We stared at pieces of plastic strewn around our campsite. Chunks of bread lie here and there but we gathered two of our three loaves had gone.
We were aghast.
What had happened here?
A fellow camper walked up to us.
“Yeah, we saw a bunch of caracaras coming down and ripping the bags apart to eat the bread,” he said.
“Thanks pal, couldn’t you have chased them away? That’s a lot of food we are missing now,” one of us answered, irritated.
When hiking Los Glaciares National Park, in the southern Andes Mountains of Argentina, the general advice is to hang up your food to protect it from mice and other rodents. So we did, never realizing that birds might attack it. It was a frustrating ending of a lovely morning’s walk to Piedras Blancas,named after the white stones that characterize this landscape.
Los Glaciares National Park
For mountaineers, the challenging 11,020-foot-high Fitz Roy is the park’s peak experience. The most prominent landmark in the park can be seen from many of the trails and campsites. We are not climbers, but we took advantage of the numerous trails — from two-or-three-hour walks to multiple-day treks — to see various views of the pinnacle.
El Chaltén is the gateway to the northern sector of the park. (The southern sector of Los Glaciares National Park is much visited for its Perito Moreno Glacier). We stocked up on food and checked with the park ranger office if any trail happened to be closed. All were open.
We didn’t have to carry much water. There would be enough places to fill up our bottle. National Park Los Glaciares is one of the few remaining places on earth where you can still safely drink water from streams and lakes. In fact, the park was created in 1937 and obtained its UNESCO World Heritage Status (1982) exactly in order to preserve the region’s huge, pristine water reservoir.
A fair climb led along low shrubs into a beech forest (called lenga). We struggled in gale-force headwinds along a ravine to the forest campsite of Poincenot as quickly as possible to get dry. To get warm we tried to make glühwein by adding marmalade to a cheap package of red wines. We definitely won’t recommend that recipe. Luckily the weather broke during the night. For the days that followed we were under cobalt skies and slathered our faces in sunscreen.
Hiking in Los Glaciares National Park
From the campsite of Poincenot we followed various trails: To the Piedras Blancas Glacier that sprawls down a lake, and to Laguna de Los Tres, which is arguably the best pre-dawn trek for a grand sunrise. Fitz Roy towers 6560 feet above the laguna. It was surrounded by ice fields which made for some fantastic color spectacles in the early morning hours.
Farther south lies the 10,262-foot-high spire of Cerro Torre, the park’s second landmark. We admired it after a scramble up a moraine to Mirador Maestri. The mountain felt close by, yet climbers sometimes have to wait for weeks to have good enough weather to climb the final stretch to Cerro Torre’s top. We were content to take in the view of the granite tower, and cooled down by sucking on pieces of ice. At the foot of the Cerro Torre lay a glacier. Chunks calved off and thundered into the lake with turquoise water.
As we eased our way along yet another trail I found my rhythm, my shoes steadily tramping across the earth. Spring had started and the meadows were dotted with dandelions. Birds accompanied me with their concerts and I watched them flying back and forth with twigs to build their first nests of the season. Most impressive were the condors that soared high above me on ten-foot wingspans.
Being here meant I had nothing to do but to immerse in the vastness of this geographical extravaganza of landscapes. Each mountain, each lake, each glacier had its charm and fascination because of its scale, its palette of colors, its challenge to be hiked or climbed. It invited me to return another time and explore more. No caracara or indifferent fellow camper could ruin that.
Practical Information about Los Glaciares National Park
- Don’t be fooled by the weather. It may change instantaneously so be prepared for the worst. Days may be warm and pleasant; nights can be freezing cold. Bring warm clothes and a proper sleeping bag.
- Although El Chaltén isn’t a big town, there are some quality shops where you can buy tents, proper clothes and other trekking gear (all of which don’t come cheap).
- The best time of the year for hiking and climbing is November-April, summer in the Southern Hemisphere (note it gets very busy in January/February).
- Los Glaciares National Park is becoming increasingly popular, which threatens to pollute the waters. Bring organic soap and use the outhouses, or make a toilet far from any waterway to prevent contributing to this pollution.
- Interested in more hiking destinations? Check out Torres del Paine National Park, in southern Chile.