March 6, 2010

El Chaltén

March 3. Today we loaded up the trailer and boarded our bus for the trip out around Lago Argentino then north to the north shore of Lago Viendma, another giant glacial lake collecting melt from the eastern slopes of the Andes. Our destination: The trekking center of El Chaltén, situated at the feet of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres. Compared to the small town on Calafate (which has about 18,000 people), El Chaltén is a village, home to a few hundred people, including our guides. It only has a summer season, however, so many of its residents migrate out for work. It's a new town, founded in 1985 to support Argentina's claim to this area, which was under dispute with Chile, and has found its life as a trekking center. It's growing as fast as Calafate.

Along the way, we stopped at a roadhouse that, long ago, hosted Butch Cassady and the Sundance Kid. As we approached and drove along Lago Viedma, we were treated to increasingly excellent views of our destination, helped by a day of perfect weather – warm, calm, and clear. (Everyone mentions repeatedly that this is very unusual. We saw Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre and their minions. We saw the Glacier Viedma flowing into the lake. Each view was closer and more exciting.

We also saw some of the classic Patagonian wildlife: several condor, including one that flew right over us into the sun; a number of guanáco, in small groups; a pair Magellanic woodpeckers, like our pileated with a full red head; and a trio of Rheas, the local version of an ostrich.

After meeting our new guide (Paola is staying with us), Martin, and stashing our suitcases in the outfitter's office, we hit the trail. We took our time (it was warm, even hot), eating lunch on the trail and stopping for increasingly stunning views of Fitz Roy (Cerro Torre is out of site for the next couple of days), and arriving in early afternoon at Laguna Capri, where we will camp for two nights. The campomento has a kitchen tent, a dining tent, a couple of guide tents – all of these are classic wall tents – and a number of mountaineering tents with plenty of room for double occupancy.

We were free to wander the lake and its environs for the afternoon. I walked up to the ridge to the south, opposite Fitz Roy, where I got some nice views over the lake. Dinner was served at 7:00, comprising pumpkin soup with little toasts to dip, a savory goulash and mashed potatoes, and a tasty pudding with cocoa for dessert. Since we're outside, it started getting dark right after dinner, so we all scattered to various points for some sunset photos and made plans for sunrise photos tomorrow morning.

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