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Hiking Patagonia’s Fitz Roy Trail: El Chalten Day Hike 1

Fitz Roy Trail

Trailhead: El Chalten, Argentina
Duration: Approximately four hours to Camp Poincenot, one way; distance about 9.5km (6.mi), one way
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Elevation gain: about 350m (1,148ft)

Whether you’re aware of it or not, it’s quite likely that you’ve seen Mt. Fitz Roy, arguably the most recognized peak in the Andes and the center of one of the world’s most spectacular mountain landscapes. As the focal point of the Patagonia sportswear logo, you may have even worn it.

For mountaineers it’s part of one of the most alluring massifs on the planet. It wasn’t climbed until 1952 and remains, even by today’s standards, among the most technically challenging peaks on earth. For those of us who prefer to do our exploring with both feet firmly planted on the ground, we have the Sendero Fitz Roy, its eponymous hiking trail where you’re afforded enough views of the peak to last a lifetime.

Sendero Fitz Roy 5 Sendero Fitz Roy 6

Sendero Fitz Roy 8

The Tehuelche called the 3,405m (11,171ft) high spire Cerro Chalten, which means ‘smoking mountain’ or ‘peak of fire’. It’s an apt name as most of the time it rests at least partially shrouded by clouds and mist. The indigenous name was dropped in 1877 in favor of Fitz Roy, the captain of Charles Darwin’s HMS Beagle who came within 50 kilometers of the range in 1834.

El Chalten to Camp Poincenot via Laguna Capri

The range sits on the Chilean-Argentinean border in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field and Los Glaciares National Park. Most hikers exploring the areas start and end the journey in the village of El Chalten, in Argentina’s southern Santa Cruz Province, these days known as the country’s trekking capital. (El Chalten wears its designation well; more on the village next week.)

I got off to a somewhat late start so my initial plan, a roughly 10-hour round trip to Laguna de los Tres, which sits almost at the base of the massif, had to curtailed. I settled for a hike as far as Camp Poincenot, roughly 10 kilometers from town one way.

The trail head is located just to the north of town, where the main Avenida San Martin splits with Ruta Provinicial (RT) 23. The dirt and gravel road to the trail head veers to the left of the split; it’s well marked.

Sendero Fitz Roy 20

Fitz Roy Trail trailhead

Sendero Fitz Roy 2 Sendero Fitz Roy 1

The total elevation gain to Laguna Capri is 200m (656ft); most of that is covered in this initial and very windy ascent from town. About 25 minutes into the hike you reach the first of several stunning vistas: this view, below, towards the de las Vueltas River Valley. The winds died down considerably about 10 minutes later.

Sendero Fitz Roy 3 IMG_3656-Mirador Rio de las Vueltas

De las Vueltas River Valley, on the ascent

At a casual clip, you’ll reach Laguna Capri and its campsite after about 90 minutes. The views are sensational, but if you walk just 15 minutes further you’ll reach the Mirador Fitz Roy, where you’ll also be treated to excellent views of both the range and the Piedras Blancas glacier.

Piedras Blancas glacier

Piedras Blancas glacier

Piedras Blancas glacier

Piedras Blancas glacier

From here, Camp Poincenot, named for the granite spire that stands to Fitz Roy’s left and stabs the sky at 3,002m (9,849ft), is another 90 minutes away. Largely flat, it’s a easy walk that leads you over a variety of landscapes where numerous wide-sweeping photo ops will present themselves.

Sendero Fitz Roy 19

And again: the de las Vueltas River Valley in late afternoon

  Sendero Fitz Roy 4  Sendero Fitz Roy 12 Sendero Fitz Roy 13 Sendero Fitz Roy 14 Sendero Fitz Roy 15 Sendero Fitz Roy 16 Sendero Fitz Roy 17Sendero Fitz Roy 18

I was tempted to continue onwards to Laguna de los Tres, but opted instead to head back slowly while ample daylight remained to chase some birds instead. It was a wise decision.

Magellanic Woodpeckers galore

Other highlights? Besides the peaks, it’s the birds with the Magellanic Woodpecker topping the list. At 36 to 45 centimeters (14 to 18 inches) in length, campephilus magellanicus is the largest woodpecker in the Americas and found only in Patagonian forests of southern Argentina and Chile. Fortunately, they’re not as shy as many birds and I was able to get relatively close to leave with a few decent shots. A few more shots, of both the male and female, are in a previous post here.

 

Here’s a four-minute video notebook of the hike, heavy on Fitz Roy imagery; as the cover shows, he even made a brief cloud-free appearance, for my birthday, no doubt.

And below that, a 17-second time lapse I shot from the Poincenot campground with my GoPro. Fitz Roy, hiding in the cloud throughout, is in the center.

