Our only full day in El Chaltén was dedicated to the hike to Laguna de los Tres. It’s the most popular hike in the area, is listed as “difficult”, and is supposed to take 8 hours, so we were prepared for all of the above. In our usual “let’s avoid the crowds” fashion, we aimed for an unrealistic early departure time (6:30AM) and left at a more reasonable early departure time (7AM) which is apparently still long before anyone else in town is even awake. Well, except for this one guy we met who said he hiked there for the sunrise, but he was a rare bird (we’ve been over this before, but who wants to hike for 4 HOURS in the dark??). Anyway, we were not in good company at 7AM. We were in nearly no company. Fine with me!

The valley on our way up
Sleepy valley

The general profile of the Laguna de los Tres hike felt pretty similar to Laguna Torre, the hike we did the day before, but slightly “more”. The beginning has a bunch of unshaded uphill with great views of the valley. When you feel like you might collapse, it turns flat, and trees start popping up!

The shadeless beginning of the trail
No. Shade. Also, see the little rock peeking up in the far background? That’s where we’re headed (though I didn’t know it at the time).
Slightly sunnier view of the valley
The world slowly waking up
Gnarled forest along the way
Funky forest

About an hour in, the trail forks, and we picked the path that goes to a viewpoint where we got our first glimpse of the mountains we were headed towards. It was breathtaking! And we were super lucky with the weather again, so the skies were clear and the views were completely unobstructed. Seeing the mountains was good motivation to keep going but was also like… “Wait, we’re walking ALL THE WAY THERE??”

Me gazing at Fitz Roy from the viewpoint
First look at the mountains. Can you say WOW!?
Mike with Fitz Roy
This is where I start having the same-ish pictures over and over again because they’re all so darn beautiful.
Selfie with Fitz Roy
Brother-sister selfie!
Fitz Roy and the rest of the mountains
Okay one more. Fitz Roy is the tallest peak in the middle, to the left is Poincenot, and to the right is Mermez.

From the viewpoint until the very last segment of the hike, the trail wasn’t bad at all. It’s basically flat… and then you get to the end, and there’s a sign that says the last kilometer is going to take an hour because it’s like 400m of elevation. And then it actually takes an hour. And it is SO steep. And long. And steep. It wasn’t the worst hike I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either (lol but technically it was a walk in the national park).

Fitz Roy with some cloud cover
Stay away, clouds!
Fitz Roy with some clouds trailing off the peak
It’s like a little smokestack. Getting closer…

The good news was that we were there early, so there weren’t a lot of people coming down. That part of the trail is only really wide enough for one person at a time, and it would have made things much worse if we had to keep moving aside to let people pass. And, probably most importantly, the sun still wasn’t too hot because of course there was zero shade from that point on.

The one thing that was far from ideal was the wind. It was crazy! Most of the way was shielded from by the mountains, but the final stretch was completely exposed. I know I’ve said this before, but I meant it then and I mean it now… I was not confident that I was safe from blowing away. At the very least, there was a very real possibility of blowing over, and it was so steep that blowing over would probably also mean rolling down the mountain. I stopped multiple times and just dug in because I wasn’t confident that I could land my foot where I wanted.

Green valley
100% chance that I took this picture as an excuse to stop hiking for a second. We came across that river on the left side and through the green patch above it.
Rock and wood-covered trail
The way up…
The rock peaks just over a ridge
Almost there almost there almost there!

Then, I got to the top (Mike was already there), and the struggle was all but forgotten. The mountains you’ve been looking at all day are RIGHT THERE, with their jagged peaks and snowy slopes. The lake below them is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. (After the brownish Laguna Torre from the day before, it looked especially blue.) There weren’t many people there, and it felt like we were part of an exclusive group lucky enough to experience the magic. Like what the heck is this world we live in??? Who would expect a lake like that, tucked up in the mountains? It’s not even fair for places like that to exist in the world. You blink and blink again and then one more time just to be sure… and it’s still there. And it’s still incredible. And even though it’s clearly real considering you’re standing there looking at it with your own eyes, you think they must be messing with you. How is this place real??? And the weather! I can’t talk enough about the weather. There was one little cloud near the peaks when we first arrived and then it cleared away completely.

Mike and me with the lake
We made it!
Laguna de los Tres
Okay, sorry in advance but like… I took a LOT of pictures, and I only picked a few… But there are still so many because they’re just too pretty! And also basically all the same, but can you blame me?
Me with the lake
Okay now glamour shots
Same pic without me
Okay now get out of the picture, Lara!

We walked down to the lake and then around the edge until we could see another lake right next to Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Sucia. That must be one of those Iceland/Greenland naming things (they named the green land Iceland and the icy land Greenland so that people would leave the green land alone) because “Laguna Sucia” means “dirty lagoon”, and that name couldn’t possibly be less suited.

Me on a rock looking down at Laguna Sucia far below
Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia from above
What dirty water, right?

