El Chalten

The Fitzroy Massif, outside of El Chalten in Argentina, offers what is probably my favorite mountain skyline on earth. The world’s high places have always captivated me and the desire to see them has led to many strange corners of our planet.


Southern Patagonia is home to such wild and iconic peaks. The golden granite of Fitzroy, Cerro Torre, and Torres del Paine is a magnet for climbers. These peaks catch the morning light in hues of pink and orange that few terrestrial landscapes can match. Their towers soar vertically so steeply that their glaciers, even their snow, cannot cannot cling to them. It is as if the rock itself is escaping from the earth below.


We spent three days wandering through trees, up streams, and around mountains. The weather was perfect, almost ominously still. It was a sharp contrast from the variably and windy Patagonian weather to which we had become accustomed. The lenga trees (southern beech) were at the final stages of their autumnal color change. Their leaves are tiny, about the size of a thumbnail, but in mass they lit up the landscape in brilliant hues of orange red. It was as if a forest fire had frozen under the mountains.


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


We left southern Patagonia two days later. A windstorm kicked in as we walked to the bus and the tiny lenga leaves, that had so marvelously decorated the hillsides, took flight. The for a few minutes they shimmered in the air, then their vibrant color was washed away from the landscape. We had witnessed their final brilliance. We staggered into the bus station, our backpacks like sails in the wind. 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.

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