Patagonia 2017: Morning Hike to Los Cóndores and Las Águilas Viewpoints - Día Quatro – 2/11/17 – 6 km
After yesterday’s chaos everyone slept very hard (I was reminded more than once that my friends had hiked more miles than I). This morning, after eating odds and ends for breakfast, we packed up for our return drive to El Calafate. It didn’t feel like a good ending to our time in Los Glaciares. There was one more short trail from the visitor center that we decided to check out.
At the VC, Carol introduced me to the ranger who had assisted in looking for me yesterday and I was able to apologize and thank him. Carol complimented the park staff on their helpfulness and inquired how to make a donation, but the concept wasn’t clear to them – why would tourists give money for the park?
Today’s hike was a simple path to two viewpoints, Los Cóndores looking at the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre ranges as a backdrop to El Chaltén, and Las Águilas overlooking Lago Viedma. The walk is easy and worthwhile for the casual visitor, to whet the appetite upon arrival or to bid a farewell.
El Chaltén nestled in the Fitz Roy Valley
Almost guaranteed are bend-over-backwards-to-look-straight-up encounters with the largest bird in the Americas, the Andean condor. Endangered and protected in some parts of South America, they are abundant in Patagonia. Wing spans can measure up to 3 meters wide tip to tip. Condors are an everyday sight riding the thermal winds above El Chaltén.
Fitz Roy was still hidden behind a gray shroud; we were resigned to our bad luck. At least the morning was calmer and warmer than the previous days as we started on the trail to Los Cóndores.
What’s this? It looks like a rainbow…starting faintly, barely discernible, and growing in intensity as we followed the trail, curving left and rising up the mountainside behind the visitor center. The trail split and we took the left track to the overlook.
At Los Cóndores, the condors were forgotten as we took in this amazing full rainbow, a consolation gift in place of the mountain ranges.
It may sound strange, but we were so energized that we couldn’t sit still here to contemplate the rainbow – what’s at the second overlook? We backtracked to the split and took the right fork, climbing still higher to a massive boulder balcony called Las Águilas (the Eagles). Turning our backs to the town, we absorbed the colors of Lago Viedma.
On my next visit to Las Glaciares National Park (and there will be a next time) I want to take the ferry to Glaciar Viedma where it flows from the Patagonian ice field into the lake. And maybe I’ll have better luck with Fitz Roy!
At this point we lingered to eat and enjoy our little pinpoint on the planet, Lago Viedma over one shoulder and a rainbow over the other. These photos conjure the feelings of awe and appreciation as we sat and reflected upon our good fortune . Not everyone has the physical ability to go where we go, but many who do are too fearful of….something…and don’t try. Please, don’t wait – just make it happen and GO! Glaciers and condors are not forever and neither are you!
Cathy leading the way back, Cerro Torre teasing from behind the curtain one last time
We retraced the path back to the visitor center and stood in the rock garden to watch as condors casually wheeled and soared overhead in the brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds.
We left El Chaltén in the rearview mirror on a good note. On the drive back to El Calafate:
Río La Leona, milky blue water from glacier silt, flows from Lago Viedma to Lago Argentino. (Also on that “next time” itinerary is staying at one of the estancias along this river.)
Guanaco carcass on a barbed wire fence
In El Calafate we stopped at a town park to eat our remaining bread and cheese, then enjoyed an hour of souvenir/gift shopping, sightseeing, locating a working cash machine and sampling sweet pastries from a bakery. Cathy discovered a local artisan who made pendants from guanaco bone, images carved through like a silhouette. We each chose different ones:
Cathy = hiker with a hiking stick
Carol = penguin
me = open hand
Rick = condor.
[Full disclosure, Carol and I also bought hiker pendants, they were so cool.] Skillful workmanship and unique souvenirs!
After retreating to our place at Cabanas El Amanecer for showers and fresh clothes, we had dinner at La Tablita, located on the edge of town. It’s a fancy restaurant, and we walked in without reservations, but with the luck of naiveté we were quickly seated and staring at an intimidating menu. Their signature dish is roasting enormous racks of Patagonian lamb on spits tilted around a mound of glowing coals, located in full view of the dining room. The food was expensive and the service was slow, and I wouldn’t recommend La Tablita unless you have lots of money, time and a desire for bragging rights. However, my roasted vegetables and gnocchi bolognese was really, really superb.
Our evening toast with an Argentinian Malbec – another day on God’s beautiful earth!
“Don’t wait until everything is just right. It will never be perfect. There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions. So what. Get started now. With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.” ~Mark Victor Hansen