Hiking in Patagonia, the mere mention of this phrase conjures up a mental image of adventure and I am happy to report that after all these years of anxious anticipation, our time spent in Patagonia did not disappoint.
As we’re currently on a mission to take on and complete the Top 100 Travel Adventures in the World, we decided to finally make a break for South America and chase some of those adventures.
Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park in Argentine Patagonia makes the list because a visit to Patagonia wouldn’t be complete without getting up close and personal with Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre.
Of course, we’re not talking about day hikes either. We’re talking about strapping on your backpack, carrying all your own supplies and heading off on the trails into the backcountry. I firmly believe that Patagonia is a place with feeling, a place with connection and if you rush through it, you’re kind of missing the point.
Selecting the route that meets our criteria wasn’t an easy task but from the first time we saw the 5 day dual basecamp trek to Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre that we’d made the right decision to name it as a Top 100 Travel Adventure.
The Basecamps Trek: Backpacking Cerro Fitzroy and Cerro Torre touts towering views of the east face of Mount Fitz Roy from Laguna de los Tres, trekking to Laguna Torre and Mirador Maestri to witness the mythical Cerro Torre and Glacier Grande, zip lining across the Fitz Roy river, hiking over a pass with vista views of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy from the south and a full day adventure to Paso del Viento to view the Viedma glacier and Southern Patagonia Ice Field.
Just naming that out for you gives me goosebumps, it was a trip that was nothing short of epic.
Full details on the Basecamps Trek with Mountaineering Patagonia.
Day 1 – El Chalten, Argentina
Overnight: Hostel Patagonia
We’d already been in Patagonia for three days, using El Calafate as a base to recover from our long haul flight from the USA. We also couldn’t miss visiting the Perito Moreno Glacier. El Calafate hosts the regions only airport, so if you want to hike Fitz Roy, you’ll likely be routing through there before jumping on a bus to make the 3 hour trip north to El Chalten.
Our day started early, a 5am alarm clock followed by a 7am pickup before we were on our way to El Chalten. Besides being a travel day, we’d also be arriving at the Patagonia Hostel to meet the rest of the hikers in our group and the crew from Mountaineering Patagonia that would be guiding us through the backcountry for the next 6 days.
We spent the afternoon exploring El Chalten before our meeting, which was much more than just a meet and greet. We had a full briefing of where we would be going, where we would be camping, how the days would go and exactly how we should pack.
We had our initial gear check and were instructed to leave room for our share of food and team supplies. There would be no porters and we all had to carry our supplies for the 5 day trek. We left the meeting in good spirits and confident we were in the good hands of the team at Mountaineering Patagonia.
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Day 2 – El Chalten to Laguna de los Tres
7-8 hours with 700m elevation gain
Overnight: Poincenot Camp
Starting our day with a fantastic breakfast at the Hostel Patagonia, we then returned to our room to finish packing our backpacks. We also organized our larger luggage to leave behind at the hostel for our return. The morning was busy with everyone buzzing in the lobby, sorting through group supplies, food and rearranging their packs to fit.
We wouldn’t start our trek from El Chalten, instead we would board a bus and make the 17km journey to the Hotel El Pilar. By taking this route, you not only get the amazing views along the Rio Blanco Valley but also have a less strenuous start to the trip. The trail has only a slight uphill gain to it but is relatively flat until you reach the basecamp of Fitz Roy.
With all the adrenaline and excitement in the air it was easy to set off without really noticing the weight of the packs and an hour or more easily passed before I even thought about the weight, which was roughly 30 pounds. I was in absolute awe from the moment we stepped out of the van and we had a gorgeous weather day to boot.
It’s not often you can say you’ve visited Patagonia and been treated to a sunny, no wind day with clear skies. Our guides shed their layers right down to t-shirts, that’s how nice it was. Of course, this meant we stopped more than the average person because none of us could pass up the photo opportunities along the trail.