While the two lakes are, basically, right next to each other, it’s super weird because Laguna Sucia is like 100m lower in elevation (that’s a pure Lara estimate though, so take it with a grain of salt because my estimates can absolutely not be trusted). There are waterfalls coming out of the top lake that turn into rivers flowing past the lower lake. So strange.

Laguna Sucia and Laguna de los Tres above
This was my best attempt at getting both lakes in the same picture so that you can see the elevation difference between them. How weird is this??
The blue waters of Laguna Sucia
Someone please explain to me how this lake got the name “dirty lagoon”. The glacier that feeds the lake is at the far end of the picture, Glaciar Rio Blanco (white river).
Laguna Sucia and its awesome surroundings
How is this place real?
Laguna de los Tres and the drop-off to Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia is to the left, where it looks like the world just ends.
The waterfall between Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia

We admired the lakes for a while until Mike said he was getting cold from the wind (he was in shorts and a t-shirt. I had long pants and a jacket). Then, we hiked up this little mountain nearby to get one more view of the two lakes before heading back down. Already, we could see that the crowds were getting bigger (aka they actually existed), and clouds were starting to gather around the mountain peaks!

We also eavesdropped on this tour group whose guide was explaining how people rock climb Mount Fitz Roy, the tallest peak. After doing the hike that we just did, they walk around the lake, strap on crampons, and hike up the ice. Probably they will stay the night on the ice, so he pointed out a good place to set up your ice cave for sleeping. The next morning, they walk the rest of the way up the ice, partly having to ice climb until finally there’s just rock. They’ll switch into their rock-climbing shoes from there and take one of the routes that have been defined over the years, basically all named for the origin country/state of the people who first completed it. And after all that, they have to go allll the way back down. Geez. People are crazy!

The water. The mountains. No clouds. HOW did we get so lucky???
The lake. The mountains. Again.
I can’t handle this. Also, that’s the ice patch you have to climb up to get to the peak.
Another lake pic
No words, mostly because I already used them up on the infinity other pictures.
The lake. AGAIN.
THE WATER. I’m still not over it.
The valley
View from the top while trying not to blow away
Laguna de los Tres and a little Mike
Spot the Mike, running away from the wind.
Pano of the lake and surrounding mountains
Pano by Mike from the edge of the lake. AHHH so pretty!!
Me with the lake
This was hurriedly taken in a split-second of calm when the wind stopped blowing because I looked like a marshmallow in the other pics with my shirt all filled with air. Also, look at how the peak is already starting to gather clouds.
Super aqua waters of Laguna de los Tres
LAST ONE I PROMISE.

Mike had big dreams for the rest of our hiking excursion. After we hiked down from the lake, he wanted to explore these two other offshoots of the trail. One was to see another glacier, Piedra Blanca. We walked until we had a good view (we decided there was no need to go all the way to the viewpoint when we could see it just fine already) and then turned around and walked back to the main trail.

Piedra Blanca
The glacier Piedra Blanca is peeking out between the mountains

On that path, there were SO many caterpillars. Earlier in the day and the day before, we noticed that there was a weirdly large quantity of caterpillars on the trail, and we tried to avoid stepping on them. On this trail, there was no avoiding them. It seemed like they might have been an invasive species because there were WAY too many. Besides being all over the path, they were also EVERYWHERE in the branches of the tree and bushes. It got a little creepy once you noticed all of the places where they were lurking.

 

Trail littered with caterpillars
Spot the caterpillars! (It’s not hard.)
Creepy bush-lurking caterpillars
Me refilling my water bottle from the river
Water break! Drinking from streams never gets less awesome to me.

There was one more offshoot that Mike wanted to check out, and I had decided that I was fine with doing whatever he wanted to do (my feet were feeling surprisingly okay). We got about 6 steps down the path before he decided that the weather seemed questionable, so we should head back. Also fine with me! We still had like 3 hours of hiking ahead. The skies had been getting cloudier and cloudier from the moment we left the lake, and by the time we decided to head back, you could see almost nothing of Fitz Roy! Thank goodness we went early! I’m sure the lake is still beautiful even with cloudy mountains, but if you have the chance to see them all together, there’s no question that clear weather is the best way to see it.

The valley with two lakes
The two lakes in the distance to the right are Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija. They’re along the second side trail Mike wanted to explore
Fitz Roy blocked out by clouds
Looking back towards Fitz Roy… So. Many. Clouds!

On the way back, we went the other way at the fork and walked by another lake, Laguna Capri. I wasn’t expecting to walk right along the shore! I imagined that we would be up high above it. It was a cool surprise. We didn’t stick around for too long, though, because I think we both just wanted to get back at that point.

The clear waters of Laguna Capri
I wouldn’t mind going for a swim in there!
Campsite in the woods
One of the campsites along the way
Trail through the forest
Nothing better than a hike through a forest! Also, on the way in, there was a sign warning you about the high winds in the area and saying that if they’re really bad, you should avoid standing under a tree. Can someone explain to me where we should be standing in this FOREST to avoid the trees?

