Christian, our Chilean G Adventures CEO, doesn’t bother with weather reports. In Patagonia, he said, it can change so quickly it’s not uncommon to experience all four seasons in a single day. And that’s exactly what we learned on our first hike of the trip, a 19 kilometer walk around Fitz Roy Mountain in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares.
For those familiar with the Patagonia clothing company, Fitz Roy is represented by the tallest peak in the company’s logo. After landing in Patagonia and taking a 3-hour private van ride to the village of El Chalten the day before, we filled in the gaps with regard to our hiking gear. Our international group of 10 was fairly well prepared, though not everyone had water-resistant pants and gloves.
Christian had briefed us upon check-in at the hotel in El Chalten, and advised us of the best shops to rent the appropriate gear. I rented a pair of water-resistant pants, which would also help keep me warm given the potential for heavy winds. In addition, I invested in a pair of water-resistant gloves, which I’d also be using the following day for our much-anticipated ice climbing excursion on nearby Viedma Glacier.
After an early breakfast at the hotel, we were briefed by Kito, a local Argentine mountain guide who would be leading us through the park that day.
Rain and wind had been battering our hotel overnight, and a light drizzle was falling from the overcast skies as we set off to the park entrance, a short walk from the hotel.
Despite the monumental mountains and grand glaciers, the trail we followed was relatively flat, and the elevation was so low that altitude sickness wasn’t an issue. Our greatest challenge that day would be the ever-changing Patagonian weather.
For the first several hours, Fitz Roy’s peak remained ensconced in clouds. While not unusual, we were all hoping the weather would clear so we’d get a good view of the peak before our hike was over.
Along the way, we were able to refill our water bottles from the running streams. There are seemingly fewer and fewer places in the world where you can safely drink the water. Drinking clean, cool water from glacial streams is an experience I’d continue to savor on our hikes throughout Patagonia.
While it may have been hard to see the mountain peaks, we had no trouble spotting a pair of giant red woodpeckers in action on a tree along the forest trail. If only all birds were so easy to spot.
Due to heavy clouds, high winds, and occasional snowflake, we bypassed a 2-hour roundtrip hike up to Fitz Roy viewpoint. It was to be the hardest, steepest section of our hike, however Kito indicated we wouldn’t see much as the weather was continuing to decline.
Nobody in our group put up an argument, though I know a few of us were quietly disappointed at the missed opportunity. Christian mentioned it was the coldest day he’d ever hiked in the park, and he’d been going there for 6 seasons.
By 11 AM, four hours after we’d set off from the hotel, we’d reached our lunch spot, which featured a direct view of a massive glacier clinging to the steep mountainside. Below, a glacial lake stood peacefully.
We gobbled up our box lunches, but in the exposed lookout point of the picnic area, the winds would prove too fierce. Most of us soon sought cover amongst the trees, where Christian and Kito had been eating the whole time.
Lunch consumed, we carried on in the same direction so we could see another glacier, versus returning back the way we came. The decision would cost each of us a few extra dollars, as we had to hire transportation back to El Chalten, but we’d all agreed it’d be more interesting than covering the same territory twice.
As we continued to walk our way right out of the park and back onto private land, the clouds began to clear. Fitz Roy’s peak was flirting with us, now only covered by wisps of clouds near the very top.
We waited patiently at another lookout point, waiting to see if the top would be revealed. But we could only wait so long before Kito had us continuing down the path toward a valley.
Sunshine and bright blue skies finally emerged as the hike came to an end at El Pilar Hosteria. I celebrated the end of a successful hike with a Quilmes Stout, a beer recommended to me by a friend on Facebook. Others chose to catch a quick nap on the lawn outside.
The van picked us up at 2 PM. As we made our way back to El Chalten, I looked over my shoulder one last time, and smiled with excitement as I finally caught a glimpse of Fitz Roy’s peak which had been eluding us the whole day.