Friday, January 29, 2016

More Photos from Fitz Roy

Laguna las Tres and Fitz Roy
We've been home for a couple of days and are slowly sorting through the five weeks of photos on our phones. I think I'll do some catch-up posts as I go through them, in chronological order.

When we woke up on first morning camping near Fitz Roy and saw that it was so sunny and clear that the granite tors were almost so bright you couldn't look at them, we thought the rest of our trip would be downhill from there. How could it get better than that?

One of the things we loved about the hiking near Fitz Roy was the forests. With so many trees and other plants new to us, it was fun to explore as we hiked. Much of the time, I felt like I was hiking in an enchanted forest. The forested areas had very little brushy undergrowth like they do in Alaska, instead they were blanketed in grasses and flowers.

Here was our lovely view of Cerro Torre as the sun set (can you believe people actually climb that?). The next morning it was shrouded in clouds.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Cochamo, Chile

When we travel we like to keep our schedule  flexible so we can adapt to places we like and venture to destinations as we learn about them. This method of travel has been particularly difficult in Patagonia due to the need to book flights in advance and the business of the peak summer season down here. 

While hiking at Torres Del Paine we learned about a place called Cochamo from a few other Trekkers. It was described to us as the "Yosemity Valley of South America", and a place not yet well known and not overrun by tourists. 

When we retuned from hiking Torres Del Paine we did some research and decided we had to go Cochamo. Lucky we had not made any fixed plans after flying to Puerto Montt. We decided to push other tentative plans aside to see Cochamo for ourselves. 

We made camping reservations and headed in to the valley with plans to spend three nights. It was a four hour hike into the valley along a deeply worn trail. After a few hours we started to catch glimpses of towering granite mountains through the thick forest canopy. When we arrived at the meadows and camping area we were mesmerized by the barren white granite mountains and walls that surrounded us.  We pitched our tent and made dinner as the sun drop behind the mountains to the west and the moon rose above a towering wall to the north. 

The next two days were spent day hiking on two very memorable trails. The first day we climbed a mountain called Arco Iris. The trail up Arco Iris was labeled difficult, which is fair but what we didn't know was just how steep portions of it would be. The only thing similar I have seen in the states is the trail up Angel's Landing in Zion.  A firm grip on the fixed ropes and any available roots was necessary in places to make it up. After a few thousand feet of climbing we found ourselves high above the valley, with stunning views of the other towering mountains and also of more distant volcanoes.

The following days hike took us to a place called the Amphitheater, a glacial cirque surrounded on three sides by rock walls thousands of feet tall.   We got an "early" start and we on the trail by 9am, allowing us to have the trail to ourselves the entire way up. We enjoyed a swim in a small pool at the base of walls and chatted with some rock climbers who were camped in the amphitheater. 

I could have spend a few more days in Cochamo but really I was just happy to have heard about this place and been able to fit it into our travels.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Hiking the O in Torres del Paine

The big destination of our trip was an eight day trek in Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. Like our time near Fitz Roy, the weather did not disappoint. We hike the O, which includes the much more popular W trek.

There is a lot to say about this trek and the eight days we spent on it, but for now I will just share some highlights. 

We hiked counter clockwise, starting at Laguna Amarga. The first two days were absolutely lovely - blankets of wildflowers and a well-maintained trail. As a bonus, we hardly saw anyone. Even though there were lots of people hiking the same itinerary, we all spread out during the day. 

The trek includes a pass infamous for high winds and being socked in. It did not disappoint. It was probably gusting up to 60mph when we passed through. And it was raining. But once you're in it there's really nothing to do but keep going to stay warm. Luckily once you cross the pass it's not far until you drop down into the trees and protection. 

Our view of glacier Grey descending the pass was perhaps not what it could have been, but the view from the lake the next day more than made up for it. The fascinating sedimentary geology was an extra bonus. 

The French Valley is a side trip off the O, but absolutely worth it. The view point at the top is breathtaking. The scale of the granite walls all around the valley is overwhelming. 

And of course, the Torres del Paine themselves. Well-worth the last 45 minutes of rock scrambling and hiking to get to them. The dramatic evening light silhouetting the Torres added a special touch. A perfect way to end the O. 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Backpacking near Fitz Roy

Laguna las Tres and Fitz Roy

We've been having trouble posting to the blog from our phones, finally hoping this post from a week and a half ago works this time...

Can you say we got lucky with the weather at Monte Fitz Roy? We absolutely could not have asked for a better two days for backpacking in the northern part of Glaciares National Park. 

We started our backpacking trip late in the afternoon on the 30th and camped at a backcountry campground just before the ascent to Lagunas Los Tres (pictured above). After we hiked to Lagunas Los Tres the next morning, we continued up Cerro Madsen, for which we had gotten a permit the day before. It's not a technical climb, but it did involve some rock scrambling and snow. It was a challenge but got us away from the crowds. We only saw/talked to a handful of other people who climbed Madsen that day - among them a guy on skis!

Hiking up Cerro Madsen

We didn't quite go to the top, but we found a spot to eat lunch with an outstanding view of Fitz Roy. We could even see some mountaineers descending on a glacier in the distance. 

View of Fitz Roy from Cerro Madsen

After our descent we packed up our camp at 5:30pm and headed over to a campground in another valley - the Alaskan way - frantically doing as much as possible while there is both daylight and good weather! We rolled into the campground around 9pm but were treated to a mostly empty trail and stunning views of Cerro Torre. We were certainly glad we went for the evening camp move because this morning Torre was socked in. I felt guilty that we had such luck as we passed hundreds of people hiking in. 

Cerro Torre