LUGARES MAGAZINE Nro. 39
Pags. 86 - 93
By: Soledad Gil
Photos: Federico Quintana
El Chaltén and the disputed lake. The YPF petrol station of Tres Lagos is in perfect condition. They even have a couple of beds for exhausted travellers, a shop and several types of fuel. From this point to El Chaltén the distance is about 90 kms. on Provincial Route 23.
El Chaltén is growing rapidly and whoever visited it when it was founded a few years ago would not now recognise the place. It is a virtual mecca, not only for mountain climbers who are waiting for the right day to challenge the Fitz Roy and the Torre, but also for backpackers who are enthralled by the woodlands, lakes and glaciers, which abound in the region.
For this reason El Chaltén is a good spot to pick as a base for a couple of days. Besides, this will be the second season in which the Huemel boat, with capacity for 60 passengers, is sailing the Viedma Lake, allowing passengers a close-up view of the imposing glacier and passing by the Moyano channel and the Estancia Helingfors.
We booked into the new Hostal de la Montaña belonging to Paula and Alberto del Castillo. For now it only has two rooms, but they are superbly furnished and they plan to expand
Alberto is a mountain guide and organises eight-hour treks to the Torre Glacier for those who are fit enough. As we are not all that fit, we had dinner at the The Wall and went to hed early to be well rested for the following day's schedule, which included visiting the Laguna de los Tres, at the foot of Fitz Roy.
Before beginning my description of that extraordinary experience I have to admit that I almost did not make it. If it had not been for Federico, who literally pushed me during one of the stretches, where all I wanted was to give in and just let myself roll downhill, I would not have been able to see for myself the colours, ranging from green to deep crystal blue of the mirrored water at the top.
We set out fully equipped with sandwiches and mineral water. The first part was very easy and we encountered torrential falls, soft swamplands and the magnetic Fitz Roy beckoning Lis to go on. We passed by the Laguna Capri and Poincenot campsites farther along the way. So far, so good. This stretch is suitable for anyone, and a worthwhile trek in its own right, although as on TV, the best part is kept for the end.
It starts getting tuugh and steep after crossing the Blanco River. The best way to do it is to zigzag uphill, like goats, and not to allow the fatigué to settle in and break the magnetic attraction of the summit. The effort is well compensated. The place was completely deserted, with patches of snow reflecting the sunlight in every direction. There are hundreds of perfectly shaped rocks to sit on and eat a picnic while contemplating the view. The passive beauty of the glacier, combined with the calm of the lake reflecting its loveliness, is a sight to be remembered.
The Fitz Roy is everywhere and its presence has an almost divine effect of contentment on those who admire it. The chilling neighbouring needles, all of them named after those who tried to climb them and died in the courageous attempt, are a confirmation of its towering glory. "As this active volcano has not been mentioned by travellers or navigators and since the name "Chaltén", as it is called by the indians, also applies to other mountains, I will allow myself to call it volcano Fitz Roy, as a gesture of gratitude on behalf of the Argentine people to this wise and energetic British Admiral", said Francisco Moreno, when he christened it.
Moreno was mistaken ahout the Fitz Roy being a volcano. But in a11 justice the diabolic shapes and the almost permanent clouds on the top, which easily could be mistaken for smoke, were confusing, and it was only discovered that this was not a volcano in 1952, when a French group was able to climb to the top.
Before starting down, you must remember to look out to the left of the lake, over the natural terrace over the Laguna Sucia, with its viscous but nonetheless clean startlingly green colour. The descent is not complicated, although it takes time and we were caught by dusk.
We stayed at the Hostería del Pilar, another very good new acquisition in this arca, with its four comfortahle rooms, 15 kms. from El Chaltén on the way to the disputed Lago del Desierto.
Its amazing beauty is enough to understand why it was under dispute.
Thefollowing morning, after a much-needed rest, we were able tú confirm what had been said to us by Marcelo Pagani, that Fitz Roy is in effect in the Pilar's back yard! We saw it through the window
the moment we woke up, ready and eager to continue our joumey towards our next destination, the magnificent Perito Moreno glacier.