El Chalten is nestled away in a nook of the Andes. Upon entering from the direction of El Calafate it seems as if there is only one way in. The entrance to this secluded vale is a narrow gap in the mountains and straight ahead on the horizon is the peak of Fitz Roy. Quite often tucked away in the clouds blocking it from view, when the sun breaks through, it’s hard not to crane the neck and stare. The best way to experience this view though is not from El Chalten, but to take on the day hike to Fitz Roy yourself.
Fitz Roy Hike in El Chalten
The hike itself is actually quite simple and straightforward. The trail head is at the edge of town. Simply follow the main road (San Martin) and it will be impossible to miss. From here it is a constant incline with only a few patches of flatter ground. Then of course, there is the dreaded final ascent. Back to this after.
Secondary Route – El Pilar
This is my preferred route from El Chalten for the day hike to Fitz Roy. I not only find it more scenic, but more enjoyable. I’ve never enjoyed hikes quite as much when the return trip is just the reverse of your way up. This trail offers more of a broken loop, but it also comes with a small fee. 200 ARG was more than worth it for me, for a few reasons.
To begin with, as mentioned this route doesn’t require the retracing of your steps allowing for constant change in scenery. Secondly, the path is a slightly lesser ascent until reaching the base of the final climb, so more strength can be saved for it. Thirdly, this route saves some time. About an hour or so. This may be a perk for some, while not for others. I don’t usually look for shorter routes, but as I had blister torn feet from Torres del Paine, I welcomed it. Lastly, this route tends to draw less of a crowd because of a lack of knowledge about it, as well as it puts a price tag on an otherwise free hike.
A minibus with hotel pick up will drop everyone at El Pilar, which is actually a quaint hotel. From here, the trail begins. Following a river for much of the way, the path is through a tranquil forest. The mountains constantly on the right, there are a few viewpoints along the way of smaller glaciers. Also, whenever a break in the trees appear, Fitz Roy looms in the distance.
About 45-60 minutes, depending on personal pace, you will have emerged onto a plateau covered in shrubbery. Turning right towards Fitz Roy following the signs and this is where the two paths merge. Entering another forested area, Campamento Poincenot will be tucked away among the trees not far ahead. Some people walk here the afternoon before, set up camp and ready themselves for the sunrise climb. I unfortunately did not have the luxury of time or I would have been one of them aiming to catch the early morning glow radiating from the peak of the mountain.
The Final Ascent
Passing through camp there is a glacial stream that must be crossed. Word to the wise. Fill your water bottle here. The water is icy cold, fresh and safe to drink. Shortly after, the sign beginning the climb will read 1 hour. It’s impossible to miss as people linger about, taking a break before the climb or having just made the descent.
This truly depends on your own personal level of fitness. It took me 45 minutes while some told me 1.5 hours. The climb is arduous, slightly precarious and unrelenting never breaking in its constant steep incline. Do yourself a favour. Don’t look up as it only seems worse. Once reaching the pinnacle, I was stopped in my tracks. Not only out of breath, but Fitz Roy appeared like a king above me, gazing down and judging my worthiness. Awestruck and dumbfounded, all I could do was stare back myself.
The viewpoint always makes you forget the burning sensation in the legs. The strain of breathing and almost everything else at that moment. Even the throbbing of my torn apart feet was a minor tingle in the back of my mind. I enjoyed the view for quite a while losing track of time. A quick trip down to the waters edge and it was time to leave this behind. A memory ingrained in the mind.
The initial descent is tough on the knees being as steep as it is, but the remainder of the hike back to town is reasonably effortless. Following the signs if needed, I took the main route passing many who were still climbing up to have their time with the behemoth.
The day hike to Fitz Roy in El Chalten was personally my second favourite hike in Patagonia that I had the pleasure of doing. This only coming second to that of Cerro Castillo in Chile.
Total Distance: Approximately 25 km, depending on the route taken.
Total Time: 7-8 hours, this allows for photography and rest breaks
Packing List: This should remain quite minimal as it is only a day hike. A few things in your pack should include:
- snacks or lunch for the day
- ample water, but remember, bottles can be refilled in the river
- a jacket or pants if the weather turns
- hiking poles, if desired
- small first aid kit | blister prevention, tensor bandage, sunscreen etc.
How to Get There
From El Calafate, it is a short 3 hour bus ride to El Chalten, approximately 22 USD
From Bariloche, it is approximately an 11 hour journey starting around 100 USD.
To the El Pilar start point, the company running daily with limited minibuses is Tranporte Las Lengas. 200 ARG.