Roughing it at Cerro Fitz Roy

Camping means different things to different people.  For some, it means driving the luxury trailer complete with all the conveniences from home to a nice camp ground where setting up is a simple matter of hooking up your electricity and sewer.  For others, you load your car with all your camping gear which may include a few conveniences and comforts from home, drive to your camp ground where you then pitch your tent, unload your gear and crack open an ice cold bottle of beer as you sit back in your comfy lawn chairs.  Our usual camping style is the latter although once we loaded all our gear into a canoe in Algonquin Park and paddled our way to our camp site.  We thought we were really roughing it that time, especially when Chris inadvertently (that’s his story to this day) tipped the canoe while I was in it waiting for him to get in….but that’s a story for another day.

We have just returned from our latest camping/trekking trip in Patagonia, which again was 5 days/4 nights in duration. Our starting point was El Chaltén, a small village located at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy, both popular for climbing as well as trekking and camping. El Chaltén is the youngest town in Argentina, built in 1985 to help secure the disputed border with Chile. Today the sole reason for its existence is tourism. It is 220 km north of El Calafate.

We arrived in El Chaltén around noon last Friday and immediately headed out into the mountains to our first camp site, only a couple of hours away at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy where we set up camp and stayed for 2 nights.  We spent the next 2 nights in a camp ground at the base of Cerro Torre.  Spending a couple of nights at each site allowed us the opportunity to do day hikes without our packs, making the trekking much more enjoyable.
The trails in this area were much easier than those at Torres del Paine (perhaps with the exception of the trail to the lookout at Fitz Roy which was pretty tough going) and are very popular as they can be done as day hikes directly from El Chaltén.  So during the day, the trails got a little busy, but early morning and evening we had them virtually to ourselves.  Even so, the number of tourists was far less than those encountered in Torres del Paine.  The camp grounds were pretty sparsely populated with about a dozen or so tents set up each night.

The weather throughout the five days was absolutely perfect for trekking.  With the exception of one day when it was cloudy, we enjoyed clear, sunny skies, comfortable daytime temperatures around 15C along with no wind and no rain. The nights got a little cool, around 5C, except for the last night when there was frost on the ground. And the early mornings were downright chilly, giving us good reason to sleep in each morning.

Typical weather enjoyed each day.

Cerro Torre obscured by clouds on our only cloudy day.

The weather cleared the next day, giving us great 
visibility to Cerro Torre.

While conditions were absolutely perfect for this trek, we took roughing it to a new level, at least for us. Our camping gear was similar to our previous trek in Torres del Paine which included:

  • 1 three-man tent that provided barely enough space for each of us and our packs (I have no idea how three people, especially men, would actually fit into the tent);
  • 2 foam sleeping mats that provided some insulation from the cold ground but absolutely no comfort value;
  • 1 inflatable sleeping mat that we shared – well, actually, Chris used it for the first three nights since he was still complaining about his sore ribs (wasn’t that nice of me) but then damn his ribs, my bruised hips couldn’t take another night on the hard ground so I got the mat on the last night;
  • kitchen gear consisting of one pot, one metal spoon that we borrowed from our hostel (and returned I might add), 2 metal cups, 2 bowls and 2 “sporks” (combination spoon, fork and knife); and,
  • 1 ultra light burner with 2 cannisters of fuel.
We didn’t bring any heavy camera equipment (shocking, I know, but Chris decided the point and shoot camera would be sufficient this time around) and we kept our personal belongings and clothes to the absolute minimum.  Of course, Chris regretted not having his camera with him, and I regretted not bringing my binoculars.  Oh, and a deck of UNO would have helped pass the time away but without our steerage companions from Antarctica around to remind us of the rules, maybe it was just as well not to have the cards.  We had lots of time on our hands, so besides hiking and bird watching, we spent a lot of time talking and reflecting on the past six months and what’s coming ahead.  When we got really desperate to amuse ourselves, we played Rock, Paper, Scissors and a few rounds of hang man in the dirt.  I bet you didn’t know that limiting your words to just 4 characters makes it a rather challenging game?
All our gear and food for 5 days of camping
fit into our packs with lots of room to spare.
There were absolutely no services in this park.  Zero.  Well, unless you count the disgusting (and therefore unusable) outhouse which was basically a shelter around a pit in the ground, conveniently located in each camp ground.  No refugios, no kitchen shelters to protect against the elements. No running water, no sinks,  no toilets.   Nothing. Just us and the great outdoors.  Did I mention how grateful we were that we had perfect weather?  We washed our dishes in the mountain streams using sand to scrub them clean – something I remember doing on canoe trips with my dad when I was a kid. We washed ourselves in the same icy cold streams, careful not to rinse any soap into the clear, glacial waters as these were the same streams we were drinking from.
The first campsite – not too crowded here!
Eating in the “dining room”.
Each night we put all our food in a sack and
hung it from a tree.  The absence of wildlife in the
park was noteworthy, although we had been warned
that mice ran rampant and were a camper’s worse nightmare
as they would chew through anything if they detected food. 
The chef at work:  food was basic, after all we only had one pot and spoon.
Enjoying a hot drink to keep warm.
Dead logs on rocks made a great table.
And so we camped and trekked for 5 glorious days enjoying spectacular scenery, basking in the warmth of the sun, restoring ourselves amidst the serenity and beauty of our surroundings.  It was one of the best camping trips we’ve had, and definitely the roughest camping yet.  Would we do it again? Definitely!
Climbing over boulders to get a better view of a glacier.
The view on the other side of the boulders.
The trails took us through forests such as this one as well
as through marshes and meadows (below)
and up and down rocky hills 
and mountains. 
Of the many birds we saw, this tiny Austral Pygmy Owl
(at least that’s what I think it is) was the most unusual.
We arrived back in El Chaltén on Tuesday morning at 11:00 am with two hours to spare before our bus returned us to El Calafate.  After making a few enquiries at some of the trekking shops in town, we successfully sold all our camping gear (excluding the ultra light burner) for about $80 US.  Considering we paid $110 US for the gear and camped for a total of 8 nights, I think we did quite well.