Arriving into the Poincenot camp at Fitz Roy Basecamp, we felt fresh and elated. Having made good time, our group opted to setup camp and settle in before making the steep trek up to Laguna de los Tres for the iconic views of Fitz Roy and the turquoise pools.
This part of the trail is a real workout with a steep climb. While the beginning starts out gradual from the Poincenot Camp, once you start reaching the top the trail deteriorates quickly and becomes almost a scramble. It’s advisable to bring hiking poles for this part of the hike to help you stabilize on the often frozen trail.
Once we reached the top we were disappointed to find the first lagoon was completely frozen and covered in snow. This was not the image of Fitz Roy that I was expecting, despite the fact that we had a gorgeous day and could see the mountain so clearly. A bit bummed, Merlin, our Mountaineering Patagonia guide, suggested we descend toward the lake and climb the adjacent hill.
At this point, we were sloughing along in knee-deep snow, laughing about our luck and heading for another climb. What we didn’t know, was at the top of that adjacent hill was a view of another lake that much to our surprise, was thawed and open.
The feeling of excitement over this discovery cannot be put in words. After thinking we’d missed a chance to see the iconic view, all was made right with the extra effort of climbing the second hill. We lingered for the better part of an hour, taking pictures and celebrating a moment that we’d anticipated since we booked this trek in the Spring.
Of course, all good things must come to an end and we wanted to beat the onset of sunset back to camp. Heading back down the same trail we navigated on the climb up wasn’t much easier. There were even portions of the trail I had to squat down to avoid slipping but I’m happy to report we made it back to camp well before sunset.
It was nice to arrive back to an already set up camp. This meant we could gather around for stories and hot drinks near the cook tent. Patagonia has a strict rule of no fires in National Park areas, so we went without a campfire but the atmosphere was fine without one.
The Poincenot Camp is comfortable with great tree coverage for blocking wind. It’s located near to a clean water source and has a long drop toilet.
Day 3 – Poincenot Camp to Laguna Torre
5-6 hours with 400m elevation gain
Overnight: De Agostini Camp
Despite wanting to squeeze every minute of sleep from the night, we opted to get up early for sunrise. Our luck with the weather the day before, and an optimistic forecast, meant we could have a chance for clear skies as the sun rose over Mount Fitz Roy. I love sleep, but how could we possibly miss that opportunity?
Happy to report that we didn’t and the sunrise was amazing. Returning to camp we enjoyed breakfast before repacking our backpacks and tearing down our tents. We had some ground to cover and much to our luck the weather was on our side for another sunny, clear sky day. It was pretty unreal to have 2 days in a row of perfect weather.
The hike between Poincenot Camp and De Agostini Camp took us around 3 hours including a stop for an early lunch. To say the views are stunning doesn’t do it justice. Just after leaving camp we could tell it was going to be good and looking back on the trail we were passing afforded us the most amazing views of Fitz Roy and the surrounding area.
The trails on this section are well marked and easy to follow, a lot of day hikers come up to Laguna de los Tres and then make the loop over to Laguna Torre, so this area is no stranger to hikers. Entering a section of the trail with marshy areas, we welcomed the site of a wood walkway to elevate us out of the water. Just so happens it’s in the most picturesque part of the trail.
Besides the photo stops, we made good time, arriving into De Agostini Camp just after lunch. With time on our side we opted to setup camp again and settle in before taking on a 3 hour return hike to Mirador Maestri. This hike takes you up a tall glacier formed bank that creates a lip around the Laguna Torre.
Walking along this lip is fairly easy once you reach the top and offers you unparalleled views of Cerro Torre and the Glacier Grande on a clear day. If you can believe it we found ourselves enjoying another t-shirt beautiful day in Patagonia with no wind.
The biggest risk on this hike is maintaining your footing so you don’t go tumbling down the side into the iceberg littered Laguna Torre. It’s hard to keep your eyes on the trail with the views you get in this spot, so I recommend caution on the highest level.
