A place of silvered, twisted forests, winding trails, red-headed woodpeckers, frozen lakes and wild horses
Ruta 40 and downy comfort
Past guanacos, battling rheas and the beautifully, blue Glacier Viadma, we travel up Ruta 40 to the trekking capital of Argentinia, El Chaltén. The wind is howling and the rain streaking down the muddied glass of the bus windows as we pull up in front of our hostel, El Rancho Grande. By some wonderful twist of chance, our hostel is in the process of being refurbished and we find ourselves in the duck-down luxury of its four-star sister hotel, the Poincenot. Our rain-gear skulks, studiously ignored, in the bottom of our rucksacks as we wallow for an afternoon in deliciously awful MTV (yup, “Keeping up with Kardashians” and “16 and pregnant”… I can’t help myself!!Oh the shaaaame!).
The next day dawns grey and blustery. We team up with an Andoran couple, Roger and Marta, and an English boy, Paul, to set out on the 8 hour round-trip to Lago Torre. The going is good, albeit muddy, snowy and extremely spiky – oh yes, my new plant foe is out in force along the track – and we reach Lago Torre pretty easily. The air is thick and silent around the frozen lake as if the snow is muffling and absorbing all trace of our presence. My inner geography nerd has definitely been released and I’m constantly poking Damien saying things like, “Look, look a U-shaped valley! A moraine! An arête! Ooooh an erratic!” Seriously, it’s quite sad!
My untrustworthy lowland feet!
Due to the snow, the upper paths overlooking the glacier have been closed. Little do I know that “a little bit of snow” (in fairness, it’s more snow than Ireland has ever seen!) would fail to deter the Andorans and off they go, sure-footedly picking their way up the moraine. Naturally, we follow … even though every part of me is silently screeching, “But the rules!The rules!!”. Slipping, teetering and stiff with fear, I trace their tracks, footprint for footprint, along the ridge. The snow is past my knees and I’m trying to ignore the sheer drop onto the frozen lake to my too immediate left. The view when we reached the top is wonderful – well, so Damien informs me. I’m far more concerned about how I’m going to get back down again!
A wild and frozen beauty
An Andoran home remedy and a day of bubbles and bathtubs means I’m eager for more hiking when fine weather and blue skies call us outside again. We take a taxi through spectacular landscapes up to El Pilar to begin our trek to Lago de los Tres. The trek is magical, taking us through a Narnia-like, twisted, silvered woodland of woodpeckers and wild horses.
The snow is deep and the paths are icy but on we go, drawn on by the strange, frozen beauty of the trail. When we reach a sign warning us that the route up the mountain is only for experienced trekkers – a small sliver of worry starts to unfurl in my tummy. I look at Damien. Nope, blithely ignoring the fact that I am most definitely not what could ever be called an “experienced trekker”, he’s just even more delighted. Sure, nothing like a bit of mortal danger to increase the fun! It looks like we’ll be continuing! Soon I find myself clawing my way up the mountain trying my best to ignore the thrumming fear in my cold ears. I reach the peak having basically hauled myself up there using my nails and teeth.
It is only when I manage to slide down (by way of my bum and heels, dignity lost and fluttering in the breeze) to the safety of Lago Capri that I can appreciate the beauty of the FitzRoy towering about us.
Condors and ceramic penguins
We head out that night for a celebratory meal – Damien celebrating reaching the top and me, the heady glee at not dying! Bruce Chatwin’s ceramic penguin holds our wine and the lamb parilla is indescribably delicious!
The following day, Damien and Paul trek back up to Lago Torre again to capture the view in some blue-skied photos while I, lured by the name, take a solo trek to Mirador de los Condores. I’m not disappointed. The trail winds through some lower hills, hugging the cliffs. Two condors wheel effortlessly on the breezes above me. I feel like I am the only person in the world. It is so silent and the sky is vast in a way I have only seen here in Patagonia.