After realizing I'd be spending the first two months of Remote Year in Argentina, I knew it was finally time to fulfill my dream of visiting Patagonia. So I called upon 3 of my closest friends to pack their bags and meet me in the Southern Hemisphere. Our tickets were purchased before we even had a plan in place.
Over the next few weeks, we devised the following 1,200 mile trek across Chile & Argentina to see as much of the promised land as we could fit into 10 days.
The plan was to meet in Punta Arenas and drive north, visiting a few key cities and landmarks along the way before camping out at the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. We would bring enough gear to spend a few nights outside and stay at hostels in between. We rented a large Nissan Pathfinder, created spreadsheets for gear distribution, purchased travel insurance, booked hostels, printed maps, tickets, and more.
When the time finally came, we set out feeling super prepared with wide-eyed wonder, ready to earn our stripes as real adventurers. What we forgot however, was that Mother Nature and Father Fate don't give a shit about spreadsheets. They always have plans of their own.
A False Start
I was the first to arrive in Punta Arenas at 3am and shambled towards the nearest bench to surrender my consciousness on. With a 12-hour arrival lead on the others, there was nothing better to do than defy geometry by trying to fit a rectangular body in a square seat. Realizing that my traveler's insurance wouldn't cover a chiropractor, I schlepped my carcass to the floor and began to stockpile resentment at the electrician that installed the airport speakers for waging acoustic warfare on sleepy civilians.
Many fitful hours later, I carried myself and my grudges to the arrival gate to greet my friends and finally begin the adventure. But we were one voyager short - Matt was stranded in Miami for another day due to electrical issues with the aircraft. And so with 24 hours to kill, we gathered supplies at a local supermarket before driving up and down the coast to bask in the majesty of the elements. We marveled at the bravado of the wind as our eyes watered with every howl. Despite the setback, we achieved our goal of putting boots down in Patagonia.
The Road North
Matt arrived the following day and we wasted no time hauling ass to the great beyond. With hundreds of miles to go and 11 hours of road-time, we were determined to catch up to our itinerary. We had food, water, a full tank of gas, and unprecedented restlessness to get the hell on with it.
Everything was going swimmingly until we reached the Chilean-Argentinian border around dusk and learned a very important lesson: upon entering Chile (via airport or otherwise), you should be provided with a piece of paper that looks like a receipt, but is actually your Chilean visa. Joe & Catie only received one at the airport since they're married, but the border guards expected individual visas. And Matt on the other hand...
"Why would I keep it?! It looked like a pizza receipt! Nobody saves those!"
While he had a valid point, we were still were two visas short. I honestly can't even tell you why we were eventually let through - maybe because they saw the light of hope die in our eyes, or because they had a long day and didn't want to do more paperwork. Either way, we were fortunate to be let through and I don't recommend you try your luck.
By the time we got back on the road, the sun was setting fast and the only thing we could see out in front of us was a dirt road extending far into the horizon. Our goal was to find a free campground near Lago Roca that we read about from a rando on the internet. We drove in total darkness for the next 3 hours along Route 40 (while swerving constantly to avoid hitting rabbits that insisted on meeting the Michelin Man) before rolling into the campsite around 1am. We pitched tents in the dark and passed out soon after, relieved to call it a day.
Ice Ice Baby
We awoke the next morning to take in the views that were missed the night before; with nothing but darkness on arrival, it was one hell of a surprise to wake up and take in the scenery (Lago Roca was pretty, but not pretty enough to warrant consume more data by loading a picture of it. There's better pics coming right up). After a cozy campfire breakfast, we packed up the site and made our way over to see the Perito Moreno Glacier a few miles north.
