I was two thirds of the way up the steep ascent when my mind had to ask, is this really worth it? This was my first experience on the Tres Lagos hike in Argentina, and I didn’t yet know what I was in for. The short answer: yes. YES. After the 1,200’ gain over little more than half a mile, I was rewarded with 360 degree views of Los Glaciares National Park and ‘los tres’, the massive granite faces of Mt. Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre and Poincenot, and the two glacier lakes that sit at their feet. Off in the distance, I could see two specs of color that I recognized, Angela and Hugh, making their way up to the second viewpoint, as Nick and Jon came over the climb’s initial lip shortly after us.
Our trip, Fit 4 Adventure’s ‘maiden voyage’ to the famed Patagonian regions of Argentina and Chile, had confronted us and left us gaping at surreal landscapes several times over in days prior. Yet, it was in that moment, with my lungs burning and my legs ready for a break, that the impact of our trip fully gripped me. Nick and I found a spot midway between the water and the bowl of granite and unpacked our empanada lunch.
In early February, before the chaos of COVID-19 was in full international swing, a group of us, six guests and two guides, made the long journey down to Southern Argentina. I didn’t know it then, but this trip and all of its lessons and rewards has made this time of deep uncertainty and adversity more manageable. Yes, I have my memories of epic scenery and experiences to look back on fondly while I shelter-in-place, but what I really gained was the very recent reminder that flexibility and attitude are key players in the unknown.
El Calafate and El Chalten, our base camps for the first leg of the trip, positioned us perfectly to explore Los Glaciares National Park, the UNESCO world heritage site of nearly 1.5 million acres, half of which is covered in glaciers belonging to the Southern Patagonia Ice Field.
As a group, we strapped on crampons and hiked along the famous Perito Moreno glacier. We followed local guides as they explained the daily movements of the glacier (they aren’t stagnant!) and were encouraged to drink water from the glacier’s deep crevasses. From personal experience, let me say, that water is divine.
When you are on the glacier, you lose perspective of its scale, as the landscape around you becomes entirely ice. It is only afterwards, when you hike away from it, that you can recognize its true magnitude. Watching ice warm in the sun and cleave into the lake below with a rumble like thunder was one of the highlights of the trip for me.
On days to come, seeing glaciers would almost begin to feel casual. From El Chalten, we could leave our hotel and hike directly through a glacially-carved valley to glacier-fed lakes, like we did to reach Laguna Torre. It was from town, too, that we hit the trail to the Lagunade los Tres hike I detailed at the start of this post. To have direct access to such challenging and rewarding hiking trails was a true privilege. To top it off, El Chalten and El Calafate both feature abundant restaurants, local breweries, wine bars, chocolaterias, and plenty of activities besides hiking.In town, kayaking trips, glacier boat trips, mountain biking excursions and fly fishing can be booked through local agencies.
Oh, yeah, the food. Night after night of huge cuts of Argentinian lamb, beef and guanaco, homemade pastas (influenced by the Italian immigrants of days past), empanadas and salads of grated vegetables, lentils and leafy greens. The wines, even house wines, surpassed expectations and were happily consumed. We experienced traditional meal presentations like the lamb parrilla, an entire lamb, barbequed over open flame and served over the course of an hour, as each part of the lamb cooks to perfection, and ‘discos’ which were large shared platters of different cuts of meat and fish, cooked over vegetables in either wine or beer.
Over in Chile, in the seaside town of Puerto Natales, fresh salmon and octopus were consumed alongside more homemade bread,while Nick slayed a traditional plate of lomo al pobre, a small mountain of meat cuts, topped with fried eggs, piled atop caramelized onions and french fries. Yes, he got the sweats.
Our group split up after a week in Argentina,as four of us went west to scout the W trek in Parque Nacional Torres delPaine, Chile, in hopes of offering future trips that include both legs (hint:we have! Check out the website). The W requires a new mindset. As you cross into Chile to the western side of the Andes, the landscape grows lusher and clouds gather with more frequency. The wind and rain, which are well known in El Chalten too, caught up with us in Chile after our week of sun in Argentina.
The W is a 50-mile trek, which requires packs filled with gear, and, in theory, places you away from urban amenities. As we were scouting and camping at times along the route, our packs were larger than they will need to be on future trips (phew). Torres de Paine is world renown for a reason. It’ll render you speechless. Since I last visited 6 years ago,the infrastructure has dramatically improved and has grown more sophisticated and luxurious. The small lodges still retain their individual charm, yet the meals were multi-course and fantastic, and hot showers, charging ports and paid WiFi (none of us partook) are now available along the route. Rodrigo and his Bigfoot crew, a local kayaking outfitter, led us in tandem kayaks as we wove around icebergs towards Glacier Grey.
How is this for an unimaginable highlight? On our drive into the park, we noticed a line of stopped cars. We had to check it out when we saw the driver of a local private shuttle taking pictures right alongside its passengers with their SLRs and long-lensed cameras. We jumped out of our car to ask what they were looking at and calmly, but assertively, they told us to get back in the car, and made the motion for a hissing cat. Pumas, five of them, camouflaged into the grasses until you knew to look for them. We spent an hour watching the mother and her four teenagers meander around in front of us,letting themselves be seen, until they eventually crossed the road and left sight.
Patagonia blessed us. By embracing Hugh’s favorite line: live the Patagonia,high winds (try 80-100 mph), weather and the occasional difficulty couldn’t dampen our spirits and our sense of adventure. In Patagonia, you check the weather but know that it can, and will, change. You come prepared with layers and a positive attitude and reap whatever she deigns fit for the day. It’ll still be great if you are willing to be flexible. On our final morning, for our 4am hike up to the Torres for sunrise,we were met with cold rain, high winds and zero views. And yet, it remains one of the highlights of the trip, as we did it anyways and, as a team, relished our experience as it stood.
As we live the COVID-19, we can all channel that exercise in flexibility and balance expectations must be managed as we appreciate, daily, what we receive: from those physically close to us, on a screen in a Zoom meeting, the spring buds in our neighborhoods, and opportunities still to come. Resilience follows suit.
If you need to revel in a little more wanderlust dreaming, check out our website for the full roster of upcoming trips, itineraries and photos.
Fit 4 Adventure Guide