The day we arrived at El Chalten, the skies were grey and wet. Our bus stopped us in the new terminal and dropped us off. Rainwater dripped off our hoods as we consulted our (very damp) map. El Chalten is a small town, in fact, the newest town in Argentina, and there are only a few main streets. We locate our bed and breakfast easily, then trudging up the road, finally find respite from the cold and rain as the misty, windswept mountains around us appear and disappear like a magic act. There are stony, sharp faced ridges bordering El Chalten, and the proprietress of our cute little B&B, Nothofagus proudly informs us that there is a new, just-built ATM in town.
The next day, however, dawns bright, blue and beautiful. The steeply sloped roofs of the houses in El Chalten, brightly coloured in primary reds, yellows and blues, are reminiscent of the houses I saw in Reykjavik, only with a more frontier-town-like feeling, under brighter skies. Foxgloves in shades of scarlet and lilac adds an alpine touch. The town feels like it is poised on the edge of wilderness, which, being the Hiking Capital of the World, it is.
A quick discussion with my magic travel friend, and we decide on the trail to Laguna Torre, which meanders past a lookout point where we should be able to see Cerro Solo, then onwards to the Mirador Miastre, at the foot of the Cerro Torre and Glacier Grande. The trek starts promisingly, though Cerro Torre, notoriously fickle, is hidden in cloud as we set out.
The trail itself winds uphill and down gentle slopes, and before long we are at the lookout. Cerro Solo, to our left stands immutable, impassive, still shrouded in snow, and before us, a forest of palo santo, grey branches devoid of foliage. We christian this the Petrified Forest, and continue on our trek, passing a windswept section of the trail, where driving wind brings stinging pellets of snow into our faces before finding refuge in a magical, sun-dappled forest of mossy boulders and tall, sky-reaching trees.
After some time spent on the banks of a rushing, gurgling river, swollen with turquoise glacier melt, we reach the De Agostini camp in 3 hours. We clamber onto the rocky trail that leads to Laguna Torre, the howling wind swaying our every step. Ahead of us is Glacier Grande, with blue ice floating in the beryl waters of Laguna Torre.
Huddled behind a rough rock shelter, we stop to catch our breaths. Patagonia is wildness, wind, emptiness, jagged peaks. The end of the world.
Retreating to the relative shelter of the camp, we unwrap our lunch – sandwiches, empanadas, fruit and cereal bars. There is no drinking available at the camp, but there are drop toilets for hikers and campers. We sit in the sun and watch the clouds scuttle over the peaks of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre before starting our hike back to El Chalten.
The weather changes as we trek back, and while our feet are weary, our hearts jump with joy when the wind finally parts to reveal, in all its glory, the peaks of both Cerro Torre, jagged like teeth, and Mount Fitz Roy, sheer-sided and steep, rising from the plains of Patagonia like ancient sentinels of the land.