View of Cerro Fitz Roy from the lookout.  Well worth
the difficult one hour climb to the top. 

View of Cerro Torre as we were leaving on the last day, just before
the camera’s battery died.  How’s that for timing! 

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4 Responses
  1. Kim says:

    Beautiful! Was it difficult to learn about this hike and go it alone? Seems like you didn’t have a problem. I hope we can do this when we’re traveling through!

    • christina says:

      Hi Kim,

      This hike was super easy to figure out. When you take the bus from El Calafate to El Chalten, every bus stops at the park office where you all get off for a 10 minute briefing by a park ranger. You are given a map of the trails which are easy to follow. That’s all we used for our trek. The trails are accessible right from town so you just get off the bus and walk towards the trail head. All the trails are marked clearly, there’s no way you could get lost. Most people do day hikes because its just so accessible from town. But we really enjoyed staying in the park camping – gave us a lot more time for hiking and relaxing and just enjoying the beautiful scenery. I think there are other trails you can take as well, but you would need to buy a more detailed map. We were happy to stick with the well known trails and camp grounds. Not sure if I mentioned this, but everything in this park was free which was a refreshing change from the other national parks we visited where we felt the fees were quite high. Of course, there were no services in the park either. Let me know if you need any more info. Christina

  2. Angus says:

    Hi guys,

    More amazing pics. My idea of camping includes Internet access, flush toilets, showers and of course beer.

    While you were roughing it I was at Pebble Beach staying at probably the nicest suite I’ve ever stayed at in my life. First class service and great food and we had more than one spoon!

    I noticed the frequency of blogs seems to be diminishing. I need something to do at work so I’m counting on you.

    Cheers

    Angus

    • christina says:

      HI Angus,

      Where is Pebble Beach? Were you travelling for work or pleasure? Sounds nice regardless. It’s always nice to know someone is actually reading our blog and misses it too! I’ve been rather lazy about the blog since arriving in Buenos Aires. It’s not like we’ve been super busy or anything either. We’ve just been chilling and slowly exploring this fantastic city. Sometimes we’re not doing anything too exciting (at least not to us) so there doesn’t seem much to write about. Sometimes I just don’t feel like I’ve got much to say (as surprising as that may sound :) We’ll be summing up our 2 weeks in Buenos Aires within the next couple of days. Hard to believe our time in South America is coming to an end….March 19th we leave Sao Paulo, Brazil for Europe via a transatlantic cruise. We’ll be off line during that cruise too – all 21 days. Next week we’re heading to Iguazu Falls via a 24 hour bus trip – the longest bus ride so far! Take care, Christina