Tuesday, March 24, 2015

How Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre Ruined Us

The iconic Ruta 40 in Argentina runs mostly parallel to the Andes mountains. In the south, it takes you to the sparsely populated regions of Patagonia through flat, boring, and WINDY land for hundreds of miles. It has been recently paved, which saved us DAYS of driving. We picked up Ruta 40 after our brief but incredible exploration of the Chilean version of Ruta 40, the Carretera Austral (previous blog post).

When I say that this route is WINDY, I can't emphasize it enough. The ice caps in the west and the warm plains in the east create a thermal gradient that causes T H E  M O S T intense wind we have ever experienced. During some of our hikes over the following three weeks I would find myself hiking on all fours (on flat ground) so as not to get knocked to the ground by a gust of wind. Unfortunately, the wind also caused many sleepless nights while it tested the structural integrity of El Tigre.

It's so windy, they have a special sign for it

But, this blog post isn't really about Ruta 40 or the wind. It's about our favorite place in South America - Parque Nacional Los Glaciares. This national park covers such a massive area that it has 2 sectors. The sectors are a 125-mile drive apart but as the crow flies, only 60 miles. Our favorite sector contains the iconic Mount Fitz Roy (of Patagonia logo fame) and Cerro Torre, among many other impressive spires. It all starts with a view of the mountain range that gets better and better as you drive straight at it for 50 miles (pictures below).

Our first sighting of the spires. Despite the piercing, cold wind, you can't help but get out to take a picture.

The view from far, far away on the road in, is still mind-blowing. The whole drive, you're thinking, "we're going there!?!"

Not to bore you with too much detail, I will briefly explain why we loved this area. The scenery is breathtaking. Views of these mountains never get old. We did the popular hike to the base of Mount Fitz Roy twice, and if the weather would've cooperated, we would've done it again. We did three less popular hikes that also offered world class views. Since we didn't have camping gear, we only did day trips, which limited what we could see, and also limited the lighting for pictures. The pictures definitely don't capture it all.

Here we come, Mount Fitz Roy!

The tallest peak is Mount Fitz Roy and is successfully climbed about once a year
(despite many attempts by EXPERT rock climbers)

This sector of the park is completely FREE. It blows our minds. The ranger suggested that it was because there was a town in the park (El Chalten) and the logistics of charging people was too hard. That seems like a weird explanation, given that Parque Nacional Los Alerces has no problem managing this issue. Listen to us, complaining about a FREE national park! That is how much we loved this area. It's the kind of place you want to support.

Lunch with a million dollar view

The best part is that this sector is not commercialized. There are no campgrounds selling beer and pizza along the trail, no fancy lodges, NO HORSE EXCREMENT ON THE TRAILS, and no roads - just mother nature and the people who love her. We overheard people in the visitor center asking if they could drive to some viewpoints, but to see the goods, you've gotta hike to them - no shortcuts. We were so impressed with some of the people hiking these trails - old, young, ill equipped, out-of-shape - they all wanted the goods and they worked their asses off for it. Despite the knee-busting climbs and knock-down wind, almost everyone hiking the trails seemed happy.

Lago Torre and Glacier Grande with the star of the show (Cerro Torre) hiding behind the clouds.
Check out that little blue lake in the bottom right of the picture

In-spiring (did you think we'd get through this post without saying it?)

We felt the pull of this place so strongly that we visited twice. As we drove away, it hurt a little knowing that we probably wouldn't be back anytime soon. We are ruined after visiting these mountains. Will anything ever be able to compare? We won't stop looking...


Unknown said...

After stalking you two for quite a while, we've gotta comment now that you've made it to one of our most-looked-forward-to destinations on the Panam. So excited that you're so excited about these big parks! They are major reasons we decided to save up until we could drive all the way there from Portland. There may be "better and more interesting" blogs out there, but we always look forward to your new posts. Thanks from us! Heather & Scott (For real!)

Michel & Ursi said...

great, we just got back from this area and we also LOVED it! But we had ZERO wind and perfect sunshine... got a few nice hanging toilet paper pictures in front of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy ;) I guess we were very lucky. We had our first wind now driving back north around Perito Moreno town. We could not have handled this wind with our pop-up roof! ;( Now in Esquel with light wind and already having bad sleep...
where are you guys heading now?

Heather and Scott said...

Heather and Scott, Did we contact you guys in 2004 about mountain biking near the N. Santiam??? Small world! Keep in touch.

Michel and Ursi, We are so jealous that you got wind-free conditions - great job on your timing!!!!! We are in Villarrica, Chile and plan to head towards BA soon for our shipment on April 20th.