A first timer’s beta for El Chalten

It has taken me awhile to get really psyched on blogging again after traveling, climbing, and writing for 9 months straight.  Some of those climbs in Patagonia really took it out of me and stirred up a lot of thinking. Either way, slowly getting back to it….

My trip to El Chalten this year was my first to South America and to Patagonia.  In this document you’ll find what I believe was, or would have been, good information to have when planning my trip.

Hope it helps you!

Getting to/from El Chalten

The classic shot on the road to El Chalten
  • Most itineraries go through Buenos Aires (BA) before hopping to El Calafate (EZE).  Its nice to find one that avoids this.  When you do go through EZE, at the time of writing, you’ll have to pick your bags up and re-check them at a different terminal.  Make sure you give yourself an hour or so for this
  • The Las Lengas shuttle from EZE seems to be preferred, as they will take you directly to your hostel or other accommodations instead of dropping you at the bus station in town.

Things of which you should be aware of traveling:

  • In Argentina, they will weigh your checked bags AND your carry-on.  This means you can’t just load your carry-on with all your heavy shit
  • You will have mixed luck packing your climbing hard goods (rope, nuts, cams) in your carry-ons here, probably best just not to do it. Austin nearly missed his flight because of this when passing through BA. 

Useful stuff to bring

  • General
    • Sharp scissors and knifes – these don’t seem to exist in Chalten.  Not sure how they get by – not kidding!
    • Cooking spices, hot sauce. Bullion cubes are also nice to have.
    • Ground coffee or whole-bean coffee with a grinder.
    • Nut butter if you are a fiend for it and have extra weight – not sure how you would, but hey!
  • Climbing:
    • Performance bars, gels/GUs, drink mixes (we brought a huge tub of a protein/recovery mix to split) and freeze dried meals.  You can certainly find a bunch of calories in town in the form of sweets and candies, but for fast recovery after climbs before another big day, its worth having these higher quality supplement/exercise nutrition foods.  For reference, we brought about 24 bars each, plus another 30 GUs and StroopWaffles (I like these a lot for moderate intensity stuff). I could personally have brought more waffles and bars and fewer GUs.
    • Instant coffee (can be bought in the form of something similar to NesCafe)
    • Chai tea, hot chocolate or other hot drink mixes for climbing
    • Extra tat, pins, and nuts, particularly if you are going to be doing new routes

Things you don’t need to bring that can be acquired here:

  • Nuts and trail mix; visit Almazen or the random market store.  To get to Al Mazen, head East past Domo Blanco on Recardo Abrilla, then turn right on the diagonal, “Cmte Arrua” on google maps.  It is the last store before you would reach the steps that bring you up to the plateau above town. 
  • Instant oatmeal; sometimes can be found in the grocery store, otherwise at Almazen
  • Stove gas; by the Doite brand, but be sure to test the canisters BEFORE you bring them on route
  • Water sanitization or filtration; both the tap water and the water in the mountains is drinkable, just be smart about whether the stream you are drinking from is below a cow graising area.

Where to stay

  • The folks who come here year after year have their own gigs worked out.  If you are making your first trip, there seem to be a handful of hostels that everyone stays at.  These are:
    • Hem Heryu – Run by a guy named Hugo and at the far end of town away from the bustle.  Super low key, mostly climbers when we were there.  You can find his place on Facebook.
    • Albergue Aylen-Aike – Can be found online as well.  We didn’t stay there but a number of other folks who did and had good times. 
  • Safety and theft do not seem to be issues at the these hostels, but that may be different if you are staying at one where there are more through travelers (read: not climbers) in the central part of town.

Other things to know about town

  • The WiFi here is reportedly magnitudes better than it has been in the past, and I can assume this will only improve.  We were able to make FaceTime calls, stream music (just a little), download/upload plenty of other smaller things.  The quality of the connection depended on whether we were accessing WiFi at a hostel or a private residence, and seemingly on the time of day.
  • As of 2016/2017 season, the best place to exchange dollars for Pesos was Rancho Grande.  You can often also change at the grocery stores. I have paid for everything in Pesos here, though sometimes dollars are accepted, particularly at airports.  More and more locations seem to be accepting credit cards, but cash definitely seems to be preferred everywhere.  There is one Bank in El Chalten opens at 8am to 1Pm and one cash machine that frequently runs out of money.  Best just to bring down a bunch of cash.

