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Cerros Fitzroy & Torre - Patagonia, Argentina
(Parque Nacional Los Glaciares)
View of the Cerro Fitzroy.
Hiking in Patagonia is every hiker’s dream. If you are in the early phase of planning your Patagonian hiking holiday, you may be wondering whether you should hike in Torres del Paine in Chile or Cerro Fitzroy/Torre in Argentina. The answer to the question is simple: don’t choose one option over the other unless you have time and/or budget limitations. Both locations have excellent hiking possibilities but the experience is different.
Torres del Paine offers thru-hiking with great facilities but because of its access, it feels off the beaten track. The huts there offer good cooked food and there are campsites providing either a place to pitch your own tent as well as pitched tents for rent. Cerro Fitzroy/Torre only offers basic camping (as in no showers or food) so if you choose to thru-hike there, the experience will be more rugged. However, because the hiking trails depart from El Chaltén itself, you can day-hike and enjoy the town by night. The town has a relaxed almost hippy-ish atmosphere and plenty of eateries to choose from. Well, by now you got my point, try to go to both places. Luckily, these two hiking areas are only 8 hours away from each other by bus. If time was of the essence though, I would choose the Torres del Paine W trail because it feels more off the beaten track and it offers longer thru-hiking possibilities.
Not to be missed before or after hiking at Cerro Fitzroy/Torre: the incredible Perito Moreno glacier.
In Argentina, the town of El Chaltén is considered the hiking capital of the country due to the greats trails at Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre. This town is located at the north end of the Parque Nacional los Glaciares, which is the country’s largest national park. Approximately thirty percent of this national park is covered by ice and it lies in the Southern Icefield, which is one of the biggest glacier fields outside the polar regions. The two main attractions of the park are the Perito Moreno glacier and Cerro Fitzroy/Torre hiking area. The Viedma glacier is closer to El Chaltén but the Perito Moreno glacier is by far the most stunning of the glaciers in this park.
View of the town of El Chaltén.
Access into El Chaltén is usually via the town of El Calafate, which is about 2.5 hours away. El Calafate has an airport and a bus station, the latter with direct service into Puerto Natales in Chile, which is a typical overnight option for hikers on route to Torres del Paine National Park. If you plan to hike at both locations, the bus ride from/to Puerto Natales to El Calafate takes 5 hours, including the border crossing. Worth noting is that flights form Santiago (Chile) to Puntarenas (3-hour bus ride from Puerto Natales) are cheaper than those between Buenos Aires (Argentina) and El Calafate because a low-cost carrier operates regular flights on that route.
Trail to Cerro Fitzroy's Laguna de los Tres.
Most travellers stay at El Calafate at least 2 nights to schedule a visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier, which is about one hour away. Don’t miss a visit to this glacier as it is a truly spectacular. There are lots of excursion options, most of which take more than half a day. If you are short of time, you can arrange a return taxi ride for a reasonable fee. A perfect complement is a visit to the Glaciarum information center which is on the outskirts of El Calafate. The town offers plenty of lodging and dining opportunities. If you want to buy souvenirs, there is plenty to choose from and prices seem reasonable. If you are therefore planning to buy a mate cup or jewelery made with local gemstones such as rhodochrosite, this is the place to do it, as El Chaltén is basic in that respect. There are a couple of bakeries and mini markets at El Chaltén but you will pay a premium if you do your food shopping there. If you are on a tight budget it is wise to stock up at El Calafate instead.
There are still places at El Chaltén where credit cards are not accepted. There are now cash machines at the bus station so it is no longer necessary to carry lots of cash. It seems that the reluctance to accept credit cards is related mainly to fluctuations in the Argentinian Peso so adapt to it and don’t get silly about it with the locals as they are just trying to make ends meet.
Cerro Fitzroy's Laguna de los Tres.
Regarding weather forecasts, the national weather service of Argentina does not issue online forecasts for El Chaltén and neither does it offer an extended forecast for the nearest weather station, which is El Calafate. You should therefore use your most trusted weather forecast and hope for the best. When I was there I relied on Accuweather and it was reliable for El Chaltén but not very much so for Torres del Paine which seems to have a micro-climate. Apologies for this pretty useless bit of information…
Trail to Cerro Torre's lagoon.