Safety aside, it’s a stunning way to spend the afternoon with views that rival the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. The trail along the lip takes you all the way to the official Cerro Torre basecamp, an iconic camp that is used only by people making attempts to summit the insanely technical mountain.
It’s really something to stand in a place where great climbers have stood while marveling at the views that surround you. It’s a feeling we can only compare to the basecamp of Mount Everest.
The De Agostini Camp is beautiful, located just on the banks of a fresh glacier fed river. The campsites have great tree protection from wind, rain and wood branch barriers have been constructed to keep the wind off your tents.
Day 4 – De Agostini Camp to Laguna Toro
6-7 hours with 800m elevation gain
Overnight: Laguna Toro Camp
Today would prove to be the most challenging yet fun day on the trek. We set the alarms again for a sunrise; we would have been fools to not do it as we were given another beautiful morning with sunshine, barely any clouds and no wind.
Having captured the first light on Cerro Torre, we headed back to camp for breakfast and then broke down camp. We had a long day ahead of us and we started moving before 9am.
Making our way back towards Laguna Torre, we headed down towards the Fitz Roy River in the opposite direction of the lake hike we did the day before. It was upon arriving at the river that we prepared for our first of several adventures that day, a zipline crossing.
Guides must carry all of the gear needed to cross the line because where we were going they don’t want day hikers. The zipline is a barrier of entry and if you don’t have the gear to cross it, you don’t go.
This made it exciting as we sent our packs across the river one by one and then lined up to take our turn across. Of course, this isn’t like your attraction ziplines that use gravity and angles to move you, on this zipline we had to pull ourselves across by using the hand over hand method on the line.
Once the group was across we said goodbye to Laguna Torre and started our trek to Pliegue Tumbado where we would summit the Paso de Las Agachonas. It wasn’t long before we started our climb.
Surprisingly, it took us through a heavily wooded area before the ‘trail’ began to ascend at a very steep rate through thick forest. For me, this was the most difficult part of the day. The route was steep and obstructed by tree roots and brush.
I tend to climb slow anyways but the added obstacle course set me behind the group for the first half of the climb. Slow and steady was the name of the game and it wasn’t too long before we stopped for a rest.
It’s amazing what you can accomplish when you just put your head down and push through. From the rest stop we made the last push to the summit of the Agachonas Pass and were awarded with incredible views of Cerro Torre, Mount Fitz Roy, Laguna Torre and Glacier Grande below us. We seriously felt like we were standing on top of the world and were all elated with our feat.
With the amazing weather, another unbelievable day without wind, we made the mutual decision to have lunch on top of the pass before descending down the other side of Pliegue Tumbado enroute to Laguna Toro. That lunch stop easily makes the top 5 best lunch stops of my life list.
Leaving was a struggle but we knew we had more ground to cover and this time it wasn’t without strapping on some gators. October is the beginning of trekking season in Patagonia, meaning the parks open and the trails are open to hikers, however, this doesn’t mean the pass routes will be clear of snow yet.
It wasn’t long after leaving the pass that we encountered blankets of snow across the side of the mountain. We trudged through, often times stepping into sinking areas that dropped us into the snow up to our waist. Luckily we had the sun on our side so instead of being miserable we enjoyed playing in the snow along the way.
Once out of the snow it was another 20 minutes of downhill before we stepped into the Rio Tunel Valley and began a long flat walk to the Laguna Toro Campsite. The walk was mostly along a trail leading through thick brush area and over a couple streams before ending in an eerie campsite set within stripped trees and large rocky hills. Exhausted from the long day we quickly claimed a campsite, setup camp and headed for the cook tent for a much needed hot drink.
Dinner was a welcomed site as we sat around the tent sharing travel stories and reminiscing about the day. We didn’t linger and everyone headed to bed early in anticipation of our route for the next day, the infamous Paso del Viento.
The Laguna Toro Camp is quite remote and set in an area that has an eerie feel to it. The area is very notorious for winds, so people have gone to some effort to pile up high walls around each tent site. It has a long drop toilet and a spring in camp. We were the only people camping there during our trek.
