At scarce 15km from El Chaltén, the El Pilar inn is the starting point and destination of hikers and climbers who are in search of discovering and exploring these latitudes.
The first morning in El Chaltén had started well, with template sunny weather and not much wind. The Fitz Roy looked magnificent as well as its wild environment, which gives shelter to the tiny village.
I was heading for the El Pilar inn, located 15km from the village, bordering the De las Vueltas River. El Pilar is much more than a starting point for some paths. For Marcelo Pagani, mountain guide, musician and painter, this is his place in the world. He knew it in 1987, and after some comings and goings, he built the inn, a remake of an old large house in honor to the first pioneers. El Pilar gave us a simple and cozy welcome, with an unsurpassable view of the Fitz Roy, which percolates through its comfortable rooms.
After having an exquisite vegetable omelette prepared by Milko, head of the inn restaurant, I was ready for my first hiking excursion.
The idea was to go to the Piedras Blancas glacier in the company of Ignacio, guide and part of the El Pilar trouppe.
The starting point
With an unsurpassable view of the Fitz Roy
Warm and welcoming
At scarce 15 km from El Chaltén
On the river bank
The warmth of El Pilar was waiting for us
We started to walk at around three o’clock in the afternoon, across the little forest surrounding the house, on the river bank. The wind started to blow and spread the sweet aroma of the paramela yellow flowers, very similar to the smell of cinnamon. As the path entered the lengas forest, we made out the Madsen mount. Farther on, the Laguna de los Tres, the Eléctrico mount and, in the distance, the valley of the homonymous river. We could only hear the noise of dead trees, which have turned hollow by the work of a kind of worm that attacks the older specimens, which fall on the other trees when shattered by wind gusts. Every now and then, some chal or bem-bem flew across us.
The atmosphere seemed bewitched. In these nooks, the Salesian father Alberto María de Agostini used to settle one of these base camps. And to think that he went round these harsh valleys and mountains, wrapped in his cassock, with his camera and papers; nothing like the complex equipment used by the alpinists that arrive in El Chaltén today.
Towards Piedra del Fraile
I had been told that around 4 o’clock in the morning you could see dawn over the Fitz Roy. It was not a big effort to wake up but the best thing about it was that I could see it from my window, and after witnessing such a beautiful event, it was hard for me to go back to sleep. So, at eight o’clock, I was ready for hiking. We had made arrangements with Ignacio and an American family the previous night. I had a good breakfast to gain energy and prepared my backpack with the camera and a snack that Alicia had prepared. As I was waiting for everybody to be ready, I hanged about reading “The Endurance: Shackleton's legendary Antarctic expedition”, a book by Caroline Alexander about Sir Ernest Shackleton expedition to the South Pole. Without any doubt, these far lands are marked by the men who dared to go on great undertakings.
I remembered father de Agostini again. How many times must he have retraced the same steps we were going to make that morning? We left and crossed the Blanco River, bordering the Polo Mount till we passed by the Eléctrico Mount. We went through a lenga forest, listening to the murmur of the Eléctrico River accompanying us. After 2 hours of steady pace along the track without slopes, we got to the Piedra del Fraile camp. Together with Ignacio and my new American friends, Billy, Gloria and Jessica, we chose a site in the shade of the trees to have lunch and some rest. As all of us were feeling alright, we decided to go a little farther. The idea was to continue to the Pollone glacier, but when we resumed the hiking, the wind and the rain made a decision for us.
An incredible view of the North side of the Fitz Roy, completely cloudless, let us see the different needles, among them the Guillaumet. But as we were advancing, we verified why the area receives the name of “the fan”. With great difficulty, we reached Lake Eléctrico to make out the Marconi glacier in the distance. Billy was glad to meet the true Patagonian wind, which at this point transformed into gusts threatening to lift us in the air. Safe and sound but soaked from head to toe, we went back through the forest, where we found several woodpeckers nesting in the lengas holes. Fortunately, we knew that the warmth of El Pilar was waiting for us.
Karina Jozami Gentileza Hosteriaelpilar.com.ar
Contact of the excursion or tour
Ruta Provincial 23 y Río Eléctrico (9301) El Chaltén, Santa CruzTel: +54 2962-493002
See more points of interest in El Chaltén