Monday, November 22, 2010

Patagonia - Where the Wind Never Stops Blowing

Now for the last phase of our trip. On Monday 15th we flew from Buenos Aires to El Calafate, Argentina, a small town where most people start their Patagonian adventures. We picked up our car and drove north about two hours to El Chalten a very small mountain town just below Mount Fitz Roy. The town is primarily full of backpackers, trekkers and climbers. We had a nice room at the Condor De Los Andes hostal and the next morning started our preparation for the trek to a camp at the base of Mount Fitz Roy.
We had brought all the backpacking equipment we needed from home for our four night, five day trek. The real problem started when we finished loading our packs and weighed them using our small digital travel scale. John had 50 pounds and Sara 40 pounds, with 20 pounds being camera gear – big mistake! Nevertheless, off we went and struggled through the three and a half hour hike to base camp. Fortunately the altitude was only a little over 3,000 feet, and the path wasn’t too steep. The weather was lovely, and the views magnificent.

The campsite was in a forested area which provided some protection from the wind, rain and snow; yes we got a little snow! The winds were relentless. They blew constantly, day and night, gusting up to 30-40 mph. It was very cold, low 40’s during the day, and 30’s at night, I’m not sure what the temperature was with the wind chill factor. Obviously the weather was less than ideal and Fitz Roy was often obscured by clouds. The only way to stay warm was in our sleeping bags, hence a lot of tent time! I don’t know how we could have slept at night without ear plugs. After five days of constant wind Sara and I both started to feel a little crazy from the constant roaring sound, and I swear my ears are still ringing.

Photography was less than ideal, but I did get some shots When the weather cleared Mt Fitz Roy and the surrounding mountains and glaciers were magnificent. Saturday morning we packed up and headed down the mountain, still in the relentless rain and wind! After a hot meal we drove back to El Calafate. We toyed with the idea of camping that night, but it was an easy decision to get a nice hotel room.

Click below to view the photos!
Patagonia - Fitz Roy Trek

Sunday morning we prepared for our drive to Chile and the Torres del Paine National Park. As we were getting gas we noticed one of the tires was low on air, and then Sara noticed a nail in the tire. Immediately I thought ‘Oh boy, here we go’, we are in a foreign country where we barely understand any conversation, and it is Sunday in a small town. The guy at the gas station gave us directions to a tire repair place, of which we understood about three words. By pure luck we found the shop, with a very helpful Argentinean customer who understood enough English to help us communicate our problem to the repair man. Forty-five minutes later and at a cost of 20 pesos (about five dollars), we were back on the road!

The journey to Torres Del Paine and Chile was about a six hour drive. We had expected such a large National park to be well sign posted, however that was not the case. By some miracle, and use of our global compass (purchased especially for the trip south of the equator) we made the correct turn on to the gravel road and crossed into Chile. I guess that GPS I thought about bringing would have been a good thing. Maybe this blog should be titled Gringos lost in Patagonia!

We drove about 80 km on the gravel roads and finally got close to the park. The mountain range was getting closer and more spectacular. We noticed the winds were extremely strong and it was very cold. Just outside the park was a Refugio, which is a very basic hostel. We stopped, thinking we would camp there. When we asked the girl about camping she looked at us like what fool would want to put up a tent in this wind and cold. She mentioned the option of staying in the unheated bunk rooms for 15,000 Chilean pesos per person or the individual heated rooms for 30,000 per person. (About 60 dollars each.) Easy decision! The food was good, the room basic but dry and warm, and we weren’t in the tent. Yahoo!

This morning, (Monday) we entered the park, along with several coach loads of backpackers, planning on hiking the five to ten day circuit around the park. The weather conditions had deteriorated to driving rain and gale force winds, and we were nervous because we had planned on camping two more nights before our next hotel reservation on Wednesday. We drove on more gravel roads to Las Torres Hotel which we had decided against during our original planning because it is about $300 a night. When we got to the hotel we sat in the car and debated if we should try to get one or two nights. As we got out of the car the wind and rain were so strong it almost knocked us over. We battled our way to the entrance, and at the front desk Sara looked at me and said “Do you think we should ask how much?”, without hesitation I immediately said ‘NO!” So thanks to the credit card we have two nights in a beautiful hotel with a fabulous view of the mountains. Well we think a fabulous view, because it is cloud covered and obscured at the moment.

So for the next few days we are warm, safe, dry and happy!

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