My hiking adventure in Patagonia started out in the quaint little town of El Chalten. This hiker’s paradise is the equivalent of a typical ski resort…like Park City or Whistler. Most of the hikes are a short walk from town, and post hike, it’s a given to find yourself at a watering hole enjoying your après hiking beverage of choice…swapping stories with other hikers.
Once I arrived in El Chalten I checked the weather (something you must frequently do in Patagonia), and it appeared the next day would be the most optimal for hiking during my four day stay, so I went straight for the golden ticket hike, Laguna de Los Tres. My Gaia app has this trek at 12.5 miles and 2,647 ft. of elevation gain/loss. Not a bad first day hike was my thought.
I got my hiker booty up early and out by 7am to try and avoid the crowds. Before heading out, I stopped to double check the hiking conditions and weather with the concierge. He advised of potential rain in the afternoon and stated that the trail splits about two miles in, one way towards Laguna Capri and the other towards the Fitz Roy Mirador viewpoint, eventually merging back together. He told me to take the Mirador route on the way out for the best views of the spires.
The hike started out with a nice little ass burner, taking me from about 1500 ft. of elevation to roughly 2600 ft. in a little over a mile, through a moderately forested area with a few perfectly spaced viewpoints to take in some water and momentarily rest. Then the trail flattens out for an enjoyable walk…until the last kilometer, but more about that later. I was beyond grateful for the Mirador viewpoint advice because I arrived to get a perfect, sunny, rain free, clear view of Fitz Roy, it was hiker’s gold!
From this point the hike was relatively flat, going through beautiful lenga forests and open valleys with amazing views of the surrounding mountains, it was a rugged remote beauty that is very different from the hiking i’ve done in Washington. Because I left early, I encountered very few hikers on the way out to the Laguna and enjoyed the much needed solitude.
Upon reaching the last kilometer, I came across a sign that said to allow one hour for the remainder of the hike. I looked at the distance, did some quick math, and something wasn’t adding up. I mean, how could it take an hour to go one kilometer…which is a little over a half mile? The sign also said that the last kilometer was 400 meters of elevation. But you see, I chose not to do the math on that piece of data. FYI…400 meters of elevation in 1 kilometer = 1313 feet of elevation in 0.62 of a mile.
What the sign also failed to tell you was that you would be hiking for about a 10th of that 0.62 mile on a relatively flat surface before you turned a corner and saw the trail go very abruptly straight up a rock field.
Well shit, guess it’s as good a time as any to start sweating off all that steak and Malbec I consumed in Buenos Aires. And so up I went. At this point I was still cocky and thought there was no way this rock wall would take me an hour. This was the first of many times Patagonia would straighten my ignorant ass out.
So exactly about an hour later…after climbing over 1000 feet in a half mile, I reached Laguna de Los Tres. I was tired, spent, pissed that the sign was right and I was wrong, and utterly amazed at the view. As I was hiking up the wall of rocks I questioned whether a lake could be worth all this effort….and it totally was! Even with the spires already shrouded in fog, it was stunning.
At the Laguna I promptly devoured my lunch, likely resembling a trash panda tearing apart a squirrel. There was a roughly 500 ft. descent to the lake but I was too spent to go explore any further. I wanted to walk the shores of the lake and knew the photo opp’s would be great, but the problem was I didn’t know if I had it in me to climb back up!
While I was eating, the temperature dropped and it began to rain. Sudden, drastic shifts in weather are pretty normal in Patagonia from what I read, and I was going to have the luxury of experiencing it first-hand. I broke out my rain gear and spent a bit more time enjoying the Laguna. Throughout the hike I had gone from wearing my R1 fleece (yep, wearing my Patagonia in Patagonia…mind blown), to wearing just a tank top, to wearing a long sleeve shirt, donning my rain gear and back to my fleece.
On my way back down the rock wall, there was an entire ant hill of people making their way up. With the cold, rain and wind, I was happy to be making my descent, and also able to take my time traversing the now wet rocks.
As with all hikes I fall in love with, I took my time heading back. I wanted to savor every last bit of the trail and that feeling you get, the sense of accomplishment, the awe, the beauty, the reset. On the way back I followed the path to check out Laguna Capri and even though it was raining, I stopped to take some pictures, sit at the lake shore and just “be”.
After some reflection, and frankly, stillness of the mind, I finished my hike. I was ready for some carbs and a post hike beer, or two! It was the perfect Patagonia day, filled with amazing views, unpredictable weather, epic hiking, and it left me thirsty for more!
Stay tuned: next I’ll be posting about my non-technical climb and hike on Glacier Cagliero