Because of the topography, the Cerro Fitzroy/Torre area appeals to hikers of all levels. The technical difficulty of the trail to Laguna de los Tres is moderate whilst it is easy in the case of the Laguna Torre one. Both trails are over 20km (26km and 21.8 km respectively) but if you don’t feel fit enough to cover that sort of distance (or partied and woke up either late or hung over), it is still possible to head out as both trails offer stunning views from about their halfway points onwards.
Trail to Cerro Torre's Lagoon.
Along both trails, water resupply possibilities are limited so make sure to carry at least 1 liter. I mention this because at Torres del Paine water is plentiful and I got away with carrying only half a liter of water as there are clean rivers everywhere, at least along the W part of the hiking trail. Therefore don’t assume water will be plentiful because precipitation is lower at Cerro Fitzroy/Torre.
Due to the length of the route and the position of the sun through the day, the best photo conditions involve hitting both trails very early in the morning to make sure that the south face of the mountains are lit.
Laguna Torre at Cerro Fitzroy.
Although it is always advisable to depart home with all necessary equipment, if you are heading to the Argentinian Patagonia this is an absolute must due to equipment prices. I am told that when Argentinians go on holiday to Chile, they go shopping crazy. Therefore, unless you first visit Chile, make sure not to plan any hiking equipment shopping unless you don’t mind paying a premium for it. I did not find much price difference between the two countries with respect to food and lodging though.
These suggestions are based on my personal experience on this trail. The selection criteria are based on quality and weight. My assumption is that this will not be your last hike on a trip and that the lighter your backpack, the more you will enjoy hiking.
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Shoes/socks. Those doing the whole circular route are probably better off wearing hiking boots because of ankle protection; lightweight trail running shoe-inspired boots are a good compromise (see examples: male or female). A good quality light-weight hiking sock with extra padding is essential to avoid blisters (see examples: male or female).
Clothing. Zip-off water repellent stretch hiking trousers are a comfortable and convenient option (see examples: male or female). If the weather is warm and sunny, a thin long-sleeve base layer will help avoid getting burnt (see example: male or female). As a minimum, take a lightweight wind jacket (see examples: male or female). However, if it’s likely to be a bit cold, add a fleece (see examples: male or female). or replace the wind jacket and fleece with a lightly insulated softshell jacket (see examples: male or female). Also take waterproof gloves and a couple of Buffs (preferably a normal buff and a polar buff) to protect head and neck. If it’s likely to rain, a good (as opposed to high) quality waterproof jacket will suffice since low weight on the daypack won't cause a reasonably good jacket to leak in the shoulders (examples: male or female).
Daypack. A 20-25L daypack with good waist support is big enough for most people (see examples: male or female).
Hiking poles. Those following the trail to Laguna de los Tres are advised to take hiking poles because there is a trail section which is very steep.
Photographic equipment and power. An ideal hiking camera should be lightweight, have a large aperture for handling low light scenes and should have a wide angle lens with a minimum full-frame equivalent focal lens of 24 or 28 mm. If you opt for a heavy camera, there are camera straps combining neoprene and elastic to absorb the shock of movements. These straps are so comfortable that they actually make the camera’s weight seem much lower. If you want to record the track using your phone and plan to take photos with it as well, take a powerbank along to avoid running out of battery power.
Other supplies. A responsible hiker takes emergency equipment along. The bare minimum consists of a first aid kit, a headlamp capable of at least 150 lumens, a whistle, a compass (a global compass works in both hemispheres), a map and if cold temperatures are expected, an emergency blanket. Finally, protect your face and lips using sun cream lotion and chap stick.
I found the
Trekking Torres del Paine - Chile's Premier National Park and Argentina's Los Glaciares National Park
guide by Rudolf Abraham to be very useful. For general planning I relied on the
Lonely Planet Chile and Easter Island Travel Guide
Lonely Planet Argentina Travel Guide.
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