders waiting for the weather to clear till we were exhausted from the cold ( the date is March 13). After descending for half an hour, there was a sudden change of the weather and we were rewarded with the views of the valley, the mountain walls, backside of Los Cuernos just for a short time before all disappeared in the fog again.

After overnight at Italiano, there was yet another fairly long day (7 hours) ahead of us, this time without rain or winds. The destination is the camp Las Torres and the Las Torres with its laguna the following morning. Then we hiked to the Refugio Las Torres and boarded van (1.000pp) to Laguna Amarga and boarded the bus back to Puerto Natales.

Our hopes were to book a morning bus to El Calafate but all the busses were full which gave us one more day at Puerto Natales to enjoy the walk along the shore, slower pace and more wind. Casa Cecilia was full due to the delay of Ferry Navimag, but they helped us to book accommodation at Hostal Dos Lagunas, small, friendly, a bit run down place nearby (18.000 per double room incl. breakfast, kitchen access that included micromanagement from the owner) [email protected].

Bus Zaahj, 10.000 pesos/pp (Arturo Prat 236, Puerto Natales tel. 61/412260), took approx. 5 hours, and dropped us off at the bus station in El Calafate then continued to Perito Moreno and back to Puerto Natales. After talking to quite unfriendly lady at the information office we decided to amend our plans and continue to El Chalten on the bus leaving at 6 pm. Helpful staff at the Chalten travel bus company helped us secure accommodation at Chalten, we stocked up a bit at larger supermarket La Anonima, walked to the deserted shore of Lago Argentino.
The bus ride took 5 hours, half of which is on the dirt, thus bumpy road. El Chalten welcomed us at 11 pm with blue skies dotted by millions of stars and a silhouette of the mount Fitz Roy.
Our double room at the Hospedaje La Base (97 Lago del Desierto; telephone 00542962493031.) turned out to be lovely accommodation in the cottage incl. own bath; kitchen was shared with only another room, wooden interior, clean, homemade for breakfast, wooden loft to watch the movies and incredibly kind owners.
The following day and its rain hid all the mountains and we were told it has been raining for the last week non-stop.

I guess our timing must have been pretty good as after only 1 day of rain the weather cleared up, we packed our backpacks and went to explore the beauties of the Fitzroy.
We were hiking from Chalten to campamento Poincenot, and were greeted, just after first 1-2 hours with stunning views of Cerro Fitzroy, Glaciar Piedras Blancas and blue skies. Since we did not want to take any chances of the weather, after pitching a tent, we hikes short and steep trail to Laguna Los Tres, to be greeted by blue/green lovely Laguna sitting bellow the Glaciar de Los Tres and the views of the Laguna Sucia in the valley west from here. The camp is situated in the forest on the back of Rio Blanco with its unbelievably crystal clear waters. There is no need for the water filter, on the contrary.

The next morning greeted us with another (!) blues skies, we continued from Poincenot via glaciar Piedras Blancas to Refugio Los Troncos. This is another great hike with mountain views, glaciers that ends at the valley of the glaciar. The campground is outside the park, is private for 14 arg. Pesos/pp and serves as a base for exploring the Lago Electrico fed by Glaciar Marconi, and hike to the saddle bellow Paso Cuadrado with stunning views of more mountains, glaciers and back side of the Fitzroy.

From here the next long day hike took us back through camp Poincenot, then along the lagunas Madre I Hija to the valley of Rio Fitz Roy with lago Torre and Glaciar Torre.
The weather started to change a bit, so the tops of the Cerro Torre were hiding in the fog. From the campground there is a hike along the ridge to the Maestri Mirador with yet another view of Glaciar Torre.

The weather gods were with us and granted us 2 more days of incredible weather which we used wisely – we hiked to the Top of Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, this 3-4 hours hike from Chalten with incredible views of the whole Fitzroy range and laguna Torre as if on your palm.

Some people say 4 days in Chalten is enough. I would say 2 days of rain in Chalten is enough as you see nothing, but if the weather cooperates, we could have easily spent 10 days hiking here. If we had the time, we would have done the 2 day hike to Lago Toro and visited the Lago Desierto… IF.

As if we did not have enough of the glaciers, we also visited the Perito Moreno, unbelievable mass of ice with its cracking sounds, pieces of iceberg falling off and not so many people as we decided to take the afternoon bus.

After the flight from Calafate to Bariloche, which saved us 2 days on the bus, we checked into backpackers paradise, La Bolsa Del Deporte,
Ended up in huge wooded double room for 60 pesos/room. After checking some information about the Nahuel Huapi traverse, we rode the bus to Cerro Cathedral, took the cable car (28pesos/pp one way or 38 return) and begun a hike that Lonely Planet trekking guide describes as moderate/difficult.

