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Argentina’s granola town of El Chaltén is a backpackers’ paradise. Made almost entirely of gear shops, vegetarian restaurants, and breweries, it exists for no other reason but to access and adore Mount Fitz Roy (mountain peaks so rugged Patagonia outdoor gear used them as the icon for their logo). Trails peel off from every corner of town, each giving you a unique glimpse of “The Fitz” with your choice of glaciers, rivers, or lakes to see along the way.
Unlike Perito Moreno, which is tucked away in the south end of the 4459-square-kilometer Los Glacieres Park, big, bold Fitz Roy lets its presence be known for miles of highway, making a detour to its hometown of El Chaltén irresistible.
The town is growing so fast it can barely keep up with itself (case in point, we slept in a pop-up hotel made of Matson containers) but with die-hard trekkers as the main investors, the town maintains its crunchy charm.
The Fitz is so in your face upon arrival that we couldn’t decide weather to hike into the evening to reach it (we seriously almost rented camping gear) or hike a nearby hill for a little perspective. We opted for the short climb to get the lay of the land and wait on our 28k-hike until daybreak.
The half way point brings you to the adorably named Lagos Madre y Hija (mother and daughter lakes). As if the pools and mountains weren’t pretty enough on their own, fall colors made the turquoise water pop against the scene.
Though as city dwellers this is a hard concept to swallow, the El Chaltén rivers are clean enough to fill your bottle right from the stream. Not only is drinking out of a glacial stream one of the most amazing feelings, it sure beats carrying around a day’s worth of water.
The last hour of the hike is so steep all you can think of is your need for an inhaler–then you cross that last ridge and the Fitz fixes all. The peaks are more majestic than you could ever imagine and to discover they have the most surreal twin lakes at their feet is enough to make a hiker cry.
The peaks here are so high up it is almost always lost in the clouds (El Chaltén actually means “smoking mountain” due to the clouds that constantly billow off the Fitz Roy) but with enough luck, awe, and patience, we got to see her in full view.
And the craziest part about hiking in this area is the Fitz is not the only attraction. Glaciers are nestling throughout the mountain range. Though we had ambititous intentions of making it another 12k to the massive Viedma glacier, darkness and weary legs sent us to this “little” guy instead.
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