Wednesday, May 9, 2012
El Chalten and Mounts Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre
After spending one more night in El Calafate, we made the 220 Km (about 150 mile) drive to the northern end of the park and El Chalten. Los Glaciares is a national park with an odd setup. Entering in the south to see Perito Merino Glacier which is a paid entrance and then north around Lakes Argentino and Viedma to El Chalten which is situated inside the park’s boundaries and to which there is no admission fee. In the middle is a sort of “dead zone”, where there is no road and is inaccessible to all. The lakes are fed by glaciers so they are the milky blue, sediment filled waters that we have become used to seeing. Occasionally, even being so far from the mouth of the glacier, you can still see icebergs. It really is amazing. After El Calafate, the village of EL Chalten was a surprise. It is the entire opposite of its southern counterpart, even though both really exist only to support the tourists that visit the national park. But where El Calafate is upscale and teeming with well heeled visitors from all over the planet, El Chalten is devoted to trekkers and climbers, catering mainly to the backpackers and mountaineers who come to climb its famous peaks primarily Mount Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. It is reminiscent of an old gold or mining town from back home. We had the name of a camping facility and after a stop at the tourist office, found it easily. Located just off the main street and close to the trail leading to Mount Fitz Roy, it is small with few amenities. Kind of like the town itself. Few tourists pass through EL Chalten, even during the high season (November thru February) when climbers from around the world descend on the small village. Now, in April it is darned near deserted. But from our campsite, when the clouds clear we can see Fitz Roy, so Tom is happy. At a height of over 3,400 meters (10,800 feet) it was first climbed in 1952 and is reckoned to be one of the most technically challenging mountains on earth for mountaineers. Following Chouinard’s climb and film in 1968, it also became the basis for the Patagonia clothing line and logo. Fortunately for the rest of us there are several paths which make trekking up the mountain relatively easy. Cerro Torre is a different matter. It is a sharp craggy peak that has a top with a “mushroom” of rime ice formed by the winds. Because of this, many who claim to have climbed it did not actually reach the top, the most famous of those being Maestri. The first undisputed ascent was not until 1974 made by an Italian expedition. Since then many others have climbed and perfected the route, adding more bolts and rope. The next big controversy came this season. In January, two men, American Hayden Kennedy and Canadian Jason Kruk made the ascent and on their return back down, removed many of the bolts that had been used. Some of these bolts had been drilled in earlier expeditions close to cracks used by climbers for protection but debate remains whether the North Americans had the right to remove them. Dilemma reigns in the climbing world. Of course, this made no difference to me. Nothing on this earth would get me to traverse a mountain. We stuck to the well worn, well trekked, walking routes and that got us close enough to be happy. Unfortunately except for a few breaks, clouds shrouded both peaks for most of the time. Tom did manage to get a few photos which I will post after I sort through them all. We stayed in the village for a few days before beginning our way to Bariloche. We have also decided to go the long route taking the paved highways in lieu of the gravel dirt roads.