Patagonia Hiking Adventure, part 2

Boating on Lago Argentino and Lago del Desierto,, and trekking to Laguna de Los Tres, Sentinel viewpoint, and the Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado trail
Laguna Torre Patagonia

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Picking up where we left off in Part 1, I’m excited to share the final installment of my friend Tim’s recent trekking odyssey through Patagonia’s rugged wilderness. An accomplished ultramarathoner with a keen eye for nature’s grandeur, Tim transports us one last time to those remote, glacier-carved landscapes for the conclusion of his two-week adventure.

Patagonia vector graphic

“Unless we learn to share the earth with all the other creatures on the planet, our own days are numbered. And that means demanding of our governments to make biodiversity conservation a priority. The primary means to this end will be more protected areas and, best of all, more national parks.”

 -Doug Tompkins

We leave Puerto Natales after an extraordinary first week of backpacking in Torres del Paine. The weather had been kind to us during the first week: minimal rain and virtually none of the furious westerly winds so typical in Patagonia … and it felt like it was getting warmer.

The drive to El Calafate is 167 miles, but only 96 miles ‘as the condor flies’; you can see the Torres del Paine peaks in the rear-view mirror as you enter Los Glaciares National Park. En route to El Calafate, across the sparse, gravelly flat lands, we enjoy the frequent sights of grazing guanacos and soaring condors. The town of El Calafate on the south shore of Lago Argentino is named after the Berberis shrub which has edible berries also used for the local drink Calafate Sour, on my bucket list!

We settle into our hotel, then walk out to the shore of Lago Argentino, the country’s largest freshwater lake at over 600 square miles with a drainage basin of 6,500 square miles. You get the idea … the scale of everything in Patagonia is vast! We enjoy watching the many species of waterfowl at the renowned Laguna Nimes bird sanctuary on the lake shore.

Next morning, we drive west to the Magallanes Peninsula facing the Perito Moreno Glacier of nearly 100 square miles and take a boat trip on the southern Rico Arm of Lago Argentino to view the 300 feet high face of the glacier up close. Every few years the glacier advances onto the peninsula, thus damming the Rico Arm where the water level can rise 100 feet until the dam ruptures with dramatic force. Afterwards our expert guide leads us on a tour of the hillside walkways overlooking the glacier as we watch it constantly and explosively calving.

Second day in Argentina and the bus ride to El Chalten via the Rio La Leona valley to Argentina’s second largest glacial lake, Lago Viedma, at 460 square miles. We stop for mid-morning coffee and lemon pie at the La Leona ranch where Butch Cassidy’s gang holed up after robbing the Rio Gallego bank. Next, it’s a photo stop at the entrance signage for Los Glaciares National Park (established in 1937) with El Chalten town below and the seven towering peaks of the Fitz Roy massif on the horizon, so named for the captain of HMS Beagle carrying Charles Darwin and crew (1832-1835).

Arriving in El Chalten, we’re at the end of the paved road – adventure calls! This small, dirtbag town has all the essential facilities that you’d expect for an alpinists’ and hikers’ mecca … no-fuss accommodation, eating places, pubs, and gear shops. In the afternoon we have a short hike up to Mirador Laguna Torre (‘Tower Lagoon Lookout’) with the foreground of Southern Beech forest and the lagoon. Ahead are Glacier Torre and the four peaks of Cerro Torre piercing the clear blue sky like daggers, and the seven peaks of Fitz Roy to the right. We’re all gobsmacked!

Next day is a 14-mile hike with a steep 2,600 feet climb to Laguna de Los Tres, so named for three alpinists, only one of which made the final ascent. The route heads northwest up through the forest, then out into open ground with a view of the steep trail ahead and the massive Fitz Roy peaks beyond. Monte Fitz Roy itself dominates the landscape with its shear wall of granite soaring to 11,171 feet. Most of us make the final climb as the trail changes to rock and gravel. We are rewarded with lunch and an unbelievable view across two lagunas to glaciers Rio Blanco and Piedras Blancas and the massive Fitz Roy peaks towering above. We focus our binoculars to follow climbers’ tracks up the snowy lower slopes.

It’s a prompt start, on the bus and a very bumpy ride (a ‘Patagonia massage’) up the wide Rio de las Vueltas valley to the pristine Lago del Desierto … and it’s a gorgeous sunny day!

A 45-minute catamaran cruise takes us to the trailhead for a 9-mile roundtrip up to Sentinel viewpoint which offers panoramic views of the lake, the Vespigniani mountain range, and the north face of the Fitz Roy peaks. Below the glacier is a huge moraine of boulders and gravels, more evidence of the massive glacial forces that shaped these mountains. Following the boulder-strewn stream back down to the lakeside, we enjoy lunch in warm sunshine with the clear water reflecting the snowy peaks.

Last day, and it’s a full one: a 14-miler with 3,000 feet of elevation. We cross the Rio Fitz Roy bridge and head southwest on the Lomo del Pliegue Tumbado trail … and it’s a warm, sunny day which is far from being typical springtime weather. Emerging from the beech forest onto an open clearing ablaze with dandelions, we face bare slopes with peaks rising beyond. More climbing is rewarded by arguably the best view of the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy peaks and the Grande Glacier, a fitting finale for our final day of hiking.

In preparing for the trip, I had read about some of the adventurers drawn by the challenge of the impossible peaks of wild Patagonia, such as Doug Tompkins and Yvon Chouinard. Tompkins’ life story is told in ‘A Wild Idea’ by Jonathan Franklin; how he fell in love with Patagonia and dedicated the last three decades of his life to buying two million acres to create wildlife refuges, ultimately effecting the largest private land donation in history to create new national parks.

The National Geographic documentary ‘Wild Life’, streaming on Hulu and Disney+, tells the story of his wife, Kris Tompkins, continuing that conservation and ‘rewilding’ work in both Chile and Argentina through Tompkins Conservation after Doug Tompkins’ accidental death.

For a vicarious, and very scary, climbing adventure check out ‘A Line Across the Sky’ with Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell, who traverse all seven Fitz Roy peaks and survive to tell the tale. Such climbing adventures also provide a reality check on what the weather is normally like in Patagonia, rather than the warm and sunny weather we had during our second week. So, when you go be sure to pack wisely!


So there you have it – that was Tim and his Patagonia trekking adventure for you. If you’re in a mood for another little series, here’s a 3-parter about my 5-week Vietnam Overland Trip.

2 thoughts on “Patagonia Hiking Adventure, part 2”

  1. Nels, apparently the peaks were buried with boulders and gravels which were then scoured out by glaciers, thus forming all the huge lakes.

  2. Several of the peaks you show in this segment are so sharp that it seems they weren’t only worn down, over time, by water erosion. Looks like they were sculpted by freezing and cracking.
    Fascinating, Tim

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