Location: Patagonia, Argentina
Distance: 19.2 km
Time: 5-6 hours
Guidebook: Fitz Roy trekking map
El Chalten is the hiking mecca of Argentinian Patagonia. As the base town for Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, it is the starting point for virtually all treks in the national park. Unlike Chilean Patagonia, many of these walks can be completed in a single day, allowing you to return to a good meal and warm bed after a hard day of hiking.
The Laguna Torre hike runs along the south of the ‘triangle’ that forms the most popular area of the park for trekkers, and ends at Laguna Torre – a beautiful glacial lake with the cold granite peaks of Cerro Torre (said to be one of the hardest mountains in the world to climb) towering overhead. Right from the start of the trek the views down the valley towards the glaciers are spectacular.
The walk itself is quite long (9 kilometres each way) but relatively easy – and the constant views entice you to keep going to see just a little bit more. Of course, this is Patagonia so the weather can change at any time, and the calm peaceful valley I found could quite easily become a gigantic wind tunnel another day.
After an initial short climb up out of El Chalten the clear path winds through thin forest before reaching the top of a long, wide valley. Here there is a mirador (viewpoint) offering expansive views for miles (weather permitting, of course). From this point the path gently descends the side of the valley before hitting the wide bottom. Some of the best views are from this point, as the higher position gives a better vantage point of the glaciers snaking into the distance. The path rolls across the valley floor – very easy to follow – then heads into a short section of forest. This is a good place to take a rest as it offers shelter from the weather – be it wind or strong sun.
Continuing on, the path runs briefly alongside the raging Torre river – an impressive but somewhat frightening sight. Finally, the forest turns to scree and the final ten minutes involves a short climb to the shore of Laguna Torre. This would be an ideal place for a rest, watching icebergs float along in the lake and taking it easy – but when I arrived the area was incredibly windy, almost threatening to blow people (i.e. me!) over. Judging by the number of rock walls built by previous walkers for shelter, I would suggest this is a fairly common occurrence, with the wind rattling down from the mountains and glacier above.
Weather permitting, a path exists to a viewpoint slightly higher up along the north edge of the lake (heading anti-clockwise) – but this is narrow and has a step drop (into the lake!) on one side, so was not advisable in high winds. There are also quite a few birds around this area, including the Mountain Caracara, a member of the falcon family.
With everything completed, the only option was to head back home – returning along the same path. The walk back takes around the same amount of time – 2 to 2.5 hours.