When we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find walkways all over. Instead of cramming all the visitors onto a few platforms, the area consisted of numerous lookouts winding all over the terrain. We walked for at least two hours and were able to admire the glacier from multiple angles. Occasionally, a deep rumble proceeded a cracking noise, followed by a boom as chunks of ice broke off and fell into the water. The first time it was positively astounding, but after the second instance, it just made me sad to literally watch glaciers melt before my very eyes. <insert global warming rant here>
The winds were strong that day, howling at us from all sides as raindrops fell sideways. As the weather shifted, spaces once covered by clouds opened up to reveal even more ice, as far back as the eye could see. If you have a day to spare, it's well worth it to see such a spectacle - who knows how much longer the glaciers will stick around.
A Blitz to Fitz
After a full 3 days in Patagonia, we were finally about to reach our goal of camping near the base of Mt. Fitz Roy. After gassing up in El Calafate, we could see the peak of Fitz Roy off in the distance. It was just a little rock jutting out of the horizon from a hundred miles away, but it quickly grew with every passing hour.
On arrival, we prepared our rucksacks for two nights in the wilderness and left the car in a field by the trailhead. Our goal was to secure a campsite by Lago Capri, and as we hiked towards it, gusts from the surrounding valleys made it hard to walk in a straight line. After battling intense winds uphill, we arrived at the lake and were greeted with the following sight:
We hadn't even been at the lake for more than 2 hours before we were approached by two Park Rangers with the following message:
"Pardon the interruption, but we just got word that the winds will be moving at around 120 km/hr tomorrow afternoon. We recommend an evacuation of the area before 1PM tomorrow - be on the lookout for falling branches and debris and stay safe."
I repeat - 120 kilometers per hour. My mind flashed to the image of the cow being thrown around in the movie Tornado. That wasn't a role I wanted to play anytime soon so we all agreed to pack up early in the morning and make our way out well before 1PM.
That night, we stayed up late to make the most of our time and watched the milky way stretch high above the peak of Fitz Roy. It was hands down one of the most spectacular nights of my life.
Retreat & Refuge
We awoke the following morning and packed up the campsite in the rain. By then the winds were already pretty fierce, creating massive waves on the lake and casting a spectacular double rainbow. Not too shabby for a parting gift.
On the way back down to the car, the winds were relentless in their show of force, making it extremely difficult to stand upright - all of us had been blown over at least once by the gusts. We took our time, treading carefully with each step as our cheeks stung from heavy raindrops.
We arrived at the vehicle without incident and began driving around town, searching for a place to park that faced directly into the wind to minimize a rollover. Exhausted from the hike and an early wakeup, we all fell fast asleep.
We awoke a few hours later to an upright car and clearance to try another location for camping. We began hiking south, following Rio Blanco south into the valley with the goal of spending the night at the Poincenot Campground. Of all the places we found ourselves in Patagonia, this particular hike was unforgettable. The scenery changed every few minutes, from panoramas of the surrounding mountains, to lush forests, winding rivers, and glaciers too.
We walked in silence, without a single rushed step along the way.
We strolled into the campground an hour before dark and setup camp once again, with extra reinforcement added to the tent stakes just in case. The grounds were pretty full and we were lucky to get a spot at all among the mini-village in the woods. As I laid in my sleeping bag that night, I heard numerous accents spoken, plucked guitar strings, laughter among friends, and stories being shared to the backdrop of the wind rustling the leaves above.
I felt right at home and fell asleep in the comfort of the community.
The Final Ascent
The final leg of our adventure was a day-hike to Laguna de los Tres, reachable only by a sharp ascent along a rocky trail leading uphill for hundreds of meters. When we finally rounded the last ridge with thighs and calves ablaze, the sight was literally breathtaking. We spent that afternoon walking along the water's edge, napping in the shadows of shade, and basking in the grandeur of our reality.
With only a few hours of daylight remaining, we begrudgingly made our way back down the slopes and celebrated a successful day by filling our canteens in the frigid waters of a glacial stream. It was the freshest drink I'd ever had.
In the final hour of daylight, I took a silent stroll alone to try and make sense of the past few days. Amid a torrent of thoughts, I was suddenly struck by the understanding that I had reached the furthest point I would make on this adventure. And so I stopped to take the photo above, thanked the elements for a perfect day, and began my journey back slowly.