El Chaltén hiking circuit in Patagonia

Laguna Piedras Blancas, Patagonia
View across the lake at Laguna Piedras Blancas, a couple                       of hours walk from Campamento Poincenot

Start and end: El Chaltén, Parque de los Glaciares.

General information: Parque de los Glaciares is located in Southern Patagonia in Argentina. This section of Parque de los Glaciares is famous for the mountains of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, both of which attract world-class mountaineers every year, occasionally creating controversy. This 3-4 day hike goes into mountain lakes, glaciers and offers great views of both Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, weather permitting. Hiking here is quite easy, and even easier than in the moderate Torres del Paine. The major concern for hikers is the weather, especially the winds (see below). The route suggested below may also be walked as day hikes from El Chaltén.

The hike:

Day 1: El Chaltén to Campamento Poincenot. 12km. 3,5 hours.
Day 2: Day trips from Campamento Poincenot to Laguna de los Tres (famous view of Fitz Roy) and Laguna Pedros Blancas. 3 hours per trip.
Day 3: Campamento Poincenot to Campamento Agostino. Walk around Lago Torre to Mirador Maestri (famous view of Cerro Torre). 15 km. 4 hours.
Day 4: Campamento Agostino to El Chaltén. 10 km. 3 hours.

Total distance: 35 km + day trips.

Time used: 4 days (two full, two half-days) – could easily be shortened into 3 days.

Difficulty (1-5): 2 for main trail. 4 for side trip to Laguna Pedros Blancas (scrambling section just before arriving at the lake).

Short description of the trail: Easy walking along well-marked paths. No exposed sections save some light scrambling at the Laguna Pedros Blancas side trip.

Walking season: December-February.

Dates walked: December 19-22, 2014

Mount Fitz Roy, El Chaltén, Patagonia
View of Mount Fitz Roy on the way to Campamento                                                           Poincenot

Transport to/from the hike: Multiple daily buses (3 hours) from El Calafate to El Chalten, all of which stop at the National Park office just outside El Chaltén. From El Calafate there are numerous daily flights to Buenos Aires, as well as buses to Puerto Natales (for Torres del Paine) or private tour operators going directly from El Calafate into the Torres del Paine National Park.

Accomodation and food: During the hike: Designated (free) campsites within the national park.  Facilities: Latrines only. No food sold inside the park. No huts in this area, however both Laguna de los Tres and Lago Torre may be done as day hikes, returning each evening to El Chaltén. Water may be taken from the streams, no need for filtering.

Equipment: No special equipment. For overnight camping, four-season equipment is needed as snow and heavy winds may be encountered at all times.

Laguna de los Tres with Fitz Roy, El Chaltén
The classical view of Mount Fitz Roy across Laguna de                        los Tres. The area is notorious for bad weather.

Online ressources including maps:  All sorts of info including maps on El Chaltén webpage, as well as the official page of Los Glaciares National Park.

Online trip reports from others include: Swoop Patagonia, besthike.com, Lonely Planet

Guidebook/map used: Lonely Planet: Hiking in Patagonia. Not updated since 2009, and now apparently out of print. Many practical issues outdated, however general info and maps still relevant. I used a PDF of the relevant chapter as well as a map available at the national park office in El Chaltén. Combined with resources available online , one could well do without a guidebook.

Important points/concerns: The weather is notoriously unreliable in this region, even in summer (Dec-Jan). Be prepared for very strong winds and snow. I have not seen winds like in Patagonia anywhere in the world.

Highlights: 

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