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Also See: Patagonia’s Laguna Torre Trail: El Chalten Day Hike 2

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These snaps are this week’s contribution for Travel Photo Thursday (#TPThursday on twitter) hosted by Nancie on her website, Budget Travelers Sandbox. When you have few minutes to browse, check out Nancie’s photos and those of others who take part. You’ll see some great photos and visit some wonderful places. The direct link for this week’s post is here.

 

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47 Comments

  1. February 26, 2014 at 4:56 am — Reply

    Beautiful views and wildlife – Wow! It would be very difficult to leave.

    • February 26, 2014 at 2:54 pm — Reply

      It wasn’t easy. :) Really enjoyed this corner of the planet. I’m fairly certain that I’ll return one day.

  2. February 26, 2014 at 2:34 pm — Reply

    Your photography is breathtakingly beautiful!!

    • February 26, 2014 at 2:54 pm — Reply

      Thanks Marilyn, glad you enjoyed it, and many thanks for visiting, too. :)

  3. February 26, 2014 at 4:24 pm — Reply

    So glad you let the photos take center stage here and allowed us to enjoy the hike with you. It truly felt like stowing away and peeking out from inside your backpack. ;P Just stunning! I’m so jealous! And that woodpecker shot is super. So fortunate they’re not shy so you could snap that.

    • February 26, 2014 at 7:02 pm — Reply

      Thanks! I’ll never forget that woodpecker. They really are quite large.

  4. February 26, 2014 at 5:28 pm — Reply

    What an amazing hike!
    I’ve always wondered what peak inspired the Patagonia logo. You’re pics, as always, are absolutely stunning Bob. Especially the shot of the woodpecker, not to personify too much, but love the ‘alright what tree can I rip a whole through next’ facial expression :D

    • February 26, 2014 at 5:33 pm — Reply

      *hole* Bob… Woody there is trying to rip a HOLE through something, my apologies that Woody doesn’t really know how to spell, clearly he was off on one of his ganders running away from the coyote when he should’ve been sitting in spelling class.. Terrible shame it is.

  5. February 26, 2014 at 6:01 pm — Reply

    Those are beautiful impressions of Patagonia, Bob! Unfortunately I have never been to Fitz Roy, but a few years back I hiked the W at Torres del Paine and vividly remember the amazing landscapes. What I also remember is that the weather could change quite quickly and one day I got soaked really, really badly and lost the trek. But regardless, I do it again a second… :)

    • February 26, 2014 at 7:01 pm — Reply

      Yes, I remember the weather well. :) EXCELLENT that you hiked the W I didn’t make it to Torres del Paine, was a little sick so had to stick to Puerto Natales from where I made a couple day trips instead. A bummer, but no regrets. :)

  6. February 26, 2014 at 6:16 pm — Reply

    I loved so much this post! I felt loads of nostalgy as we were there almost exactly two years ago! You had a beautiful sunny day, just as we had! The pictures are amazing, thanks for bringing us back there for a few minutes!

    • February 26, 2014 at 7:04 pm — Reply

      Excellent, glad you had a sunny day as well. The day before was a little rainy, the next day was rainy and the day after that, when I went on another day hike, was on/off rain. :)

  7. February 26, 2014 at 6:22 pm — Reply

    I love this! Your pictures, as usual, are absolutely gorgeous!

    • February 26, 2014 at 7:05 pm — Reply

      Thanks, Ashley. It was an exceptionally great day. And not only because it was my birthday. :)

  8. February 26, 2014 at 9:22 pm — Reply

    Wow, your photos are great! That Piedras Blancas glacier looks amazing, I would love to see it in real life.

    • February 27, 2014 at 10:30 am — Reply

      It is a beautiful spot, Lee. You guys heading in that general direction? If so, you’ll hear plenty of stories about this part of Patagonia from other travelers.

  9. February 26, 2014 at 10:55 pm — Reply

    Oh this makes me miss Patagonia. Never hiked Fitz Roy but spent some time in the area. Somehow never put it together that that is Patagonia’s logo though. Haha.

    • February 27, 2014 at 10:29 am — Reply

      Re: the logo – It does seem rather obvious now, doesn’t it? :)

  10. February 26, 2014 at 11:57 pm — Reply

    I just loved El Chalten. I hiked the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado, which gives you great views of the towers!

    • February 27, 2014 at 10:34 am — Reply

      I heard that was a very nice hike Angela. Weather limited me to just two day hikes. Did you blog about it? Any photos?

  11. February 27, 2014 at 10:16 am — Reply

    Absolutely stunning scenery!!!
    I have never seen a woodpecker before!! How cute! I didn’t realise they were red!