Eating

Food is not particularly cheap in Chalten, either at restaurants or from the grocery story.  Don’t expect to come down and eat well on the cheap.  First, there are carbs everywhere.  It is really easy to buy anything made from flour (cookies, empanadas, pastries, etc). Veggies are harder to find, especially during high season (January, February).  During this period, the groceries stores seem to go through a sort of boom-or-bust cycle.  One day they are overloaded with fresh stalked food, the next they are completely wiped out of everything.

Standard El Chalten veggies – they don’t though away the ugly looking ones like we do in the states.

We didn’t eat out too much while I was there.  Sure we ate a bunch of empanadas (the highest quality ones seem to come from Niponino, and some of the best/creative flavors are found at the joint across from the far south grocery store), but the restaurants in the evening are expensive and really catered to tourists passing through who have more money to spend.  With a gang of climbers, we frequented La Senyora a few times, which seems to offer well-priced local food items – stews and such.

Whether you like to cook or not, one fun thing to do is to get a group of folks together for empanada or pizza nights.  At each of the bakeries you can by pizza crusts, then grab sauce, cheese, bacon, veggies, or whatever else you want to throw on top.  The dough is pre-cooked so you now just need to warm up your toppings in the oven.  Similarly, find someone who has visited before to walk you through making empanadas.  You can by the shells at many of the local bakeries or store as well, and this is a great evening for a lot of people.

If you can, try to attend a local “asado” – what seems to be an Argentine tradition of loading a ton of meat and vegetables onto closed BBQs over wood chips, and letting them roast.  When finished, the food is passes around in a sort of finger style and wolfed down by everyone who has been carnivorously staring at the grill.

Where to climb in/near town

Dutch friends at the Vescho Wall, near Hem Herhu

The bouldering is much much better than the sport climbing, but I suck at bouldering and did very little, so I won’t comment….

Sport climbing:

  • The best high-density/quality sport climbing in town is near the Hem Herhu hostel at the north end of town.  When walking through town, take a left after the last bakery/camping spot.  Walk down the dirt road, then take another left.  8 or so routes, mostly 7a-7b+, a very high-quality 7c, and some other stuff to warm up on. I believe this is the Vescho Wall.
  • There are two other crags across the bridge and a bunch of multi-pitch routes.  For cragging, hea past the bridge and walk either 10 minutes to the end of the cliff on the right, or 10 minutes to the left and then under the fence.  Both areas should be obvious from here and hold a bunch of quality moderate routes 6a-6c.  See https://www.thecrag.com/climbing/argentina/area/284092413.  The multi pitch routes aren’t super-quality but go pretty quick.  A few can be solod on a little training jog from town.  You be the judge.
  • If you stay at Hem Hehru, Hugo has a great set of topos, ask him!

In between climbing trips into the massif, it is worth trekking to La Playa or _____.  This is about an hour north of town by foot, or you can hitch a ride.  There are some great 7a/bs at ____ that are really enjoyable.  You only need a 60 meter rope.

Climbing in the massif/approaches

You can see my other trip reports for beta on individual routes we attempted or climbed (Super Domo, Exocet, El Tiburon), but just a few notes here for climbing in the massif in general.

  • Water: Its often reasonable to carry just a .5L bottle dangling off your pack during the long walks to base camp from town.  There is plenty of running water so you can fill up and drink as you go. We drank out of the several small streams/river running from Lago Torre towards town.  We did not drink out of some of the rivers running on the approach to Paso Quadrado, as there are cows in the area.
  • Terrain: I found the approaches to basecamp and to the base of routes similar here to those you would find in the Cascades, lots of scrambling, talus, small glaciers, bergshrunds – just on a much bigger scale.   You will do well by yourself if you boulder hopping, talus wresting skills are at a maximum.  It is dissimilar to Alaska in that you will probably begin and end your climbing day camping on rocks/dirt/slabs/glacial sill, rather than snow.

Niponino:

  • Finally, the approach to Niponin and the Torre glacier seems to be a topic of conversation.  Take the left approach.  We tried both, but after talking to a few folks, the consensus is that the left side of the lake is much less physically and emotionally draining.  It involves a short Tyrolean traverse, walking on a great trail, some short sections of sketchy down-climbing or pulling on manky fixed lines, and then finding a crossing across a small river on the middle of the glacier below the Adela group.  See photo below.
  • At Nipo, you’ll find running water.  Please handle human waste responsibility.  This place will only see more and more traffic over time. Similarly, during the high season, many teams may stash there gear in compactor bags here.  Make sure you remove it at the end of the season!

 

Showing the left hand side approach to reach the Torre Glacier

I am going to leave a small discussion of the climate, weather, and gear for next week!

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