.#20. Trek in Patagonia

I remember looking at pictures of patagonian glaciers and mountains in a Backcountry magazine and wanting so badly to go there. On their own, both glaciers and mountains have their own special beauty but both in the same place in that quantity? Unbelievable. Tack on some glacial lakes, condors, and delicious food? Bucket list item.

Our journey in Patagonia began in El Chaltén. The name comes from the Native Tehuelche word meaning smoking mountains because the mountain ridge is so often covered by wind and clouds that it looks like a smoking volcano…which was evident on our second day. Actually, our first day in Patagonia had…less than perfect weather and I wasn’t feeling confident that we’d be astounded by nature during our stay. We wandered around the small town in the high wind and sprinkling rain, found some mediocre food (but delicious ice cream) and headed back to our hotel for the night.

El Chaltén really has only three major types of buildings to serve the trekking community that comes specifically there for the great hiking. There are restaurants, hotels and laundromats but besides that, not much. I think that the village will turn into a more bustling town over the next 10 years or so as tourism increases, but for now it’s small and quaint and everything a person needs.

During our stay we did three hikes:

  • Laguna Capri (view of El Chaltén)
  • Mirador de los condores (view of the full mountain range)
  • Some short waterfall hike that I don’t remember the name of

All were beautiful, not to heavily trafficked, and on the easier scale for the many seasoned trekkers around… I need to step up my game if I want to be hanging out with the 70 year olds packing ice picks and crampons.

The views were incredible.

After El Chaltén we traveled to El Calafate. Named after a delicious berry in the region, this town is a tourism hot spot for the Argentinian Patagonia. There are streets lined with shops selling calafate jam and dulce de Leche caramel paste (free samples so I’m not complaining) as well as little Knick knacks and leather bags and colorful blankets. It felt a bit like a stop on a cruise ship but the family was scampering around looking for secret santa items so it fit well for us.

We hit the La Zorra brewpub for a lively bite and spent a full afternoon the next day at the Perrito Moreno glacier. SUPER COOL! It’s not receding anymore due to being in ideal conditions (climate change deniers will probably use that to their advantage) and it’s immensity is astounding. In fact, it’s advancing! The glacier stretches for miles and miles and is an incredible blue color.

Nerd moment: Why is it blue? Snow reflects white light because of the amount of air in it. As snow compacts into firn and glacial ice it loses the air and reflects blue instead. More compact? Older and more blue.

As glaciers move along rock they leave striations (see below the grooves in the rock) and the ice picks up bits of rock and dirt which leave brown streaks in the ice! Not sorry for nerding our.. glaciers are sweet!I have no idea what kind of bird this is but I’m pretty sure it’s a hippogriff.

One of the most incredible things about glaciers is watching them calve. As ice expands and shifts it becomes disrupted enough to break off, hit the water with a rumbling sound and create icebergs and little chunks of ice. We watched from a boat and saw a bit of calving but after waiting for ice to melt for, no joke, an hour, (a man was drinking wine out of the bottle to pass time) we saw a huge piece break off and it was the perfect ending to our Patagonia visit.

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