At five o clock, an hour before our bus to El Calafate was scheduled to depart we were sitting in the sun getting our stuff organised when we were stumbled upon by Shawn, an American friend from the previous hike. He started telling us about the next hike he was planning, and once he started with his American enthusiasm we really couldn’t argue with the fact that there was still much more to see, and that the weather was being undeniably and uncommonly kind to us and that suddenly we were feeling much more ready to do another slog. So come six o clock, we were hauling our stuff past our waiting bus, and to a trailer at the back of a hostel that was to be our base for the next few days.

The trip proposed was much more adventurous than our previous one. It would take a total of about 20 hours of walking and two nights camping. The goal was to reach the campsite at Lago Toro and then push on up the mountains to the Ponta del viente (Pass of wind?) which is the pass through which one must go to reach the Southern Ice fields, which are the top of the massive Glaciar Viedma. Accompanying us on the trip was another of our friends from the previous hike, a Belgian guy called Francois.

The first day went really nicely with a long but fairly easy walk across mostly open hills with lovely open views of the surrounding mountains and the huge Lago Viedma. The second day was when things got really adventurous. The first challenge was to cross the icy river that runs down from the glacer above. For most people this is not a problem as there is a cable tyrolean which allows an easy crossing, with the right equipment. For us however, it was a wade barefoot through the numerous knee deep branches of the river that spread out just before meeting the lake. So one after the other we waded through the 10m wide stretches, with breaks after each to curse and temporarily curl into the foetal position. Walking through ice cold water may not sound too bad in theory, but I can tell you it is a painful experience, especially after going through twelve or so stretches. We got across in the end however and after a short climb we hit the next challenge, a glacier.

Initially we didn’t walk on the ice, but instead tried to navigate around along a steep slope of delicately piled rocks with sizes ranging from about the size of a football to a small car. This got extremely hairy at some points so we opted to climb down and did the rest of the crossing on the ice itself, which luckily was scattered with small rocks, providing our boots with a bit of traction.

At lunch time we had not gone nearly as far as expected and were on the point of calling it a day and returning. But luckily the spirit of adventure prevailed and we continued on, now with a deadline. From there we were on a clear path again and though it wound steeply up the slopes on loose rock, it was not nearly as hazardous as the previous slopes and we made good progress. It is very arid terrain but there are some lovely streams coming down and also some really interesting flowers and plants. We were even able to appreciate the amazing view, but tried not to spend too long looking down the 45 degree slope to our right.

And then we were at the pass, bracing ourselves against the powerful gusts of cold wind coming through. The view out over the ice fields was worth it though. Miles and miles of jagged ice stretching out like a frozen ocean, with ice capped mountains beyond. We couldn’t stay too long though, so after a few photos and a play in a patch of snow we set off down the slopes again.

With the help of gravity the steep slopes flew past and come to the rocky slopes we took the much safer option (relatively) of crossing the ice. This was a bit hairy too however as there were now some really strong gusts of wind coming down which seemed to be timed to hit us just as we would approach one of the numerous gaping cracks in the ice. Very exciting to be walking on a huge slab of ice as it grinds down a mountain.

From there it was one more session of torture crossing the river and then we were back in camp having dinner and a milky sweet hot chocolate.

The next day we began our return. However on the way we came across a “shortcut” that would allow us to visit another, apparently spectacular viewpoint, Mirador Pliegue Tumbado, on our way. Sophie was not having a bar of it and decided to stay on the level track and wait while Francois and I diverged from the path. The detour took us over some really interesting, moon-like plains of small, sharp, rock shards. We eventually made it to the top of the viewpoint which was actually higher than our climb the previous day. It offered an amazing 360 degree view of Cerro Torre and Fiz-Roy in front, the huge, milkly-blue Lago Viedma behind and to the left now a long way away and far below, the pass where we’d been the previous day. Then it was a fast march back to El Chalten as the sun sank behind the mountains.

The next day we found ourselves waiting for the bus again, and this time we actually got on it. Our desination, El Calafate, home to the huge Perito Moreno Glacier, and probably the last town we will visit before we cross the border into Chile.

El Chalten, Hike Two
El Chalten, Hike Two
From El Chalten to Laguna Toro, then on to the Pass of Wind, and back.