Day 5 – Laguna Toro Camp to Paso del Viento
7-8 hours with 900m elevation gain
Overnight: Laguna Toro Camp
What was to be our most remote and adventurous day was the day the notorious weather of Patagonia caught up with us. Finally. After enjoying the most amazing four days of weather, the wind and rain joined the party.
Under normal circumstances we wouldn’t hesitate to hike in these conditions, but when your guide tells you that the winds are too strong to risk it, you take notice. He told us that in the current conditions, we’d likely have to crawl our way up some challenging parts of that trail.
Merlin and his team are experienced mountaineers who have been guiding in Patagonia for 20 years. When they tell you it is not safe to make a climb, you listen. So for us this meant a day pinned down in the Laguna Toro Camp.
After breakfast we hiked out from camp to the shores of Laguna Toro so we could all get a taste of what Patagonia can be like when the winds are roaring. Leaving the protection of the trees in camp, the wind gusts became apparent immediately yet didn’t feel as strong as we had anticipated.
It wasn’t until we got to the shore of Laguna Toro that we felt the real force of Patagonia. I’ve never before stood in wind so strong that I couldn’t lift my foot without being blown sideways. There were times I was walking on the beach and a gust would come in so fast it would move me easily 6 feet or more from where I was walking.
The wind was no joke and we were grateful to have an experienced guide with us to advise against the pass attempt. As we stood there longer we could feel the air building around us and as if on cue, the glacier from the mountains released a gale force of wind across the lake right at us.
We all turned to face the wind and leaned into it as it howled around us. There were times our bodies were at 45 degree angles to the ground and yet we didn’t fall.
Laughing about our brush with the windy forces of Patagonia we returned to camp for an afternoon of napping, conversation and eating. It was a pretty laid back day and despite our disappointment in the change of plans, we were happy to have experienced one of Patagonia’s most notorious faces.
Day 6 – Laguna Toro to El Chalten
5-6 hours with 400m elevation gain
Overnight: Hostel Patagonia
As if the day before had never happened we awoke to another beautiful, sunny day. In disbelief of our luck we ate breakfast quickly and began packing up camp. It was our last day on the trail and we would be spending the majority of the day walking our way back to El Chalten.
Leaving Laguna Toro Camp we headed back out the way we came through the thick brush and hopping across streams. When we came to the base of Pliegue Tumbado we reminisced about our descent from the pass a few days prior and this time headed along the base of the mountain.
While you can’t go wrong with the views in Patagonia, this was the least exciting day of the trek view wise. Most of the hike out is through open areas of marshland before turning into heavily wooded beech forests and descending down into El Chalten.
The best view of the day came when we left the base of Pliegue Tumbado and approached a stunning view over Lago Viedma. We were lucky enough to enjoy a lunch stop here with several Condors flying overhead.
As much as I wanted to stay, I was really looking forward to a change of clothes, a hot shower and a beer. With all endings, the excitement built as town came into view and we powered through the last part of the hike, swaggering into town like a band of backcountry survivalists.
We’d done it. We’d crossed another Top 100 Travel Adventure off the list and had one hell of a time in the process.
Hiking in Patagonia
Our 5 days of trekking in Patagonia was everything we could have hoped for and so much more. We had a fantastic group, two of the most experienced guides in Patagonia and amazing weather. It really doesn’t get much better than that.
It seems that many people tend to head towards Torres del Paine when planning trips to Patagonia but after being in Los Glaciares, I think they should reconsider. Granted, we haven’t been to Torres del Paine, yet, but the appeal of less crowded trails will call to an adventurer and you can get that in Argentina.
We know we’ll be back and we intend to hike the W and O trails in Torres del Paine too. If you like true backcountry adventures then hook up with Merlin at Mountineering Patagonia and prepare for the trip of a lifetime.
Looking From About Patagonia
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Orangutan Trekking | Scuba Diving the Great Barrier Reef | Off Roading and Bush Camping on Fraser Island
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