Patagonia’s Mountain Landscapes 2011 Trip Report

By John Shaw on May 11, 2011

Our 2011 Patagonia’s Mountain Landscapes group met in an unseasonably warm Buenos Aires. Wasn’t this supposed to be autumn? Very early the next morning we flew from the domestic airport to El Calafate, where we were met by Cecelia, our local guide who would be with us the entire time. The famous Patagonia wind greeted us as soon as we stepped out of the Calafate airport and, out in the parking lot, played with our belongings as we unpacked tripods and boots from our duffels. But the wind also brought great clouds with it, streaming across the sky. Patagonia is indeed a land where you’re always aware of the sky.

We were headed to El Chaltén, the small village along the Rio de las Vueltas within Los Glaciares National Park. Founded in 1985, the town is best known for being the gateway to Mt. Fitz Roy and Cerro Torres, two of the most rugged and impressive peaks in the Patagonian Andes. Among climbers, these mountains have the reputation of being as two of the hardest peaks to scale as the sheer granite faces present long stretches of arduous technical climbing. The weather, especially the ice and wind that constantly roars over the peaks, adds to the problems faced by climbers. As an aside, you are probably familiar with the outline of Fitz Roy and the surrounding peaks, as they are the model for the Patagonia clothing logo, a company founded by Yvon Chouinard, who in 1968 climbed Fitz Roy with friends by a new route (the California Route, the third overall ascent of the mountain).

The days at El Chaltén were varied, from a blustery morning of great pre-dawn skies, to a full day of cloudless sunshine followed by a windless day of high overcast. We kept busy photographing the peaks, the sweeping landscapes, and the brilliant fall colors in the upper valleys. The wealth of subject matter turned a drive to the end of the road, at Lago del Desierto, only 30 kilometers from town, into an all-day affair due to our many stops (and every “half-hour” stop turned into an hour’s duration, and every “hour” stop turned into two hours). On our last night we went to bed with an absolutely clear starry sky, only to awaken to snow. Yes, it’s Patagonia.

Our next stop was back in El Calafate for another side of Los Glaciares National Park. Los Glaciares refers to the giant ice cap of the southern Andes range, the third largest ice cap in the world after Antarctica and Greenland. The attraction for us was Perito Moreno Glacier, which we could photograph at very close range. Moreno is huge and as it spills into Lago Argentina is has a five kilometer front which averages 74 meters in height. Our morning was spent photographing from land, while in the afternoon we took a boat excursion.

We then crossed the border into Chile, heading toward Torres del Paine National Park. Our hotel for the next five nights was on an island in Lago Pehoe, giving us a sunrise opportunity for early light on the peaks of Paine Grande and the Cuernos del Paine. Dawn photography was followed by breakfast, and then we were off to explore the park. Guanacos were easy to find in the open steppes, Andean condors sailed overhead, while a Patagonian red fox occupied us for one afternoon. A boat trip up Lago Grey to photograph the Grey Glacier took us to the bluest iceberg I have ever seen. Most bergs have areas of startling azure, but this one—wildly sculpted by wind and water—was predominately deep navy blue.

From the park we drove south to overnight in Puerto Natales, with its photogenic fishermen’s pier. Here a jumble of working and abandoned boats, all painted in bright colors, gave us another aspect of Patagonia to photograph. In the morning we worked first light on the old piers of what was once the town dock, but now a resting place for imperial shags and gulls.

A late evening flight got us back to Buenos Aires. After a leisurely morning, we stopped at the La Boca area for one last photo shoot, this time of colorful buildings and sidewalk cafes, before we headed to the international airport.

Related Tags:  cerro, fitz, glaciares, los, mt., patagonia, roy, torres