Days 24 to 29: El Calafate to El Chalten and the Fitzroy Ranges
Updated: Jun 21, 2020
Two days cycling, two days hiking, two days chillin'...
Cycling east away from El Calafete with gale force winds on my back, I busted out 30km in under an hour... But then I had a sharp turn taking me back to the northwest, and those same 40km winds, gusting to 75km, became a hybrid of a headwind and a sidewind. The next 30km took over 3 hours :-( Often it gusted with no warning, and I was blasted off the road veering off on a 45 degree angle through the hard shoulder (normally gravel) towards a farmers fence! The crosswinds are so fierce here there are even permanent signs warning all road users to be careful.
A German cyclist I met in El Calafete had told me of an abandoned BnB and restaurant which had become an iconic stop for cyclists in the area, dubbed as the "Pink House". The night he'd stayed there were 7 cyclists, and when I arrived I was delighted to find 2 Belgians that I'd actually met in Ushuaia the day before I started the whole cycle trip. We cooked up our pastas and tried to find less dirty places to sleep while taking a moment to read all the graffiti from previous cyclists. Unlike the previous abandoned houses or sheds I'd slept in, this one came with a couple of mice - tho they mainly kept to themselves.
The interior of the “Pink House” was a sight to behold. Just about every inch inside the enormous main room was covered in felt pen or biro graffiti from previous cycle-tourists: who they were, what country they were from, where they’d started or were intending to finish. The dates that some people had marked their stay indicated that the “Pink House” had been abandoned for a good few years.
The next day the wind decided to be kinder, the sun came out, and for the first time this trip it was warm enough to cycle in a t-shirt. I took that as a testimony as to how far I'd come from the sub-antarctic climes of Ushuaia. As the day wore on, the iconic Fitzroy Ranges - the hiking capital of Argentinian Patagonia - came closer and closer before I finally rolled into El Chalten, which serves as the base camp town for hikes in this area.
Trekking around El Chalten is a little different from other parts of Patagonia, as the main trails are all do-able as out-and-back day trips from the town. For anyone whose love of the great outdoors is matched only by their aversion to sleeping in a tent or lugging a heavy pack, El Chalten really is the perfect hiking destination. The two most popular hiking trails are up to the Lagoon de Los Tres just below Mt Fitzroy, and Lake Torre which sits in front of the peak of the same name.
Although each could be done as their own single day excursion, it was possible to link both on a 2-day/1 night trek by including a side-trail halfway up the mountainside and sleeping in a campsite. An advantage of spending a night up on the mountain was that it left trekkers well positioned to enjoy a sunrise at the base of Mt Fitzroy, which traveller word-of-mouth assured me was spectacular. So, I decided that was me and set off to find an outdoors shop that could rent me a hikers pack again.
The only thing better than a sunrise in the mountains, is a sunrise in the mountains with rainbows :-)