El Chalten, Patagonia

The world’s high places have always captivated me. El Chalten, Argentina is home to my favorite mountain skyline, the Fitzroys and the Torres.  Chasing mountains has led to many strange corners of our planet, but few have taken hold in my soul the way these granite towers have.

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Southern Patagonia is full of wild and iconic peaks. The here towers soar so vertically so that glaciers and even snow can barely cling to them. It is as if the rock itself is escaping from the earth. The golden granite spires of Fitzroy, Cerro Torre, and Torres del Paine are a magnets for climbers. These peaks catch the morning light with hues of pink and orange. Few terrestrial landscapes can match the visual splendor found here.

It was our second visit. We had just completed the Torres del Paine trek in Chile and hitchhiked back to El Chalten. Bad weather had made our last visit difficult. This time the weather was incredible.

We spent three days wandering through trees, up streams, and around mountains. The famous winds of Patagonia were almost ominously still. It was a sharp contrast to the Patagonian weather we had become accustomed to. The lenga trees (southern beech) were at the final stages of their autumnal color change. Their tiny leafs, about the size of a thumbnail, lit up the landscape in brilliant oranges and reds, almost like a frozen wildfire. 

The experience left us feeling like we had been invited to an exclusive private party. Our seven weeks in Patagonia had been a lesson in the importance of patience. These few days were our reward. We had encountered few other hikers. Conditions like these only come along once or twice in a decade. The rarity of what we were seeing was apparent to us. The scenery was among the finest we have seen anywhere.

As we were leaving southern Patagonia, just two days after our trek, a windstorm kicked up. As we walked to the bus tiny lenga leafs flew past us. They had so marvelously decorated the hillsides just hours before, now the trees were bare. We had witnessed their final brilliance. The winds must have wanted to make up for their rest days and we staggered into the bus station, our backpacks like acting like sails. I looked up to the mountains one last time. Dark clouds swirled and the peaks slowly disappeared. Southern Patagonia was closed for the season, it was time to leave.

Written by:

Scott Dusek is a writer and photography originally from Seattle, Washingon.

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