Patagonia: El Chalten

The bus up to the similarly southern town took us a few hours through the the empty Patagonian landscape, stopping only at some old lonesome little lodge where Billy the Kid had once spent some time.  It was utterly fascinating…
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We rocked up in accordance with our philosophy that ‘planning is for chumps’ having nowhere to stay, but soon found a nice bed for the night at El Condor de Los Andes.

Having sorted shelter, the next mission was food, and we managed that at Patagonicus Pizza.  This was a great little restaurant in this tiny town that also sold their own craft brews.  Neil enjoyed his, but mine was a wee bit foamy.  There was little left in the bottle by the time it has stopped billowing forth.  The pizza was good enough that we got another one to take for our lunch the next day.
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That next morning we gathered at our tour operator to do some hard core trekking on the nearby glacier.  We had to bus over to a dock, switch to a boat and then go for another hour.  During this time we made the investment in talking to some other tourists only to find it that was all a waste.  The wind came out of a different direction and made it impossible to dock the boat.  Well, that was a few hours wasted.  We returned back to the town with hopes of better luck the next day.  At least we had this photo of an iceberg to show for our troubles…
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Neil and I got back into town having already nibbled our pizza but still hungry, so we got a handfull of legless cow and some pasta to fashion a filling lunch.  It didn’t taste that great though, something about the sauce wasn’t right.  For this second night, we had to change to another hostel that had a crowded kitchen and endless concert DVDs playing on the telly.
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We were left to salvage the afternoon with some hiking in the nearby national park.  This whole town sat in the shadow of the beautiful Mount Fitz Roy, so we decided to stroll along the path to get a nice view of it.  The first little while took us through what looked like a tree graveyard.  There were gnarled branches and logs littered all over the place, making me curious about why they didn’t decompose.  There were several nice viewpoints along the way but it took us about two hours to reach what we were looking for.
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Back in town we had to get something more to whet our appetites, and Patagonicus was closed, so we went next door.  While Neil balked and went with a stew, I had the good sense to order another pizza.  I did however fail to select good flavors.  We supped and then I saved the leftover pizza for the next day.
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The next morning we once again rose early, took the bus and the boat over to the same rock where we couldn’t moor the day before.  This day was alright though, so we got off and then walked over to where they had a tent set up so that we could get our equipment sorted.  I admired the gouges and colors left by eons of glacial erosion, as well as the various rock types that had been carried from far away and strewn about.
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Once we got to the glacier itself, we all popped a squat and laced up our crampons.  The guides seemed to doubt our equipment choices, but the expensive stuff too is for chumps.  There must be some really good marketers working at these outdoorsy companies, because in most cases the best is far more than necessary.  When I climb Everest you can bet I’ll look the part, but not just because I’m going to this ‘extreme’ part of the world.  Yeah, this is what a true man wears whilst conquistadoring a glacier: jeans, pj pants, trainers and crampons.
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Neil and I wanted a challenge, so we booked the ‘pro’ package which focused on actual ice climbing, rather than just the ice walking.  That latter tour is more intended for those tourists who lack the spirit of adventure, or else the physical manifestation of it.  After getting some pointers on how to move about in our new footwear, we marched to our first climbing spot.

This was all introductory stuff too.  First we practiced the footwork, and then we added in the ice picks.  I had an equipment blowout on the way up as one crampon was too loose, but the actual act of climbing was pretty straightforward to me – pick, pick, step, step, step, repeat.  Naturally, Neil and I exhibited the utmost of seriousness.
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With the technique down, we stopped messing around with these steeply sloping hills and moved on to larger faces that were vertical, and at times inverted.  At each location they set up a couple climbing spots of varying difficulty.  Naturally I didn’t want to fail, but not stepping up and attempting something where I might would have been just as much a failure, so I opted for the hardest course.  There was an inverted hump that was difficult to surmount because of poor footing, so I just picked the ice hard and hauled myself over it.  Success felt good.  Here is Neil going at that same hill.
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After that we broke for a much deserved lunch.  All the rest of our loser companions were pulling out trail mix type snacks, and then unsurprisingly voiced jealousy when our lunch was an entire, glorious pizza.  Our only regret was forgetting to bring the beer.
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They set up one more set of climbing spots after lunch that were all a bit more challenging.  Neil got conned into climbing one that was basically impossible.  I avoided that, since I couldn’t even devise a potential route to the top when standing on the ground.  There was instead another slightly less challenging option that I went for.  This one was also very vertical and required some challenging footwork  near the top.  I had to climb up on one side, and then stretch across a large gap to mount the ice that was protruding out from the top.  Not me doing it in this photo, but it shows what I was able to do [and she wasn’t].
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The rope system was the same as rock climbing, but I enjoyed this a whole lot more than any of those experiences.  To me the best part was the flexibility of the pick and foot placements, since they would grip most anywhere.  And because I could rely on my anchor points, I was able to scale shapes and grades I’d’ve never managed while bouldering.  At the end though I did get exhausted to the point of failure.  Here I am hanging by my one pick, which I was able to recover from, though completely failed to get any higher.  Just like rock climbing, this is one of the greatest forearm slayers on earth.
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We concluded the tour by walking further upstream to where we could get a great view of the glacier.  Though the area visible to us was smaller compared to the famous Perito Moreno, actually this one’s 1000 km² area is four times larger than its southern sibling.  Our guides axed some ice from the glacier to use in our celebratory drinks.  We posed for some final pictures before making the trek back.
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Also, in response to concerns by my dear mother about the safety of this outing: I certainly could have died iff I was foolish enough let myself fall into one of these crevasses.
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That evening we changed hostels again, this time going to a little one that didn’t advertise at all – they wouldn’t even take reservations.  They were half the price of anywhere else and seemed to attract the more interesting folks.  We found one such character and talked him into joining us for another stop at Patagonicus.  “Mas pizza y cerveza por favor!”  He was a funny guy and shared a few good stories worth laughing about.  Neil and I weren’t out too late though, since early the next morning we were going to leave on the grandaddy of bus trips.

Patagonia represented a really good stop in South America and my trip as a whole.  It brought with it great diversity in environment and a whole lot of new things for me to try out.  The glaciers were especially cool, but the 19 hours of daylight and fresh landscape were noteworthy as well.  The fun continues!

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One thought on “Patagonia: El Chalten

  1. As I was looking at the picture of you standing on the top of that ice, I thought, that seems quite dangerous. Glad you were able to clear that up with that comment about your mom.

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