Back at the hostel, I think I sat on the ground and “stretched” for about 2 hours before I felt like I wanted to move again. We hung out with some of our new hostel friends, ate our usual ravioli dinner feast, and went to sleep at the usual “way later than planned”. At least we could sleep in the next day, for once!

I know, I know. I practically just welcomed you to Peru, and now we’re in Patagonia? What is this? Confusing, that’s what. But here we are, and if you ever want to hear about Patagonia (trust me, you do), the time is now.

The trip kind of came out of nowhere. Mike (my brother) had a two-week vacation and no plans, and I had no job and also no plans. An ideal pairing! We had talked briefly a couple of months earlier about maybe travelling together, but then it wasn’t mentioned again. I assumed that meant it wasn’t happening. NOPE. About three weeks before the departure date, we decided to go to Patagonia, and I was assigned the task of planning the trip.

My biggest recommendation? Don’t start planning your trip 3 weeks before you go. My gosh. I nearly lost my mind in that first week because I knew that there were things that needed to be figured out ASAP… like an itinerary so that we could buy our plane tickets and book places to stay. You know, those semi-essential details. The short timeline definitely complicated the process, especially because the “busy season” is around December – March. With a little maneuvering, I managed to come up with a rough plan, talked to Mike, and started booking things like crazy.

My “rough” plan (haha). I’m all about that wandering life when I have an extended period of time in which to travel, but for short timeframes, schedule schedule schedule! Within reason, of course. I’m not a total lunatic! (But maybe a little bit of a lunatic because I did also make a detailed schedule with times on it. But that’s just for reference!)
Here’s the tip of South America. Patagonia is generally considered to be the region south of the blue line I drew (very precise, I know).

Patagonia is the region that covers the southern tip of South America. It’s in two countries, Chile and Argentina, and borders three oceans, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Antarctic. It’s a weird place. In my pre-trip research, my general conclusion was that no rules of nature apply there. Everyone said to pack for all four seasons, even though we went in the summer, because you can feel like you’re experiencing all of them on the same day. People also couldn’t say enough about the strong winds, especially in the park we visited in Chile, Torres del Paine. So, we did our best to prepare for anything while also only packing in our backpacks. Simple. Mike had the bigger challenge because he insisted that he could take the whole tent in his bag… something I think he later regretted, but it was great for me!

I did my best not to look at pictures while I was making our plans because I didn’t want to have any expectations. I think I did a good job of that, but in hindsight, I also think that it wouldn’t have mattered what pictures I saw because they wouldn’t have looked real to me anyway. It’s like when you look at a picture of the Grand Canyon and think, “Yeah, that’s pretty. What’s the big deal?” versus when you’re there looking at it in person and your brain can’t begin to comprehend its size or the fact that what you’re seeing is real. That applies to anything magnificent, really. Pictures are great for giving you a taste, but you’ll always wonder if the water was really that blue, if it was really that impressive, if it was really that serene, etc.

Bus ride views

Mike and I flew out of New York on a direct flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina (hooray for 11-hour flights!), arrived in the middle of the night, and had about a 6-hour layover that got delayed to more like 8 (no complaints from me because I spent most of it sleeping on the floor of the terminal). We got our first taste of summer at the airport as we walked between terminals. We were spared the sun since it was the middle of the night, but even 15 minutes outside was MORE than enough, between the humidity and the fact that we were still mostly dressed for New York winter. My gosh.

From Buenos Aires, we flew to El Calafate, a town in Argentinian Patagonia and our main hub for the trip. Here’s the 5-second summary of my travel planning approach: I made a map of all the places people recommended going, scrapped the outliers, picked the ones that seemed to be at a reasonable distance from one another, and looked for the cheapest plane tickets (that still weren’t very cheap) to get us there. So, at the end of all that, we found ourselves in El Calafate.

This picture will forever make me laugh. It was taken from the airport just after we got off the plane, and the corridor was completely roadblocked by people taking this exact picture. Yes, it’s definitely pretty, but this is probably also the least magnificent view we saw during our trip. I should have taken a picture of the people practically standing on top of each other to get their pictures. Mike and I are too cool to do that, obviously… he took forever getting off the plane, so by the time we walked through the corridor, the crowd was gone and there was no fight required to snap this pic.

Our first day was fairly relaxed… and it was the last relaxed day of the whole trip (Mike’s approach to vacations is, “Let’s do everything. We can rest when it’s over.” My approach is, “Let’s do a lot and also not die from exhaustion.” Even though I planned it, this trip was more of the former than the latter). We got into town around 3 and spent the afternoon getting ourselves organized in preparation for the days to come and warming up our rusty Spanish. We had an early start the next day and planned to go to bed early so we didn’t hate ourselves in the morning… but, surprise! It didn’t get dark until around 10PM which made us completely lose track of time. Whoops. Off to a great start!

Looking (and feeling) nice and sleepy