December 23, 2015
Yesterday we confirmed the weather with the hotel staff. Based on a sophisticated forecast system, it was suggested that today would be the best day to hike the Laguna De Los Tres trail for the closest views of Fitz Roy massif. While the trailhead may be reached by walking to the edge of town for an out-and-back trek, it is also possible to take transportation to Hostería El Pilar. I highly recommend arranging a bus/shuttle ride a few days in advance for $125 Argentinian pesos. It provided us the opportunity to see the Hostería El Pilar and the associated trail as well as the Laguna De Los Tres trail.
We began our hike beneath a misty sky as we walked a short time along a gravel road to the Hostería El Pilar. I briefly considered reserving a room here for the luxury, but I felt like being in town would be a better option for us to try different restaurants. It looked like a cool, relaxing vacation place though! From here, we took the single track trail along the baby blue river.
Soon it jogged up a hill into a lush forest. We maneuvered through a few large groups as we followed the undulating path with a few lookouts between the trees toward Glacier Piedras Blancas. This may have been the only disadvantage about taking transportation, as we had to start near the same time of many guided tours which we would have likely avoided had we begun just 30 minutes sooner. That said, the trail was far from congested relative to many places in Colorado.
From the forest we emerged into large grass lands with an awesome view of Fitz Roy massif and its surrounding peaks. Fortunately as the morning passed, so did the clouds. The peaks, once obscured in white billowing clouds, were now emerging in a clear blue sky with wisps of swirling clouds. It just looked magnificent, and I was torn between racing to the top or stopping to take pictures every minute in case the weather changed.
In the meadow, the winds gusted rather strongly, though for Patagonia standards, maybe not. A little less than two hours into our trek, we reached a Camp Poincenot at the base of the climb to Fitz Roy. Up until about this time, the elevation change was rather limited. As soon as we crossed the Río Blanco, however, things changed. We had one kilometer left to go and 400 meters to ascend. This is the equivalent of climbing approximately 1,300 feet in 0.62 miles. It was steep! Lucky for us we came from Denver with the elevation a mile high, and we have climbed similar grades at 14,000 feet, so at the lower elevation we weren’t winded like many others making the journey. Having said that, it still took us around 45 minutes to ascend.
We definitely contended with a few traffic jams at this popular site, but then again, it was nothing like the masses we find on 14ers, so we were pleasantly surprised. Our climb up provided a tremendous view of the valley below and distant mountain ranges.
I truly can’t even begin to describe the breathtaking scenery once we reached Laguna De Los Tres, its glacier and the granite wall of Mt. Fitz Roy with its surrounding peaks. All I can say is later, I texted a panorama I took with my iphone to my mom, and she replied, “That may be the best picture you’ve ever taken.” No fancy camera was necessary for this natural beauty.
We spent the next hour at the top. First, we took cover from the wind behind a rock and enjoyed our packed lunch. The hotel provided two sandwiches (we chose salami), an apple, a granola bar, and chocolate for dessert. It looked like a ton of food, but after hiking eight plus hours a day and many miles, we had no problem finishing all our food at our rest stops.
Second, we followed the trail down to the cobalt lake. I’m so glad we did this. At the opposite end from the location most people stop, the lake’s water tumbles down the rocks to a river below. In addition, the cyan waters of Laguna Sucia tucked beneath its glacier came into view. None of this was visible from our lunch spot. I was like a kid in a candy store. I didn’t know which way to turn to get the best picture of this staggering landscape.
After admiring the lagoons from below, we climbed up to another small hill between the lakes and the ridge where we ate lunch just in time for the clouds to clear or at least thin so much that we felt like they were gone as we admired Fitz Roy. The changing climate really made us appreciate the view that much more. Amazingly, it got better…we heard a thunderous sound. Actually, we heard a few the previous day and few others today as well, but this time, we saw and were able to capture ice calving from the glacier into the lagoon below. It was totally awesome!
The clouds enveloped Fitz Roy again, so shortly after 1 pm we began our descent. As we entered the forested camp ground, a fox ran right across our path. Upon exiting the trees, we entered the windswept valley and crossed some marshy areas as we headed southeast toward Laguna Capri. Laguna Capri also provided a nice view of Fitz Roy from afar. We rested on a rock and took in the view until the wind kicked up which signaled us to leave. We passed through another campground, more forest, and descended somewhat steep terrain toward town (another reason to hike from Hostería El Pilar as its ascent was gradual).
We took in a final view of the valley below at Mirador de Las Vueltas before heading into town for our beer and popcorn, a deserved treat at La Cerveceria after 13 miles. While this hike was a bit shorter than yesterday, the elevation change made it harder, and we were temporarily worn out.
Later, we got our second wind and went out for the evening. At the recommendation of the hotel staff, we walked a few blocks off the main road to Techado Negro. The cash only, eclectic restaurant cooked tenderloin to perfection! It looked like it was sous vide. They needed a little more practice on my local fish, the merluza, however. It was quite over cooked. Having said that, I’d recommend this restaurant. Prices were reasonable and the atmosphere was fun. I just ordered the wrong thing. In fact, I’d really recommend visiting this town for a less commercialized vibe. It is clean, easy to get around, and even the water is drinkable without being treated. In addition, Parque Nacional Los Glaciares is immaculate. We didn’t see a single piece of trash. ETB
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