A beautiful image of whispy clouds wrapping themselves around ragged grey edges and brown peaks capped with white snow and turquoise blue lakes below is the unforgettable imprint that mountaineers will forever hold in their heart after visiting El Chaltén. Also known as Argentina’s trekking capital,this stunning mountain location with a green blue river running through it lies in Los Glaciares National Park in Santa Cruz Province at the base of Cerro Torre and Cerro Fitz Roy and boasts quick and easy access to many breathtaking trails that promise unique mountaineering adventures.
Furthermore, El Chaltén is tailored for mountaineers, and is has plenty of gear shops and health food options, as well as offering the possibility to drink fresh water on your way up its peaks straight from Mother Nature herself. Of course, to get to the best spots in the region, it’s always best to go with a certified local guide who can show you unexpected trails while giving you tips and ensuring your safety.
We asked Merlín Lipshitz, an experienced local IFMGA certified-guide featured at explore-share.com who offers mainly tailor made programs in El Chaltén to give us the 411 on mountaineering in this stunning location.
Read on to see what we found out and start planning your trip to El Chaltén now!
With both Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy at its base, plus other surrounding peaks, lakes and glaciers to explore, El Chaltén offers many trailheads near the town and very easy access to the mountains.
“One of my favorite things about El Chaltén is that it’s at the base of the mountains. This means that we don’t need to cover long distances to get to the trailhead. Many times, it’s just 20 minutes away from the town, or a 50 minute drive away. Access to the high mountain is very easy. This is one of the biggest differences with other mountaineering hotspots such as Bariloche in Argentina, or the Alps.”
Although there are plenty of popular walking tours in the region, one of the great things about El Chaltén is that it’s vast enough to find amazing, breathtaking spots away from the crowds. And for all levels too! Going with a local certified guide is key to discover the hidden places in the mountain.
“People that choose El Chaltén as a mountaineering destination want to steer away from the traditional routes and hikes they can do on their own to try something a little more challenging that may take a few days and involve another set of skills. This is why they usually look for a mountain guide.”
One of the best things about El Chaltén is that because it is a small mountain town inside a national park, the environment is well taken care of. Therefore, the flora and fauna of the area are thriving and mountaineering is a great way to discover some of the local animals, such as the endangered huemul deer, as well as the budding flowers and fragrant trees. Furthermore, on the way you will be able to enjoy clean fresh drinking water straight from the source!
At 1806 m.a.s.l, Cerro Madsen is a great mountain for beginners. The trek up this stunner usually takes around 12 hours, and can also be done in two days with an overnight camp out in the mountains for those that need more time. On this guided ascent you will get a chance to visit the stunning Laguna de los Tres lake and from there head to the summit of this gorgeous mountain where you can catch great sights of Cerro Fitz Roy and of the Piedras Blancas glacier!
Mojón Rojo gets its name from its reddish color. At 2163 m.a.s.l, it poses a bigger challenge than Madsen, both due to altitude and technical climbing requirements.
The trek follows a rocky path from Laguna Sucia lake that is quite challenging and leads to a cave which is occasionally used to sleep in without setting up camp. After staying overnight either in the cave or in a tent, another thrilling day awaits in the direction of the summit. More rocky terrain follows before arriving at a glacier where crampons and harness are required and some rappelling to descend after reaching the mountain top.
Because of the physical demands of the climb, a good fitness level and some trekking experience is require to tackle this beautiful red rebel.
At 2257 m.a.s.l, Cerro Eléctrico is a little higher up than Mojón Rojo and Madsen. It got its name from the noise of the wind blowing on its rocky slopes, and as can be expected poses a challenging, albeit thrilling, climb. As with Mojón Rojo it requires using crampons, ice axe and ropes to go up its demanding terrain, therefore it is for skilled climbers.
As with all the mountains in the region, getting to the summit is a well prized reward with stunning views from the mountain top.
Even more challenging still is Cerro Solo which at 2121 m.a.s.l. is not so high as Cerro Eléctrico but is a lot steeper. Crampons, ice axe and ropes will also be necessary to climb the glacier slopes of 30° to 50°, and therefore, prior experience and a good fitness level are required.
At 2579 m.a.s.l, Aguja Guillaumet is the highest of our top 5. It is also the most difficult to climb due to technical requirements and is therefore ideal for advanced mountaineers. Apart from being physically fit to tackle this Fitz Roy “needle”, it is also necessary to have multi pitch rock climbing skills and ideally some ice climbing under the belt as well. Of course, crampons, ice axe, and ropes are all part of the Guillaumet experience too, and because it is so challenging, it is usually done in three days.
The best time of the year to go mountaineering in El Chaltén is between November and May. These are the warmer months in the Southern Hemisphere. In November and December it will still be chilly, but late spring is beautiful because everything is in bloom. High season is during the summer months, between December and March, and early autumn is not only less populated, but stunning in color due to the seasonal yellows, reds and browns that contrast with the intense blues of the lakes. Whichever the season you decide to travel, keep in mind that the weather changes all the time so you will need to be well prepared.
“Mountaineering in El Chaltén requires adaptability to the changing climatic conditions and you must always have a plan B.”
Because El Chaltén is a remote location, the quickest way to get there is to fly to Calafate from Buenos Aires, Córdoba, Bariloche or Ushuaia. Calafate is 220 kms away from El Chaltén and from there, you can either take a bus, shuttle, or cab (remís) or rent a car. You can also take a long distance bus from different Patagonia cities such as Bariloche or Río Gallegos and from Chile, but keep in mind that it’s a long ride from any of these options.
El Chaltén is also a great destination for sport rock climbing. There are single pitch and multi pitch climbing options for beginner, intermediate and advanced climbers. According to Merlín,
“Most of our clients are beginner or intermediate climbers. Generally, they either come with some prior experience or have practiced on artificial walls. When they find out that El Chaltén has rock climbing options they look for a guide because they don’t have equipment or the necessary experience to go on their own.”
With the help of a guide, you can tailor your program to suit your level and preferences.
El Chaltén is a stunning mountaineering location in Patagonia. Don’t miss the chance to discover this breathtaking place and all its special spots on a unique mountaineering tour!
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