Argentina // Patagonia //

The northern sector of the park

The northern sector of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the Fitz Roy sector, is a trekking paradise. One of its main attractions is that those with limited time, or who are not in peak fitness, can still make worthwhile day-hikes using El Chaltén as a base.

The sector also contains some of the most breathtakingly beautiful mountain peaks on Earth. Two concentric jaws of jagged teeth puncture the Patagonian sky with the 3405m incisor of Monte Fitz Roy at the centre of the massif. This sculpted peak was known to the Tehuelche as El Chaltén, “The Mountain that Smokes” or “The Volcano”, owing to the almost perpetual presence of a scarf of cloud attached to its summit. It is not inconceivable, however, that the Tehuelche were using the term in a rather more metaphorical sense to allude to the fiery pink colour that the rock walls turn when struck by the first light of dawn. Francisco Moreno saw fit to name the pagan summit after the evangelical captain of the Beagle, who, with Charles Darwin, had viewed the Andes from a distance, after having journeyed up the Río Santa Cruz by whaleboat to within 50km of Lago Argentino. Alongside Monte Fitz Roy rise Cerro Poincenot and Aguja Saint-Exupéry, while set behind them is the forbidding needle of Cerro Torre, a finger that stands in bold defiance of all the elements that the Hielo Continental Sur hurls against it.

For those who enjoy camping, the quintessential three-day Fitz Roy/Cerro Torre loop at the centre of the park makes a good option, and can be done in either direction. The advantage of going anticlockwise is that you avoid the steep climb up to Lagunas Madre y Hija and you have the prevailing wind behind you when returning to El Chaltén. However, the biggest gamble is always what the weather will be like around Cerro Torre, so if this unpredictable peak is visible on day one, you might like to head for it first. The longer interlocking circuit to the north will add at least another two days. There are also a many other shorter trails.

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