Fitzroy / El Chalten and Pietro Moreno / El Calafate

Today went to see the Pietro Moreno, one of only two glaciers that is active in South America.  Not sure what the other one is.  After seeing Glacier Gray in Torres del Paine, it seemed like much of the same thing at first, but once we got up close and saw the ice falling off it was a different experience completely.  The bus out there costs about $80 pesos and then the entrance to the park costs another $75 pesos so it was a costly trip and worth every pesos.  We also took a boat for $50 pesos when we got there that took us up close to the glacier because we heard cool stories of others that we met in Puerto Natales about seeing the ice falling off up close.  Unfortunately we didn’t get to see any big pieces fall off when we were on the boat.  We did see some chunks about 60 meters in height and 30 to 50 meters in width fall off from the boardwalks that are built near the glacier.  Far enough away that you don’t need to worry about falling ice and close enough that you get a real sense for the power of the glacier.  Once a piece of glacier broke off you could see the deep, fresh blue of the newly exposed ice which was absolutely beautiful.  I also enjoyed watching the waves race along the glacial waterline whenever a piece broke off, sometimes triggering further breaks.

We arrived in El Calafate yesterday afternoon and we’re staying at the I Keu Ken hostel which was recommended by friends.  Nice place with a relaxed atmosphere, very speedy internet access compared to El Chalten, and has a nice view of the lake.  Not so close to the downtown area.  El Calafate has horseback riding and the Pietro Moreno glacier as well as some smaller excursions around town.  Hisako found a good ice cream place downtown today, but the town overall is a little too touristy as many people say and other than being a launching pad for the glacier it’s rather blah.  Have seen a few more Japanese here than we have through the rest of the trip.  Looks like it might be a popular spot with the tour companies from Japan.

Before El Calafate we were in El Chalten for about 6 days, which we absolutely loved.  At this time El Chalten is a getting-touristy little town and has access to all kinds of trails.  Unlike Torres del Paine, all of the hikes are free so you can just walk out from your hostel and stroll down one of several different paths.  Some longer hikes also exist around, but many of them are rather rough and require guides as they pass over the ice cap or glaciers along the wall.  I heard that some of the longer hikes are upwards of $1,500 USD which I had no intention of trying!  Chalten had a great ice cream shop and walferia.  Also had my first piece of grilled lamb in Argentina which was absolutely delicious.  I’ve heard a lot about the meat in Argentina and looking forward to trying a few nice restaurants along the way.  Hisako and I had a little adventure yesterday trying to figure what meat we wanted to buy at the grocery store.  At first we thought we would get some ground meat, but couldn’t find any laid out in the packaging and didn’t know how to ask the butchers to grind the meat for us.  I believe it’s “picada”… A very nice lady helped us pick out a tender slice beef which we cooked in the fry pan for a great dinner last night.

Jumping all over the place here, could be the wine that I had for dinner, but the hike up to Fitroy was a great hike as well as the one over to Cerro Torre.  We did them on two different days and the day that we went up to Fitzroy we had great weather just like down in Torres del Paine and had amazing views of Fitroy towering above the small little glacial lake that’s located at about 1,100 meters.  We started at an elevation of about 450 meters so it was quite a climb for one day, similar to what we did to see the Torres.  However, the trails at Fitzroy are much much better than what we experience at Paine and the trails were quite easy going compared to what we had done before.  The Argentinians use many more switchbacks on the trails and tend to follow the contours of the mountains.  This makes for longer, but a lot less challenging hiking.  We spent most of the time taking pictures and enjoying every footstep.

I’ve been asked a few times the difference between Paine and Fitzroy and I would recommend Paine if you need to choose between the two.  Probably being on the longer in Paine has skewed my view significantly.  Still, Paine seemed to be full of surprises while Fitzroy was a lot of the same view just up close or further away.  For example, when we went to see the French Valley or the Torres themselves, it wasn’t until we were right in front of the goal that we could experience it in its full glory.  At Fitzroy you can see the mountain from El Chalten and numerous spots along the hike so it just looks a lot bigger (although very beautiful) by the time you get to the final overlook.  The scenery also seemed more diverse in Torres del Paine, but we did hike nearly 100km around the park! If you are looking for a relatively relaxed hike, good trails and a shower at night, then go with Fitzroy and if you are really interested in getting out into nature then shoot for Paine.  In addition to seeing the Torres, seeing Glacier Gray from above, going over Gardner pass and seeing the valley near Dickson are unforgettable sights.

Better get some sleep so that I can do lots of relaxing tomorrow!  Maybe we’ll head out to a farm the day after tomorrow to see what that’s all about before we make our way to Buenos Ares.

Think I’ll also grab one of the popular Quilmes beers…

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One Response to Fitzroy / El Chalten and Pietro Moreno / El Calafate

  1. Lala Maddox says:

    For those traveling to El Calafate and the rest of Southern Patagonia, I suggest you fly into or out of Ushuaia and not try to overland it both ways. Returning to Buenos Aires by bus is a 2.5 day trip and although cheaper, the flight is worth the extra hundred dollars are so. Another good option would be to fly to Ushuaia and go overland to El Calafate/El Chalten and then take either a flight to Essquel/Bariloche or for the more adventerous, do route 40 in a bus. Bus schedules and flight info on this route here: El Calafate to Bariloche

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