Wednesday, March 16, 2011
You usually only see this photo of Fitz Roy on posters. But we had the incredible luck of seeing it on our departure from El Chaltén. We were picked up at the Los Cerros Hotel at 7:30, right around dawn, and as we left the town, headed east, we looked back to see this. Because the sky on the horizon was relatively clear, the rising sun had illuminated the top part of the Andes (the town is in the darkness at the lower right of the photos), but not yet the bottom part. 5 minutes later, as we continued eastward, the sun had risen further and was covered up by some clouds and this view was gone—all was in darkness. It was simply breathtaking. Of all the wondrous sights we saw in the southern Patagonia, Fitz Roy was my favorite. Not to be missed!
After a 7 1/2 hour drive from El Chaltén to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, we found ourselves surrounded by more spectacular scenery. (More on the details of our trip and where we stayed later.) Next morning we took a bus tour of the park, and took this picture at one of the stops. The V-shaped formation at the upper right of the photo is called "Los Cuernos" (the horns). Note the color of the lake (a milky blue which results from glaciar-caused sediments).
On our last day in Torres del Paine, we did a foolish thing (as we thought so for many hours on the way up) and opted for a guided hike up to the Mirador de Las Torres. This was a 22 kilometer, round-trip hike with an elevation gain of about 2400 feet. Not for the faint of heart, but the saving grace was that we started at an altitude of only 600-700 feet. After a grueling ascent, we were treated to this view:
These are the famous "Torres," or towers, that we had first seen from our hotel in El Calafate, from a distance of about 35 miles. We could also see them from the window of our room at EcoCamp—one of the few "refugios" in the Torres del Paine park (i.e., not a typical hotel, more like a glorified camp). Problem is that it takes about 7 hours by car to get from that hotel in Calafate to the Torres del Paine park, because you are forced to follow a huge loop that extends to the east and south, then suffer the bureaucratic hassles of Argentine/Chilean customs, and then endure over two hours of a dirt road that includes a bridge so narrow that our driver had to remove his side-view mirrors before crossing. Behind the rock we are sitting on is a mini-glacial lake. The valley we are in is surrounded by towering peaks, and I think it is called Valle de Silencio, since it is completely protected from the winds. The Towers are a mecca for serious mountain climbers (which we are not).
My overall impression of the southern Patagonia is that it offers breathtaking views, spectacular scenery, unmatched beauty, and an endless variety of natural wonders and diversions. Unfortunately, it is difficult to get to, it is very time-consuming to get around, and it is not cheap; all prices are set by what an international tourist crowd can afford to pay (we saw very very few local tourists—most were from the US, Canada, Australia, England, Japan, and Western Europe). The closest airport to Torres del Paine is Puerto Natales, but that is 2 1/2 hours from the park on a mostly-dirt road. English is the lingua franca; I think I saw more signs in English than in Spanish. The people are extremely friendly, the food is good-to-great, and the opportunities for exercise are unlimited.
And in the end, we saw so many world-class views that we almost lost our capacity for wonderment.
Posted by Scott Grannis at 10:13 PM