When we drove in to El Chaltén, the sky above us was closed and a steady drizzle gave the small town a dreary look. Even though it was still early in the afternoon, it was clear that hiking was not really an option, but the next days promised to be better. When I started hiking very early next morning, the skies behind were open, but ahead of me, I could only see dark, grey clouds. It was raining lightly, and when I saw a rainbow, I wanted to believe it was a sign that the weather would improve soon. Walking through a forest of lenga and ñire trees in a fairly flat plain, I did not have a clue of the spectacular scenery that was hidden by the persistent clouds - I would only find out later. When I reached an opening in the forest, I suddenly spotted a glacier jutting out of the mountains and clouds, with a rainbow just in front. Since the sky in the direction of Cerro Fitzroy looked heavy and dark, I decided to hike to a viewpoint of the Piedras Blancas glacier instead, hoping the weather would change later - after all, everything is possible in the mountains. After enjoying the view of the grey, blue and white glacier with its lake, I hiked to the wild Río Blanco and followed the river downstream. The weather had made a turn for the worse, and icy rain was now blown horizontally through the valley by a fierce wind. I was cursing myself for not having taken one of the two pairs of gloves that were in my luggage in El Chaltén, and stopped regularly to swing my arms trying to make them warm. I took shelter under a huge rock, and had a bite before I continued down the valley, and eventually, up a smaller river. Scrambling over huge boulders, I finally reached the Laguna Piedras Blancas directly underneath the glacier. The weather here was wild: sudden gusts of wind almost pushed me into the lake and stirred up white waves across the lake, pushing around also the few icebergs floating in its grayish waters. The Piedras Blancas glacier hangs precariously over an almost vertical wall of rock, and I was hoping for a big chunk of ice to fall down, but it did not happen. There was a patch of blue in the sky to the east now, and I hiked back to the start of the climb to the Laguna de los Tres. When I reached a shelter at the beginning of the climb, it was raining just as bad as before, and I decided for a second pause. Miraculously, just when I was swallowing the last bits of a sandwich, it stopped raining and more blue appeared in the sky. With no time to waste, I started hiking up the final climb which did not take much more than half an hour, light snow was coming down. The waiting and suffering earlier that day all were a distant memory when I reached the top of the crest.
High up before my eyes, enormous pillars of granite were showing themselves; and while the famous Fitzroy was still hiding, it looked like it was a matter of time before he would also step out of the clouds. I made a small detour to a ledge from where I saw Laguna Sucia, a turquoise coloured lake under the massive Río Blanco glacier. The wind was howling around me here, and it actually sent the water in the waterfalls running down from the Laguna de los Tres up in the air - a weird sight. I sat on a stone in the frozen Laguna de los Tres, and stayed a long while, just watching the scenery on the other side. The haphazard wind gusts were sending clouds of snow down the mountain, the spires were surrounded by ever changing clouds; it was a spectacle to behold. And then, indeed, the clouds around the Fitzroy lifted as well, unveiling a majestic, massive and impressive vertical slab of rock. The rugged terrain at its feet, the face of the mountain rising up steeply from what looked like prohibitive terrain, made me think of those brave persons who have climbed this monster; indeed, for a long time, the mountain was deemed impossible to climb. After a detour along the Lagunas Madre e Hija, I hiked back to El Chaltén on the Laguna Torre trail, but the Cerro Torre was still surrounded by clouds. The next morning, my legs were protesting as I set out early to hike back the same way: up to a lookout where I again saw the Cerro Torre covered in clouds, while the Fitzroy was now totally exposed to the early morning sun. I hiked up in the beautiful marshy scenery, eventually skirting the Río Fitzroy where I filled my bottle in a side stream. The wind was blowing always harder, and when I reached the Laguna Torre and climbed to the ridge above the lake, it was a full storm. Reaching the Maestri lookout turned out to be a struggle against the wind that was trying hard to push me down and off the ridge. Here, I was fully exposed to the storm, and treacherous gusts of wind made it a challenge to stay on both legs; at times, I felt like a drunk not able to walk a straight line anymore.
When I finally reached the Maestri viewpoint, I sat down behind a rock, with a full view of the glacier, lake, and the mountain range behind it. Unfortunately, while one part of the range was fully visible, Cerro Torre was still hiding in a huge cloud that seemed to be growing as I watched. The unfriendly weather conditions made me decide to start on my way back down. Where I had to struggle against the storm on my way up, it now turned out to be an even greater challenge to walk down. Walking downhill with a treacherous storm pushing in ny back at times forced me to run, while I did not seem to have a say in where to place my feet. At one point, both my legs were pushed from under my body, and when I landed, by right foot landed on my left. I yelled out loud, but the relentless storm pushed me further down. A little later, I could just get my hands on a rock before the storm pushed me off the ridge. Getting down proved even more challenging than going up, proved more dangerous. I was happy when I reached the beach of Laguna Torre; the waves crushing on the beach here made it look like a sea. A little later, back in the woods, the wind died down and I finally had a say where to place my feet again. I hiked back to the Laguna Madre e Hija, and took a refreshing dip in the latter. An easy stretch of hiking followed: I had done this the day before. At one point, on the left hand side, the Fitzroy range appeared again, topped by typical rounded clouds, and I could not resist the temptation. Once again, I crossed the Río Blanco, and hiked up to the Laguna de los Tres for another view at the spectacular Fitzroy. I had to push myself, and when I reached a rock right at the lakeside, I sat down, had something to eat, and just put my head against the rock to look up for a long time at the constant shifting of the clouds above - a scenery that continued to attract. I did feel my feet when I finally got up to be back before darkness, and I took several short breaks on my way back to El Chaltén to enjoy the view and have a little mercy on my poor feet. A very early rise the next morning, under a cloudless sky, allowed me to climb to the Cóndores lookout before sunrise - the spectacle with purple, orange, and pink lights projected on the peaks of Cerro Torre, Fitzroy, and others was pure, raw beauty. A worthy farewell to the park I had been exploring the days before.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Parque Nacional Glaciares (Argentina). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Parque Nacional Glaciares.
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