The best day hike in El Chaltén

If you are in El Chaltén, the Laguna Los Tres trail is a must.

The Laguna Los Tres is often compared to the iconic towers’ base lookout hike in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park.  Having hiked both trails, they are comparable in the class of world’s best day hike category. The diversity of landscapes and the numerous surprises along the way make it a great hike.

You have two options. One is to start the hike from El Chaltén, leaving the city in the early morning and going uphill for about 4 hours before reaching the  Laguna Los Tres. The second option is to take a transfer to El Pilar (about 17 kilometers north of the town) and to warm up with a gentle walk through a beautiful lenga forest. No doubt about it, the second option is way better – you’ll see more landscapes, and you’ll be less tired.

We took the second option, hired a car to take us to Hostería El Pilar, where we started walking along the Rio Blanco river. Did I mention that we hiked in the dark? Having done a night hike at Mt Yushan in Taiwan, we thought it might be good to catch sunrise on Mt Fitz Roy. We started hiking at 3am and walked in the dark for 2 hours till we got to Poincenot Lookout , then a bit further through Camp Poincenot to Lago Madre e Hijo (the mother and daughter lakes)

Here is the actual route we took (distance is approximate):

Route I: El Pilar to Camp Poinsenot, 2.5 hours, 6km one way
Route G: Camp Poinsenot to Lago Madre y Hija, 1 hour, 3km one way (walked half way only).

We waited at a point (half way between the Mirador Piers Blancas and Camp Poincenot) for the first light and another 15 minutes or so the whole mountain range turned fiery orange. It was terribly cold due to wind chill, a sheltered spot really made a difference.

Mt. FitzRoy is famous for being hidden in clouds. In fact, its former name, Chaltén, means “smoking mountain” so-named because most of the time it was covered in smoke (but really, in clouds).

We should have done more homework (who would have known that the internet at El Calafate would be so slow that it was impossible to google anything) as we could have had an even better view if we had walked a kilometer further to Campamento Poincenot. This stretch of the hike is breathtakingly beautiful. Instead of the steep climb to Lago de los Tres, the guide talked us into walking to Lago Madre e Hijo which was really not that impressive but offers a great view of not just Fitz Roy but the entire range of peaks. The hike was flat and beautiful, passing through lenge forest and streams.

To the left of Mount Fitzroy are Cerro Poincenot, Aguja AG Rafael, Aguja Saint Exupery. The Fitzroy mountain range is on the boarder between Argentina and Chile. El Chaltén, Argentina.

Because we hiked in the night and couldn’t see anything  beyond the little patch of ground where the headlight shone, we didn’t realize how beautiful the whole trail was. On the way back to El Pilar, the mountain range is to our left the whole time, passing Glaciar Piedras Blancas and along Rio Blanco.

Here is a better map so you can see the trails and its relation to the mountain range. 

Two regrets:

  1. I regret not pushing myself to go all the way to Laguna Los Tres (Route D) since we were told  it was very steep and difficult 1.5 hours climb.  Therefore missed the magnificent view of the turquoise water of Laguna de los Tres at the base of Mt Fitz Roy, the closest one can get to Mt Fitz Roy without getting into technical climbing
  2. Should have walked the Camp Poincenot to El Chalten section of the trail, passing Lake Capri. Again, I chickened out worrying about our knees as the guide told us it would be a two hour steep descent.  

Photo credit: Yee Ming Tan (iPhone 7 and iPhone X)