Stories from the Amazon
Dean Jacobs attempts to get the perfect shot of Fitz Roy, left.
Fitz Roy peak in southern Patagonia of Argentina, right.
Waiting for the Perfect View Can be the Hardest Part
Three weeks sounded like a considerable amount of time to see a country, but Argentina is the 8th largest country in the world. It is very roomy here, lots of extra space. However, my allotted time would only allow me to scratch the surface.
Before even landing in the country, I had already made up my mind to return to Argentina. This decision took the pressure off trying to see and do everything. The idea was to make this more of a reconnaissance trip to get a feel for Argentina.
Dating back to my climbing days in the Pacific Northwest (Seattle, Washington), I had dreamed of seeing the Patagonia Mountains in Argentina. It was time to fulfill a piece of that dream.
I have to be honest, my knowledge of Argentina was limited. About the only thing I knew was its location at the bottom of South America. So when I declared that I was on my way to see the Patagonia Mountains, I had no idea that it would take me another 24 hours by bus to get from the top of Patagonia to the bottom. This was like saying I am going to see New York City and take a little side bus trip to the Grand Canyon in Arizona while I am in the country.
Buses are a cheap mode of transportation and allowed me to see the scenery. Except after 24 hours of the same landscape, a long ride does get a little tiresome.
“Don’t tell anyone. Keep it a secret,” the bus driver said to me.
Long-distance buses have different classes of seats. The upper deck is crammed with seats that have little extra room; the lower deck has a few spacious seats, similar to first class in an airplane.
The bus drivers had become my friends, and one of them invited me to take an open seat on the lower deck. It pays to be nice to people.
I gratefully accepted his kind offer. The ride to El Calafate just got a little easier.
Beautiful scenery in the Patagonia Mountains of Argentina.
Flying by the seat of my pants leaves room for spontaneity; it also leaves room for challenges. One current challenge was trying to find a place to sleep at the height of tourist season in a small Argentinian town.
After walking around for a couple of hours in El Calafate, I finally found a room in a large hostel.
El Calafate is the jumping-off point en route to one of Argentina’s most stunning sights, the Perito Moreno Glacier. This slow-moving tsunami of ice is 19 miles long and one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing.
It’s said this ice field is the world's third largest reserve of fresh water.
The shear magnitude of the glacier is breathtaking. A boat ride allowed me to get a close and more intimate view of the ancient blue-tinted glacier. This ice field averages a height of 240 feet above the water and another 550 feet below. Every day, it calves off chunks of ice the size of houses and cars into the lake below. It’s a sound and sight that leaves one speechless and in awe of nature.
The Perito Moreno Glacier. This slow moving tsunami of ice is 19 miles long and several miles wide, it is one of the few glaciers in the world that is still advancing.
A large boat looks tiny as it approaches the Perito Moreno Glacier.
After exploring the glacier, next up was a hike in the Patagonia Mountains.
I could spend weeks hiking in and around the Patagonia Mountains in Argentina; my schedule allowed only three days.
I needed to plan carefully. I asked a staff member at the hostel, “If you only had one shot at going for a hike, which one would you choose?”
The young staffer behind the counter replied, “The Laguna de los Tres hike, to see Fitz Roy. But be aware, if it is cloudy you will see nothing.”
Back in my hostel room, one my of my roommates was a man from Buenos Aires, Rodrigo Dominguez.
I asked him, “Do you have a nickname?” I knew I would never be able to pronounce his name correctly.
“My sister calls me, Flaco, which means skinny,” Dominquez replied.
“Flaco. Yes, I can manage that,” I said.
Tourists view the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonian region of southern Argentina.
I explained that someone at the hostel had recommended the Laguna de los Tres hike to see Mount Fitz Roy.
“Do you want me to come with you?” Flaco asked. “The weather forecast is for clearing skies in the afternoon.”
“Great, let’s leave at 6:30 tomorrow morning,” I responded.
The Laguna de los Tres trail is a 23-25 kilometer round trip hike that takes one to special vantage points and breathtaking views. The views I did not question; my capacity to actually do the entire hike was something else. I don’t remember the last time I did a 14-mile hike, run or walk.
By 6:30 the following morning, Flaco and I were on the trail and started the long walk to see Mount Fitz Roy. Clouds covered everything above a certain height, and we were left with only hope that the forecast would be accurate.
For several hours, the trail wound through windswept forests and high alpine meadows. The last portion of the trail was a steep zigzag section that went straight up for a mile.
Before I continued, I briefly visited with the park ranger.
With the peaks still hidden in the clouds, we continued up the trail with our hope for a clear view of Mount Fitz Roy. My climbing companion soon left me, as he was in much better shape.
I just kept trudging along and filled my lungs with the clean mountain air.
The park ranger I had met earlier smiled as he passed me on the trail and said “good luck.”
At the top, I found Flaco waiting for me on a boulder.
“The park ranger said you were coming, slowly … but that you were still coming,” Flaco said with a smile.
At the top, the clouds still enveloped Mount Fitz Roy. We decided to wait for an hour to see if the clouds would part. During that time, we ate lunch.
As we sat there, the clouds teased us with partial views of the majestic peaks that were otherwise mostly hidden. Such is the nature of hiking in the mountains; one never knows for sure.
Just about when I was thinking it was time to start heading back, the clouds started to thin.
We waited and watched as the mountains were slowly revealed. Eventually, the clouds gave way and right in front of us was a stunning view of Mount Fitz Roy with glaciers and turquoise lakes.
And in that moment, our hope turned into gratitude. The long hike home just got a little easier, fueled by the joy of fulfilling a dream – hiking in the Patagonia Mountains in Argentina.
And now, it was time to head home to Nebraska.
Breathtaking view of Fitz Roy peak in southern Patagonia of Argentina.