The views from the top of the ridge of the Lago Nahuel Huapi with the mountain ranges cannot be described with words. So cannot be the hike. After 2 hours of boulder scrambling we finally got to the intersection between Refugio Frey and Refugio Jacob.
Since we still do have 5 hours of light, we opted for Jacob, as Frey is only 1 hour away while Jacob 3-4. This traverse is nothing we ever experienced before. You just go down the steep side of the valley, sliding on the rocks, then hike back up to another high ridge and down and up till one sees Refugio Jacob (20 pesos/pp incl. Use of the kitchen). It is lovely wooden structure sitting on the shore of Laguna Jacob. The capacity is 100 people, but since it is out of the main season, there is approx. 13 of us.

The next morning the keeper gave us very detailed instructions how to find our way from Jacob over the ridges and valley to Refugio Segre. This day is rated hard and quite soon we knew why. At first one has to climb the ice covered (they had snow here jsut 2 days ago) boulders to get to the ridge of Pico Refugio, then scramble the side of loose rock from one saddle to another, soak in the views of the Cerro Tronador, Volcan Osorno and the Andes, slide on the snowfield steeply to the valley, continue the steep descend where the boulders are so unstable one needs to keep a distance from the person ahead of him, to get to the bottom of valley Arroyo Navidad. This valley seems like paradise after all that hard work, wrong, it is not over yet as we are trying to find the path (no marking on this traverse, mind you, just occasional cairn every ˝ - 1 km). The overgrown valley just does not want us to be scrambling along its creek, the branches are catching our backpacks and throwing us back and forth. If we thought that we were quite unstable with our backpacks on the face of the mountain, which was nothing. Finally, we are standing bellow long and steep zigzag, last 1 hour of the hike to the Laguna Negra. After what we have been through, this feels like the Sunday night city walk.
Refugio Segre (25 pesos/pp incl, kitchen access) is triangle shaped red building on the shore of the Laguna. Inside is quite welcoming with the kitchen and table on the main floor and bunks above. It is 5 of us staying here tonight!
Last day of the traverse leads us from the Laguna Negra via Cerro Baileys Willis to the bottom of Valley till we stand bellow loose rock field the only way up the steep side of the final ascent – Pico Turista. The guidebook has only one cheers for us : „If you made it this far, you can make it“ Thankfully, once we start the climb, it turns out to be less terrible then it seemed and the views from the Pico Turista let us forget that our knees are killing us. The condors fly effortlessly above our heads, the mountains are quietly smiling at the sun and we are enjoying the views across the mountains, feeling there is nothing more beautiful but the mountains, clean air and blue skies.

And the sunrise above the lake in the morning.

Our vacation is nearing its end, we have a day for exploring the Villa Angostura, its Myrtle Forest, and then we take a bus from Bariloche (50 pesos/pp) to Pampa Linda. This bus is going every day in summer, but weekends only in March.

This trip takes us to the Refugio Otto Meiling sitting next to the huge glacier Castano Overo, bellow impressive Mount Tronador. This is where we try our luck for the first time in life with crampons on and experienced guide to climb the steep wall of the glacier crevasse. This time the mountain hut is packed full, people sleeping like sardines next to each other on the floor. The next morning is final good-bye to the mountains ended with a hike across the glaciar to the saddle bellow Fila Motto with views of Pico Argentino, Tronador, and condors so close above our heads that you can see the details of their wings.

We have one day at Buenos Aires before leaving this incredible vacation behind us, not being the city people, we resist this huge place at first but then give in and visit the typical points of interest like Tango show at the Cafe Homero ( ), walk through the Caminito, San Telmo, 9th Julio road, shopping district of the Florida street and the cat viewing of the cemetery Recoleta. I night we had there we stayed at the Casa Esmeralda, place in the Palermo Viejo.

We enjoyed it all, wonderful weather, great hikes, huge glaciers, tender asado, chocolate in Bariloche, Spanish language, even hard to find but recommended Argentinean cheese Pepato. What more can one ask? Suerte (luck)
Boleslav is offline  
Old Apr 24th, 2006, 01:49 PM
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Boleslav, this report was certainly worth the wait. You have done a marvelous job. Thank you so much for taking the time to post such a detailled and helpful account!
cmcfong is offline  
Old Apr 24th, 2006, 05:37 PM
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Thanks for all the useful info in this report.
hawaiiantraveler is offline  
Old Apr 24th, 2006, 09:13 PM
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My pleasure, hope I did not bore you.
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Old Apr 24th, 2006, 10:12 PM
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Yes, thank you for the great, detailed report!! I will be saving this.

MichelleY is offline  
Old Sep 5th, 2006, 12:19 PM
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topping for Geoff
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 01:08 PM
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