If there is one thing that sums up Patagonian weather in summer, it has to be the icy winds. The wind just keeps howling, blowing and slapping icy cold air onto your brittle face. Despite knowing this, I still wanted to make the trek up to Fitz Roy in Argentina. It would have been a pity to just see Fitz Roy from afar, and only a trek up close would do Fitz Roy justice. This is how I completed the frozen trek to the Fitz Roy mountain in Argentina.
Fitz Roy is a famous peak amongst many other peaks in the southern Andes, along the Argentinian-Chilean border. Many tourists and hardcore hikers land in the small town of El Chalten in Argentina, which is the closest civilisation to the mountains. As I closed onto this small town of El Chalten, I could not see much of my surroundings. Most peaks were shrouded in thick, grey clouds and the picturesque town of El Chalten looked gloomy and sad.
Despite the horrible-looking weather, I decided to push on and head into the national park. Fitz Roy is located in the Los Glaciares National Park and there is no entry fee as of now. To my surprise, camping within the park was also free, but restricted to designated camping areas. Despite this, not many people make the trek up Fitz Roy, probably because most people would rather expend their trekking energy in the nearby Torres del Paine in Chile.
The hike to the nearest campsite by the Capri Lagoon was merely an hour or so. At that campsite, I decided to make camp and spend the night. Hopefully the clouds would clear up the next day and I could see Fitz Roy over the beautiful lagoon. As night fell, I could hear the little raindrops falling in between the leaves of the tree over me. Indeed, it was a wet, cold and windy night.
I got up at 5am and was relieved that the rain had stopped. I unzipped my tent, hoping to catch a glimpse of Fitz Roy at sunrise. However, the clouds refused to scatter, and the peak looked like a huge mushroom. Even the burning orange hues from the rising sun did nothing to save the beauty of the Fitz Roy mushroom. The panorama just did not impress me.
The second day continued to be a gloomy one, in fact the weather turned for the worse. The hike to the campsite at the base of the uphill climb to Fitz Roy took about three hours. Together with a newfound friend from Israel, we made camp at this campsite, known as Poincenot and made new friends with our neighbours. They were two friends from Argentina and they have been waiting out the horrible weather for the past three days or so. As they were running out of food, we shared food, drank mate and talked about our travels.
With so much clouds and crazy winds, none of us felt that it was worth heading up to Fitz Roy. Instead, we did a short hike to a nearby glacier, explored a little and headed back. It was then that the clouds decided to let go of its weight. The rain poured like it had been suppressed for months and everyone ran back into their little tents. For hours and hours, from the afternoon to the night, it just rained. I began to feel some water under my tent, and realised that the campsite was beginning to flood. In a desperate move, I began to dig a moat around my tent, hoping that the water would drain somewhere else.
It was cold, really cold. Even with all my clothes on, a scarf and my sleeping bag, I was freezing. I could not imagine how cold it would become once the sun went down. As the sky darkened, I began to feel the freeze. Although it was summer, it felt like the temperatures had fallen below zero. The crazy winds pounded on my tent, howling like mad wolves while the rain tried to test the durability of my flysheet. It was cold, wet and horrible. I could not sleep, and I was sure no one else could too.
The rain poured its way to the next day, but thankfully stopped mid-morning. I unzipped my tent in a half-frozen state, with a beanie and all my clothes on me. To my surprise, my friends were outside waiting for me and they began singing the happy birthday song! I told them the day before that it would be my birthday today, and they remembered. As a cute gesture, they scribbled “Happy birthday” on the wet ground next to my tent. At that moment, I only had one wish: that the clouds would clear up today so that I could see Fitz Roy and get the hell out of here!
The clouds began to disperse and pockets of blue skies appeared overhead in the afternoon. We decided to try our luck and make the ascent to Fitz Roy. The ascent was steep, but it was not too difficult. In two hours or so, we were at the viewpoint. Only that there was no view, just like the past two days. I could barely make out the different peaks, nor barely stand up straight under the powerful, continuous gusts of wind. We climbed to a little cavity carved from the huge boulders and sought refuge from the wind. There, we laid down on the huge boulders and waited for the clouds to clear up, while of course freezing our asses off.
Ten minutes, twenty, thirty… The clouds were slowly, but steadily clearing up. Suddenly, it cleared up complete and the magnificent Fitz Roy appeared before us. Birthday wish granted! Fitz Roy was huge, impressive and absolutely gorgeous. The strong winds were blowing off the fresh snow from the peak, and it made Fitz Roy seemed like it was smoking from its peak. Everyone was snapping photos, admiring in awe and just enjoying the precious moment. It was a godsend moment, so beautiful but so transient.
In fifteen minutes or so, the clouds returned and Fitz Roy hid its glorious self from the world. The winds resumed its incessant howling and icy cold slaps to the face. We hiked down, fearing that another storm was impending. We packed our tents and headed to the third campsite, de Angostini. Thankfully the rain held up as we made the four-hour trek to de Angostini. We arrived in the night, made camp and had dinner together. We were thankful, as it turned out to be a dry (but windy) night.
On the fourth day, the winds picked up again, this time slapping piercing rain drops onto our faces and exposed skin. We hid among the trees for protection and no one could leave the campsite. We waited for hours, but the winds were not stopping and neither did the rain. In the end, we decided not to wait, but to make the painful trek to Cerro Torre.
The trek was horrible. Painfully horrible! Each step we took, we slid half a step back because of the strong winds. The raindrops pierced our faces like tiny needles and it was almost impossible to walk head on. At some point I found myself walking backwards so that the piercing rain would hit my back instead. As we arrived at the glacier lake at the foot of Cerro Torre, we had to take shelter behind huge boulders. The winds picked up the water droplets from the glacier lake and sent them towards us like a machine gun. The freezing cold water was piercing us so much that our faces turned red. As expected, there was no Cerro Torre, only crazy winds, rain and painful skin.
We ran back downhill, hoping to return to the forested campsite. It was a crazy idea to ascend to Cerro Torre, but also sadistically satisfying. Never had I experienced a rain so painful in my life. With this little trek, it marked the end of our adventures around Fitz Roy. We hurried back to El Chalten, hoping to find a hostel that had a warm fireplace.
The trek to Fitz Roy was four, rainy, cold and windy days. Never was there a moment that I felt sufficiently warm nor dry. As I lay on the comfortable bed from the hostel, tucked into my warm blanket, I could not imagine another day our in this crazy weather. A deep, warm and peaceful sleep was all that I longed for.
The next day, I woke up naturally, after sensing the sunlight shining onto my face. I got up, opened the window and gasped in awe. Wow, Fitz Roy is really, really beautiful.
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