Lago de Los Tres Winter Camp – Fitzroy, Cerro Torre. El Chalten

El Chalten (18th Jul, 2017) – Hiking to Cerro Torre base (20th Jul) – Hike / camp at Lago de Los Tres, Fitzroy (22nd /23rd Jul)

It’s -10C as I lie in the dark, waiting for the next 100 km/h gust. Each one worse than the last. Then it hits… A surge of adrenaline courses through my body as the tent is flattened against my entire body once again. The violent tent flapping is deafening. Seconds pass that feel like forever, and the gust does not abate.  I have been unable to stake out the tent on the hard rocky ground, and it feels like I might get blown off the mountain.  The wind subsides briefly and I consider packing up my tent in the dark. The idea of heading down near steep drop offs across ice and deep snow in the pitch black convinces me otherwise.  I must suffer it out for hours until the first glimpses of light….

Background:

El Chalten is home to Cerro Torre and Fitzroy, both staggering examples of nature and understandably notorious amongst the mountaineering community:

Cerro Torre

Fitzroy

Lago de Los Tres is a magnificent piece of nature that is about as close as you can get to Fitzroy before you start needing some pretty reasonable mountaineering skills. It is highly exposed and I was unsure whether camping up there was a good idea…

From my limited anecdotal experience, the default climatic condition in Winter appears to be one of precipitation and extremely high winds.  With their tower like structures, Cerro Torre and Fitzroy are also highly effective cloud magnets so you need to keep an eye out for good weather before heading up there.  Here is an account of my time in El Chalten:

In an effort to keep the kids entertained during school holidays, Flor (who runs a cyclist friendly hostel for cyclists) helps organise the Winter classes. I am invited to join the class with a couple of other world touring cyclists (Gurkan and Javier). Background: Fitzroy (right) and Cerro Torre (middle).

A two or three hour hike to Laguna Torre and I am met with this. Even though Cerro Torre and the surrounding ridge are smothered in cloud it’s a magnificent spectacle.

A 2km dawdle along the side of the lake to its mirador and the cloud starts to thin.  Cloud cover reduces from a total covering to a mild strangling.

Time passes…

…clouds come and go. But by the end of the afternoon…

…my patience is rewarded.

Delightful

I head back to El Chalten, unable to resist turning around every 3 minutes for another look

Its neighbour Fitzroy remains clear nearly the whole day.

A few days of rain follow until a sunny morning tempts me into borrowing a backpack and heading back to the hills.

That tiny cloud touching the top of Fitzroy gathers momentum and pretty soon covers the entire peak extending high into the sky into an enormous tower formation.

Deep-ish snow climbing up to Lago de Los Tres

…some icy sections to navigate

Occasionally knee to thigh deep

On cresting the final small ridge I am met with a huge ‘cathedral’ of ice and snow. Lago de Los Tres is completely invisible but my mind is officially blown.

A small climb up the hill on the left reveals a very appealing lake

The ‘Fitzroy’ bird. Regularly fed by poorly informed (although undoutedbly well intentioned) hikers, it follows me everywhere with greedy and uncomfortable persistency.

I unsuccessfully wait for two hours for Fitzroy to clear before deciding to set up my tent on a rocky patch of flat ground, the only one without deep snow.  Right now, there’s no wind whatsoever.

At night, however, the clouds all but evaporate. Inside my sleeping bag I attempt some night photography from the vestibule of my tent. The repeated need for glove on and off behaviour results some painful fingers.

(25 x one minute exposures merged together automatically with the Livecomp setting on my Olympus camera.)

It’s a calm night that drops to below -10C but at 6 a.m. a storm starts brewing with wind gusts that rapidly become stronger and stronger. Every couple of minutes I have to stick my hand out into the excruciatingly cold wind to re-attach the violently flapping tent door to a rock (the hard ground means it impossible to stake out the tent).  It feels quite unsafe and I make the decision to pack up at the first glimpses of light. I need to get out of the situation, and fast.  It’s hard to convey the sense of urgency I feel as I frantically stuff everything into my backpack with a 100km/h wind whipping up snow and blowing the tent onto my face. It’s -10C and it takes a certain amount of determined effort not to freak out.

I find temporary shelter behind a large rock and wait for the wind storm to pass then suddenly develop a very inconvenient upset tummy. With a 100km/h snowdrift you can imagine the complications in such a scenario. After two hours of hanging about the peaks are still covered in cloud…

…so it’s time to get out of there.

On my return to the hostel, a small snow storm passes before frozen Laguna Capri comes into view

Two other cycle touring companions sharing the same hostel head off. Having not slept at the lake I, however, must rest.

One more…

Notes:

You can hike to Laguna Torre or Lago de Los Tres (longer) in a day quite easily if you leave early. I would only suggest camping if there is a high chance of good morning weather to enjoy the light of the sunrise hitting the rock. However, in spite of poor weather I enjoyed my experience immensely (more so in hindsight!).

I wasn’t sure at the time but it’s not really permitted to camp at Lago de Los Tres. Even though there was no one there in Winter (most people just do the day hike) it’s probably best to adhere to this rule.

 

 

4 thoughts on “Lago de Los Tres Winter Camp – Fitzroy, Cerro Torre. El Chalten

  1. Hi Nick,
    FINALLY a report from you. I could not find any postings on your Instagram, Facebook etc for a long time it seemed! I was ready to send emails to see if anyone knew whether you were OK or not! Your wonderful adventures often place you in such precarious situations and I am sure I am not the only one who worries at times. Your photography as usual is awe inspiring, your tenacity and drive blow my mind. I cross into Mexico Monday with RV and 3 cats now as dogs and one cat have passed since we first met in Perula all those years ago! I enjoyed meeting Gurkan through your postings and followed him on his web sites. I am curious to see where your journey will take you next… Take care…Adele

    • Thanks for your support as always Adele! Funny you’ve not seen postings on my instagram, should be a little more up to date.

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