El Chalten Provides Rugged Patagonia Hiking and Comfortable Places to Rest

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Even before we arrive to El Chalten, the Patagonian town known for its hiking access in Los Glaciares National Park, the mountains are a panorama of awesome beauty. The land is vast and yet the peaks loom above us in every direction. Waking up on the early morning bus, we are enchanted by Patagonia’s wonders. Checking in to our hotel early and hit the travel, we only have two days here to do the park’s most scenic hikes.

Since we have less time today, we are doing the Laguna Torre Hike. Almost immediately, it is magical. The fog rolls in and moves around the canyon of the trail in mysterious, indiscernible patterns. Rain falls lightly. We fill up our camel backs in the river, all the ground water here is not only drinkable, it is absolutely delicious. We revel in the fact that the water we’re drinking comes from glaciers all around us.

We hike through beautiful contrasts of dark and light, the colors here are amazing. Reds, purples, and browns, are more present than greens and blues. The land’s rhythms come into focus. The lenga forest are magnificent, but so are the views of the waterfall and mountains high above.

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Laguna Torre.

The lagoon sneaks up on us, and all of a sudden we’re looking at beautifully sharp, light blue icebergs breaking off the glacier in the distance. Although the fog covers the mountains, we are not dissatisfied. Seeing the still lake alone in the clouds evokes an atmosphere that is truly enriching, something to be savored, bathed in. We have fun for a while, eating snacks and admiring the beauty of the area, and then become introspective before heading back to town. It is not a short hike by any means, but the scenery,  damp weather, and  ill-prepared Argentine hippy we see on the trail make it go by quickly. We arrive at the viewpoint of the valley and know we are almost to town.

Back in our B&B we rest up with our heater, in our bed. We are beat from the hike, it was truly exhausting, and we have another tomorrow. The plan is to eat and relax. We walk over to Techado Negro, a laid-back Argentine restaurant with an artistic vibe.

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I am pleased to see that their margaritas are only 5 bucks. The waterfall, called Margarita, made me crave on the trail, which feels like another world now. I can’t believe that I am able to get a margarita after being so immersed in nature just hours ago.

We drink our cocktails and get buzzed easily. Ordering lamb with chimmichurri and roasted vegetables, and an Argentine take on chicken pot pie, we are feeling warm and positive. The pie is more like a soup, and the noticeable difference in style is the addition of curry powder. We remain obsessed with this dish for months. For now, this is all we need.

The next day we’re up early for some coffee, breakfast, and a hike before dawn. We are doing the infamous Laguna de Los Tres. Before I even begin the futile task of describing this hike, I will simply say that you have to go to Patagonia and you have to do it. Mind-blowing. Spiritual. Awe-inspiring. Hopeful. Enchanting.

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You begin the hike and climb steep steps. When you get to the top, you are immediately rewarded with one of the best views ever. Here a group of photographers are doing their thing, being douchey dorks, vlogging straight to Instagram and being generally annoying. But who can blame them? The scenery is magnificent.

Then the hike calms for a while and you pass through a variety of ecosystems. Each turn of the trail feels like its own quiet world. You get totally lost in the scenery. Early on I begin to feel as if I have taken some psychedelic drug. My eyes are struggling to compute the contrasts, the colors, the glaciers around every corner, the ominous fog that rolls in and out, and the height of Fitz Roy and other peaks in the area. Although much of the hike is muddy and treacherous, we are taken by the beauty and serenity of the trail.

It is difficult even to describe the full day of hiking, it is like someone smeared the images and memories in my head with a saccharine filter of bliss. A lot like taking psychedelics, I can recall moments, fragments, but the beauty and purity of it all make truly describing the way I felt, what I saw, and what I thought, impossible.

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Traveling through different worlds, we finally get to the infamous mile climb up a mountain. It is just about a mile straight up, and gets more dangerous the further you go. The weather has been fine all day, but the higher we climb the worse the weather on the mountain gets. Pretty soon we are surrounded by snow and need to go back down the mountain, missing the Laguna de Los Tres.

We are not that disappointed because the hike was amazing, we have no interest in killing ourselves over it, and are told by people who made it that the lagoon was shrouded with clouds anyways. The sheer power of nature obfuscates us, and we remark about the times we slipped and got too close to having something bad happen. We hike into town after a grueling yet rewarding 11 KM back. We find our way, completely changed by the day. As we are leaving our hotel to eat at a fantastic Italian restaurant nearby, we see the peak of Fitz Roy come out of the clouds for the first time.

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View up the trail, covered in snow and fog.
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