An insider shares her tips from hiking in the shadow of one of Argentina’s most iconic peaks.
It was dark, and the past hour of hiking was spent crisscrossing up steep, rocky switchbacks. Morning twilight had started to define the rocky shapes in front of us when I came around the corner. There it was: a granite cathedral jutting into the sky. Fitz Roy towered over me, surrounded by five peaks more majestic than any spires or architecture I’d ever seen.
The previous two days, the mountain was veiled in fog. This morning, the cloudy curtains were drawn back, and I was startled by its beauty. I had to tilt my head back so I could take it all in.
The journey to Fitz Roy was long—4 flights, multiple days of driving, a day of hiking, 30 hours of waiting for rain to pass, and a 4 a.m. wakeup—but so worth it.
1. Get ready for wind. Our camper van came with a warning sticker that said, “beware of the Patagonian wind.” They weren’t joking. On the road and on the trail, the wind will be your constant companion: when you are sleeping (bring guylines for your tent), when you’re hiking (be ready to hit the ground), and when you’re prepping food (keep your eyes peeled for sheltered places to cook). If you’ve got longer hair, don’t skimp when you’re packing ponytails. If you’re a light sleeper, ear plugs will also be helpful.
Before starting our trek, we parked near the trailhead to transition from van mode to backpacking mode. There wasn’t a ton of shelter from the wind, and I had to chase down more than one item that blew away. If you need to do a major repack, aim to do it before you arrive.
2. El Chalten (the town you’ll leave from) operates on cash. Sometimes the ATM breaks. If you are planning on spending any time in El Chalten prepping for your trek, or recouping after, I would recommend pulling out plenty of Argentinian pesos before you arrive. We had to stay an extra day while we figured out how to get enough cash for gas to get out of town. El Chalten has some delicious restaurants, a great mountain town feel, and stores to explore—definitely worth a day on either end of your trip. If you’re in need of a shower or some internet, the hostel in town is not too far from the trailhead.
3) Prep for rain. Before we set out, the sun was shining and we were peeling off layers. An hour later, it started to pour and didn’t let up for 30 hours. Weather changes here are fierce and can come on in the blink of an eye. There’s the practical side of being ready for the rain (a rain cover for your pack, a rain jacket, plastic bags to keep things dry), but you’ll also want to pack plenty of boredom-busters (cards and books).
4. The 4 a.m. wake up is worth it. Our group made the choice to see Fitz up close at sunrise, which included an extremely early wake-up call. If it had been only up to me, that morning would have looked very different, but I’m thankful for my early bird friends. Watching the sky go from dark to pink behind those peaks was the most incredible thing I’ve ever seen. A few of us emptied our flash packs and stuffed them with sleeping bags so we could cozy up while we waited for sunrise.