We were all relieved to have the tyres on the truck. It had been a very frustrating experience. Brett, my brother in law, had been magnificent and we were very grateful for Victor’s help in Punta Arenas. But the delivery company (with the exception of the guys in Punta Arenas who were fantastic) was dreadful. Needless delays and misinformation meant the service was dreadful and compounded the frustration. So as soon as the new tyres had been fitted we were on our way out of Punta Arenas and on our way back to Argentina. We had intended crossing back over into Argentina the following day but we arrived at the very quiet border at about 6pm and with no where to camp decided to head across. It was a really easy crossing and in less than 45 minutes we were back in Argentina and heading back up Ruta 40. Soon afterwards we pulled off to the side of the road to camp for the night. It had been relatively calm when we went to bed but at around 1 am the notorious Patagonian wind really started to blow so I crawled out of bed and manoeuvred the truck further behind a mound to get some more shelter from the wind. The next day we drove into the small pretty tourist town of El Calafate. We decided to celebrate having finally got the tyres with a lovely Argentinan Parilla dinner which consisted of 2 types of steak, sausage and some lovely Patagonian lamb all washed down with a bottle of red. On returning to the campsite we saw some familiar vehicles had pulled in. Michael and Merissa were there with their 4 year old daughter, Ciara together with Kai and Karina. We had briefly met them before in both Ushuaia and Puerto Natales and Ciara, Lucy and Alisha had got on great. They quickly disappeared off to our truck to play while we grabbed another bottle of wine and caught up with the others in Kai’s truck. The next morning we were all heading out to the famous Perito Merino glacier. The weather was pretty good so we were hoping for some great views and it did not disappoint. The glacier is fantastic and you get pretty close to it on the boardwalk trails. Ciara, Alisha and Lucy were happy to be all together and went running around. We had seen a lot of glaciers in Antarctica. In fact they were everywhere so we were concerned we might be disappointed with this one. We need not have worried as the glacier was very different. As it was on its own with the lake and green hills around it, it looked very different to the ones in Antarctica and was certainly spectacular. The glacier was not just a visual experience but also an audible one. While we were there it creaked and groaned. It is one of the fastest moving glaciers in the world and advances at the speed of about 2 metres per day. As we were walking around we heard lots of rumbles of thunder which were pieces of glacier braking off. We saw one sizeable bit fall off and into the lake which caused a big wave to ripple out. On the side of the lake were much bigger bits that had broken away and it must be really impressive to see these break off. That evening we all headed to the side of a lake to camp up for the night. For the first time in ages it was actually warm enough to eat dinner outside. As the girls were getting on so well we decided to stay an extra day. The decision was made easier by the beautiful sunrise we had that morning that gave great views over the lake to the surrounding mountains. However the good weather would not last all day. As is usual in Patagonia we pretty much had all four seasons during the day and some of them more than once. With the girls playing well together, Mike and I decided to try our luck at fishing. The first session in the morning was unsuccessful so we were sent back in the afternoon to try to get some fish for dinner. We were rewarded with two lovely fish, a rainbow and a brook trout and they tasted great cooked on the fire that evening.
That night it absolutely threw it down with rain so we were away first thing the next day. After stocking up with things in El Calafate we headed back up the Ruta 40 to El Chalten a small town right next to the Fitzroy mountains. This is the hiking capital of Argentina and we were hoping to do some good walks. However when we arrived the weather was miserable and the rain had turned to snow on the mountains.
We had hoped to drive a little way out of El Chalten and after arriving did a short drive to some waterfalls. However we could not go any further up the road as the bridges crossing the river all had a 6 ton limit. We had arrived on a Sunday and wanted to do 3 hikes. The weather forecast was for good weather for Tuesday and Wednesday so we decided we would stay 4 full days and do the 3 hikes as well as have a rest day.
We camped up that evening at one of the trailhead car parks. We had been discussing doing a 2 day hike and camping overnight but as it rained that night and the wind blew and the temperature dropped to about 5 degrees we thought what’s the point. We would just do day hikes and return back to the comfort of the truck each evening. We could still get to see what we wanted this way and staying in a tent just for the sake of it did not make any sense.
The next day, Monday the weather had improved so we decided to head out to do one of the hikes. This one was a 22km hike to a mirador at Loma del Pliegue Tumbado and back that also went up 1000m to get to the mirador. As we climbed we got some views but the highest mountains remained covered in cloud. On nearing the mirador we hit the snow line and for the last Km or so we were hiking through the snow. The view from the mirador was to misty mountains as well as down to a glacier entering a lake. The wind though was getting up and we knew the forecast was for strong winds later in the day so we didn’t stay long. As we headed down we noticed that the snow was melting and the snow line had advanced up the mountain quite a lot. It got very windy on the way down but the girls did a great job completing the hike in 7 hours to complete a new longest hike for both Alisha and Lucy.
Tuesday was meant to be the day with the best weather. But when we woke up the wind was still blowing hard. However the clouds were clearing so we decided to do the 22km hike to Laguna Torre and back. Along the way we got great views along the valley however the Fitzroy mountains remained cloaked in cloud only occasionally giving us a glimpse of their glacier covered jagged peaks. As we neared the look out point the wind was blowing a gale so we took refuge just below to eat lunch. The kids stayed at the lunch spot while Gilly and I took it in turns to go up to the viewpoint to look down on the lake. The wind was blowing so hard it was a struggle to just stand up.
The next morning when we awoke the wind had dropped and the sky’s were clear. Was this the day we would get views of the Fitzroy mountains? As the sun rose it lit up the mountain tops turning them a pinkish hue. We set off early to do the trek to Laguna Tres. We were never going to do the whole trek as the last few kms were very steep and exposed to the wind but we hoped to reach the 2 miradors, a round trip of 19kms. As we were heading up the valley we met 2 fellow travellers we had met before. They had been up early to the first mirador and said the mountains were still covered in cloud. Undeterred we continued upwards and as we reached the mirador we were in luck, the clouds had virtually cleared and we were rewarded with a magnificent view.
The views continued as we walked. In some ways it was fitting that the mountain had hidden its majesty until the final day. It felt as if we had had to earn it by doing some serious walking.
We returned to the truck tired but happy. After more than 60kms hiking in the last 3 days the adult’s knees were aching. Interestingly the children, although tired, showed no ill effects from the previous days hiking.