    • February 27, 2014 at 10:27 am — Reply

      Thanks, Sam. They’re not all red and they’re not all this big. This is one of the largest in the world. :)

  12. February 27, 2014 at 11:14 am — Reply

    Great photos :)

  13. February 27, 2014 at 12:28 pm — Reply

    The blue skies and cloud formations of the mountain shots are so crisp and clear. Beautiful. I enjoyed the woodpecker photo – we don’t have them where I live. Your photos show another world altogether.

    • February 27, 2014 at 11:28 pm — Reply

      Thanks, Jan, glad you enjoyed. It was a nice day.

  14. February 27, 2014 at 5:47 pm — Reply

    Great post, superb pics! Interesting looking woodpecker.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    • February 27, 2014 at 11:28 pm — Reply

      Thanks Frank!

  15. February 28, 2014 at 3:10 am — Reply

    I have Patagonia in my sights for just after Christmas this year so I’m salivating looking at your photos and wondering how I’m going to cover all the hikes I’d like to do. I’ll be back to keep reading on your rime in these mountains and to get more of your suggestions.

    • February 28, 2014 at 12:02 pm — Reply

      You’ll love the area Leigh. I have another post coming up later today, as a matter of fact. :)

  16. February 28, 2014 at 4:31 am — Reply

    Now that you mention it, I have seen Mt. Fitz Roy!
    Congrats on the hike. Such incredible views.

    • February 28, 2014 at 12:03 pm — Reply

      It’s rather obvious once it’s pointed out, isn’t it. :) Thanks for coming by and hope all’s well!

  17. February 28, 2014 at 5:05 pm — Reply

    I really like that time lapse video. It certainly demonstrates why they called it smoking mountain. I suppose the peak grabs the mountains and keeps them close. (I’m not sure if that’s even a sound meteorological idea.) Your photos are stunning. I especially like the ones of the glacier, the bare tree trunks in the sand, and the pair of trees reaching skyward.

    • March 2, 2014 at 11:11 am — Reply

      Thanks Michele, much appreciated, and thanks for visiting! I did get quite lucky that the mountain managed to show itself in its entirety, even if just briefly.

  18. […] the Mt. Fitz Roy Trail I posted about a few days ago, this one too is an easy day trip from El Chalten, Argentina’s […]

  19. March 1, 2014 at 1:36 am — Reply

    I’ve never been to this part of the world so enjoyed very much hiking there with you… and that lovely woodpecker shot – fantastic.

    • March 2, 2014 at 11:12 am — Reply

      I was thrilled to see the woodpecker. Two sitings actually. This guy was on the way down. On the way up saw a male and female.

  20. March 2, 2014 at 12:58 am — Reply

    Hi Bob! This is a hike that I would love to do. Your photos are magical. I love that gorgeous woodpecker, too! Thanks so much for linking up this week.

    • March 2, 2014 at 11:13 am — Reply

      Hi Nancie – thanks for coming by! That bird was great fun. I’m now able to say that I’ve chased redheads through forests. :)

  21. […] this series: ~ Hiking Patagonia’s Fitz Roy Trail: El Chalten Day Hike 1 ~ Patagonia’s Laguna Torre Trail – El Chalten Day Hike […]

  22. March 15, 2014 at 1:23 pm — Reply

    And you were lucky to have such beautiful weather. When I was there last November it was quite cloudy so we only saw the peaks a few times :( Well those few times were totally worth it though, it is such an amazingly beautiful area! Great photos you have here, totally takes me back to El Chalten.

    • March 16, 2014 at 10:42 pm — Reply

      Thanks – my thoughts take me back there every day. :)

  23. March 29, 2014 at 2:33 am — Reply

    Stunning pictures! Would love to spend some quality time hiking there someday. That timelapse of the mist coming off of Fitz Roy was mesmerizing, I can’t imagine seeing it in person!

    • March 29, 2014 at 5:32 pm — Reply

      Thanks! That timelapse was fun and memorable too, coming as it did on my birthday. :)

  24. Elena
    April 19, 2014 at 8:17 pm — Reply

    Lovely photos, especially the one of the woodpecker! Also the Piedras blancas glacier! I did the trail on a very cloudy day so I appreciate your photos.

  25. Jenna @ Green Global Travel
    May 21, 2014 at 7:04 am — Reply

    Wow, gorgeous photos! I really like the photos of the Piedras Blancas glacier. Looks like an amazing hike–I would love to head that way sometime, and I’ll have to put this trail on my list for when I go!

    • May 21, 2014 at 9:49 am — Reply

      Thanks, Jenna, glad you enjoyed. I’d like to head back there myself one day.

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