Of Mountains, Glaciers and Lakes: Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park

February 15, 2013

Our last stop on our 26-day, 2,700 mile (4,345 kilometer) overland journey through Argentina was in Los Glaciares National Park. While here we were treated to some of the most spectacular mountain, glacier and lake scenery of our expedition as we completed our 11th trek.

Our visit began in the north portion of the park, accessible from the small village of El Chaltén. Basing ourselves here, we trekked for three days on trails that climbed up 650 to 1,066 feet (200 to 325 meters) into the mountains above the town. Weather is everything in this area, as one can experience all four seasons in one day. So even though we were tired from the 26 hours of bus travel that had brought us to El Chaltén, we were up and out on the trail early the next morning when we saw the clear and cloudless skies outside our window.

We made it a priority to hike one of the tougher trails the first day which runs very close to Monte Fitz Roy (or Cerro Chaltén) at 11,020 feet / 3,359 meters. As we climbed up about 1,000 feet (305 meters) in only 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) we were breathless both from the trail and the views that we saw. Fitz Roy was perfectly clear, with not a cloud in the sky! We took our time, enjoying this view, before heading closer to the base of the mountain.

As we hiked, the mountain vistas got even better and better. We wound down into a valley and headed along a small river. All the time we could not believe our good fortune in seeing the clear mountains around us and having such a warm and sunny day to hike. After a lunch break by the river we continued toward the Piedras Blancas Glacier on the right side of the Fitz Roy range. Completely satisfied with what we saw during the entire day, we headed down to El Chaltén the way we came, still admiring the fantastic views.

The next morning we hiked on a different trail that took us to the Cerro Torre range, located in the valley to the left of Fitz Roy. This hike was very enjoyable as the trail meandered through the valley and in and out of forests. The weather was still good, although more cloudy, so we did not have clear views of Cerro Torre. We ended up at Laguna Torre Lake, which is below the Torre Glacier. The turquoise color of the lake, with the contrast of the icy glacier right above it, was beautiful. There were even several ice chucks floating in the lake right in front of us!

We knew that the sunny, warm weather could not last and the next morning it turned cold and rainy so we decided to take a rest day from trekking. The day after that it was still cold but it looked clear, so we went back to the trails. Our goal was to hike the best portions of the previous two days and use a five mile (eight kilometer) trail, running past two lakes, to connect them.

It was probably 25 degrees Fahrenheit (15 degrees Celsius) colder than the previous two days of trekking so we kept moving in the cold and wind as we hiked. We were able to see Monte Fitz Roy again, although it was cloudy around it. The connecting trail was a scenic hike, as we passed along the two lakes then walked through two large meadows before heading down into a forest. There were not as many people on this connecting trail so we enjoyed the peacefulness of our walk here.

The rain came as we hiked during the final hour but we were so happy with our overall trekking experience that it did not even bother us. The 40 miles (64 kilometers) that we hiked over the three days were some of our favorite trekking of our entire around-the-world trip.

But we still had more to see within Los Glaciares National Park. It is a large place, with a total area of 1,722 square miles (4,459 square kilometers). We moved from the northern portion of the park, where we trekked, to the southern section, via a three-hour bus journey. The gateway city in the southern area is El Calafate, which is located on Lago Argentino, Argentina’s largest lake.

Thirty percent of Los Glaciares is covered by ice and the ice cap in the park is the third largest in the world, after Antarctica and Greenland. The southern portion of the park features several glaciers, with the most accessible being Perito Moreno. We took a 90 minute bus trip along Lago Argentino to enter Los Glaciares National Park about 50 miles (80 kilometers) west of El Calafate.

We had seen glaciers while trekking in the northern portion of the park, but nothing prepared us for the immensity of Perito Moreno. This glacier is about 97 square miles (250 square kilometers) in area and about 19 miles (30 kilometers) long. It is as high as 240 feet (74 meters) above the surface of the lake. We were able to view the glacier from a series of walkways in an effort to try to get some perspective on its sheer shape and size.

A boat ride across the lake took us to the edge of the glacier and gave us the opportunity to take a two-hour ‘mini-trekking’ tour with a group of about 20 people. We were supplied crampons and we walked up and down sections of the glacier while our guide provided some background and details. We learned that Perito Moreno is one of three Patagonian glaciers that is growing in size in an age when most are retreating. Walking along the glacier was amazing. We were able to look into holes and crevasses and admire the peaks formed by the ice. The blue color of the glacier was beautiful to see.

Our time experiencing the mountains, glaciers and lakes in Los Glaciares National Park was magical and one of those ‘pinch me’ moments. The scenery was incredible and it is no wonder that this park was granted World Heritage status in 1981.

As we leave Argentina we will move across the border to Chile and its Patagonia region. Here we will complete our 12th and final trek, in Torres del Paine National Park, in the coming days.

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