The Mount Fitz Roy Trek is both a challenging and rewarding activity that is undertaken in El Chalten, Patagonia, Argentina. It is not necessary to have a guide with you, since the trek has wooden posts with yellow arrows directing you along a well-beaten path. A path that will take you initially over unstable rocks, past amber forests, over fast-flowing rivers, through open, isolated fields, and eventually up an extremely steep cliff that eventually leads to the top of a mountain.
This is the most difficult, yet the proudest accomplishment out of all our travels. The best way to complete the Mount Fitz Roy Trek, is to take a bus or taxi up to Hosteria El Pilar – an isolated house/hostel at the beginning of the trek. By starting the trek here, you get to see incredible forests, a giant glacier, and if you’re lucky like we were, wildlife such as big bulls (who blocked our path on several occasions), cows, and condors. You will also save yourself doubling back, since there is a different path leading back to El Chalten.
We completed this at the end of April, which is when the weather really becomes unpredictable. People hold out hope that they will get clear blue skies, and no rain or snow, and as such, many will stay in El Chalten until that lucky day eventually arises. Only it’s not guaranteed, so don’t waste your time. The weather changes almost every hour. We met people who were fortunate enough to have the perfect day, complete with total visibility of Mount Fitz Roy. We did it much harder, since we took our chances on the weather, and that weather took a real turn for the worse!
We caught a taxi up to Hosteria El Pilar and began our trek at exactly 8.30am. It was freezing, absolutely freezing. Then it started raining. It must have been close to zero degrees. Although we were drenched, cold, and flirting with the idea of turning back, we pressed on! The forest we trekked through was glittering with amber, yellow, and red leaves. We have never seen anything like it, and would go again simply to complete this first part of the trek. We eventually came across three large bulls. Sam was wearing a bright red top, and myself a red beanie. We don’t know if there’s any truth to the whole bulls-are-attracted-to-red theory, but they did stop and stare. In a split second it became apparent that there really was nowhere to run, so we walked slowly past the bulls until they were out of sight. About an hour later, we came across five cows, and up in the skies we could see the occasional condor.
After we passed an incredible glacier, we came out into a large open field. In the field was a running river with glacier water – we refilled our bottles and kept moving. Perhaps once an hour we ran into another backpacker, which is just how we liked it since the peaceful trek could be ruined if it were more packed. This is why we have opted for an alternative route to Machu Picchu. I think having too many people around you for a wildlife spectacle can take away the serenity of it all. The Mount Fitz Roy Trek is great for this reason – it’s isolated, rough, beautiful, rugged, and practically untouched by tourism, despite it being relatively popular with travellers in Patagonia.
The hardest part about the Mount Fitz Roy Trek is at the base of the impossibly-steep mountain. There are warning signs, but they should probably read “This last part of the trek will destroy you” rather than the subtle “Trail is very steep. Good physical condition required.” This part of the trek leads to Laguna de los Tres – the most amazing sight you are likely to ever see. After climbing up slippery, wet rocks, battling rain and super strong winds, we eventually made it to the top of the mountain which is situated above the heavens. As we stood above clouds, all we could see were snow-capped mountain peaks surrounding us. It looked like another world. You are so high up (400 metres from the base), and it’s so cold, that it almost doesn’t feel real. It’s the kind of thing you see in crazy wildlife documentaries.
Waiting for you at the top is a massive drop off the side of a cliff, where lakes, glaciers, and waterfalls meet. To see this, you must walk around the big dirt mountain to your left as you directly face the bright blue lake in front of you. That’s right. This high up in the mountains is a bright blue lake, with nothing else around it. Behind it is Mount Fitz Roy. If you can imagine the top of a mountain reaching so far into the sky that it goes above the clouds, and at the summit, there is a bright blue lake (sounds like a fantasy world, right?), a massive white and blue glacier at the back, and above that, jagged mountain peaks known as Mount Fitz Roy, you begin to get the picture.
This trek took us 11.5 hours of non-stop hiking, bar a 20 minute break at the freezing summit. We didn’t arrive off the mountain until 8pm. It was cold and dark, and we were in need of some hearty food. Luckily we found a small Argentinian tavern serving Hungarian Goulash, so we were in luck! Days later, and our legs are still sore. My knees almost gave way on the descent, but it was worth it. Make sure to buy a pre-packed lunch from the local cafeteria in El Chalten, which is next door to the hiking store where you can hire hiking polls. It’s best to tell your hostel that you will be attempting to ascend to the top of the mountain. You won’t see many people along the way, and it can be dangerous in parts – big drops off the mountain, no railings whatsoever, and hazardous terrain that will really test your ankles. Plenty of people injure themselves here, and the last thing you want is to be stuck on top of a mountain with no way down (there’s no transport, and no way of getting to the peak except for by foot). Strap up your ankles and knees as a precaution. It saved me a number of times.
One last thing. The man in the hiking store sounded surprised that we made it to the top of the mountain, especially in the worst conditions one could encounter. He said that plenty of people plan on making it to the top of the mountain, but that most actually can’t do it, and turn back. There’s no point going all that way if you aren’t going to do what it takes to get to the top, and it’s far from easy (the hardest trek/activity we have ever done). If the Mount Fitz Roy Trek is something you hope to do, start working out a little, avoid drinking the night before, and bring any ankle/knee straps you might need. It’s incredibly hard, but well worth it!