The south of Chile and Argentina is a hiker’s dream.The melange of craggy mountains crowned with glaciers and glistening with waterfalls, scrubland dotted with pale glacial lakes, flowering meadows, marshlands, and windblown cliffs that skirt the Magellan Strait present countless opportunities for exploration on foot.
Mt. Fitzroy starts to clear, just 1.5 hours walk, one way, from El Chalten in Parque Nacional Los Glacieres. From day hikes to a week-long trek around Tierra Del Fuego’s most inhospitable mountain range, here are our five favourite hikes in the region.
El Chalten Activities.El Chalten ( pop. 140 and growing rapidly), a tiny and imperfectly formed village four hours by bus from El Calafate gives easy access to possibly Argentina's best hiking, ice treks and climbing in the Andean peaks of Los Glaciares National Park in Patagonia.
Hiking.Mt. Fitzroy is the undisputed king of this castle, with Cerro Torre next in line.
The walks are magnificent, well marked and range from about one hour to seven hours (one-way), with most around three or four hours one-way. The average gradient rise during that time is about 300metres.
Other areas with first-class mountain hikes in Argentina are Ushuaia, Bariloche and Mendoza.
Best Hiking Season.The very best hiking months in Patagonia are March and November with fewer bugs, neither too hot nor too cold, no snow on trails but snow up high.
Summer is OK and runs from December to February but the narrow trails get congested, facilities are more costly, big bugs appear and plenty of them, and hiking becomes warm work. Winter is from May-August with snow in the valley and deep drifts higher up.
Is there a governor out there? If so, he should be strapped to Fitzroy's heights until his head clears.
On the positive side, there are some excellent people, hostels and eateries in El Chalten and the trekking is stupendous.
This is a longer route to Mt Fitzroy than the photo at top, curving around to approach from the west. Ours was about 8 miles round trip while the Lago de Los Tres is about 15 miles (25kms) with a 700m vertical. That neatly demostrates the versatility of El Chalten's hikes - same base, same destination, same rock and awe - but one pair of easygoing hikers versus one group of trail-hardened trekkers.
Hiking is the clearly favourite activity in the Andes foothills around El Chalten.
The walks are as easy or difficult as you choose to make them. We're not hardened hikers but really enjoyed the cool - but not cold - reasonably flat trails up to the Andes range, taking from a couple of hours return to eight hours, depending on how much time was 'wasted' just looking at the incredible panoramas. We stayed away from actual snow walking but got very close.