Chalten Hospitality and Cerro Electrico Provide

Post by blogger | September 1, 2014      

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A photo like this doesn't get much cheesier, but the view voids all criticism.

A photo like this doesn’t get much cheesier, but the view voids all criticism. Click images to enlarge.

Views of Monte Fitz Roy on our arrival into El Chalten had us picking our jaws up off the ground and scrambling to figure out where to ski for the next eight days. It didn’t take long and we very quickly began to realize how incredible the hospitality is in this town.

We were able to meet up with some long-time locals to pick their brains about where to start. Vicente, who is a local guide and teacher, invited us to his home. He pulled out a stack of maps and gave us valuable information on what to ski and how to get there.

A peak just east of the Fitz Roy massif was an obvious choice for our first foray of skiing in the area. Cerro Electrico would offer a view that “feels like you could reach out and grab Fitz Roy.” Needless to say we were sold at that notion.

The view from the Electrico Bridge. Cerro Electrico is the obvious white triangle on the right.

The view from the Electrico Bridge. Cerro Electrico is the obvious white triangle on the right.

We packed our gear on the side of the street as we waited for siesta hours to end so we could grab a map at one of the local climbing shops before leaving town. We set out and drove 18 km of dirt road out of town (a mere joyride after two full days in the pampas) and stopped at the Electrico bridge that crosses Rio Electrico. It was suggested to us that we hike up the trail for 30 minutes and set up a tent in the forest. With our late departure time we decided to sleep by the car and go lighter in the morning. The “dew-nami” was fierce that night as we slept by the river and our sleeping bags were totally coated with a layer of frost (thank goodness for dry-down technology!)

Early morning view down the valley on our approach. Cerro Creston can be seen in the far distance.

Early morning view down the valley on our approach. Cerro Creston can be seen in the far distance.

From the little time I have spent in an Argentinian winter, it has not taken long to realize that approaches are not obvious and they will almost always involve a several hour approach on dirt and through thick bushes with skis on your back. Cerro Electrico was no different and we had everything from muddy trail to battle trees to icy boulder moves.

This is mid-winter skiing?

This is mid-winter skiing?

Walking up the cow pasture slopes with low clouds moving into the valley.

Walking up the cow pasture slopes with low clouds moving into the valley.

Within 45 minutes we left the summer trekking trail and headed up through forest and cow pasture slopes. We stopped for a moment in the sun and enjoyed the low lying clouds in the valley. With a snide remark, I said, “Are you guys beeping?” as we stood on a grassy slope. Skyler and I laughed and Louie had a look of “Oh sh?!”. He realized that his beacon was back in the car in his other ski pants. Louie took off running back to the car to retrieve his forgotten item.

Skyler and I considered waiting but instead decided to head up and into the steep gorge above. The river gorge offered us opportunities to thrash through bushes, make moves on an icy V0 and continue up towards the snow. This eventually led to a narrow snow gully that finally granted us access to our skis and skins. The approach up to this point had taken nearly four hours just to start skinning, in the middle of winter, in Patagonia.

"Are your beacons on yet?" Time for a jog.

“Are your beacons on yet?” Time for a jog.

With skis off our backs and skins on we were gliding through ten centimeters of cold powder. This was a welcoming sign and a respite from the conditions we experienced at Refugio Frey. The stoke was high as we moved up through the lower moraines to the bottom of the glacier on Cerro Electrico. Without having any idea of the snowpack this far south we were eager to get our heads into a snow pit and see what was going on. Louie had caught up with us and together we moved up to a representative slope aspect of our route. As we made our way out of the shade of the surrounding ridge line we found a sun-affected, spring like snowpack down low. Although bummed that the skiing conditions may not be as good as what we had just skinned through in the south facing shade, we were happy to unveil a stable snow pack and a clear route up.

Finally skinning through the lower moraines of Cerro Electrico.

Finally skinning through the lower moraines of Cerro Electrico.

Skyler skinning up with a sea of clouds over the pampas. Out of purgatory and further into heaven.

Skyler skinning up with a sea of clouds over the pampas. Out of purgatory and further into heaven.

We decided to spread out and head towards a far ridge line to avoid spending time under seracs that showed recent signs of activity. We skinned up for the next couple of hours with the motivation of a mind-blowing vista that would leave us speech-less and pinching ourselves to remind us that we were really here.



The snow gradually changed from sun-affected spring conditions to a colder surface with several centimeters of low density snow. We were set above a sea of clouds looking east over the pampas that we had spent so many hours traveling through. While Chalten and the surrounding plains were under a cloud we were in bluebird skies and barely a noticeable breeze. We were feeling so fortunate.

About 200 vertical meters from the summit we made our way over to a slight saddle and found ourselves with the ever-so-promised vantage of the Fitz Roy massif. As each of us arrived separately the same statement erupted from our mouths, “I think this is the best view I have ever seen in my life!” Words cannot begin to describe the beauty that this mountain range holds.

The best view I've ever seen

The best view I’ve ever seen

We stood there in awe and wonderment for a while before forcing ourselves to continue making moves upwards. With a significant change in the surface snow conditions from our initial snow pit, we decided to get a closer look at the upper slope. After digging we decided at that point to ski a more conservative line off of the top due to a couple of new layers that were reactive and not present in our lower pit. We booted up the final ridge line and were not only greeted by more views of Fitz Roy but also the Patagonian Ice Cap out to the west. The dream was further being realized.

Hard to imagine the vista improving. Looking west towards the Patagonian Ice Cap.

Hard to imagine the vista improving. Looking west towards the Patagonian Ice Cap.

The ski down was the best run of our trip so far with 15 centimeters of fresh snow and beautiful light looking out over the endless expanse of the pampas. Face shots, hooting, hollering, and high fives were ever present as we periodically regrouped.

Riding off the top. Best snow of the trip so far.

Riding off the top. Best snow of the trip so far.

Skyler skiing into the pampas.

Skyler skiing into the pampas.

We were able to ride back down fairly close to where we stashed our shoes and began the somewhat convoluted descent through steep icy gullies. We bushwhacked our way down to the cow pasture slopes and found the trail that took us back to our car by the Rio Electrico. During our descent down clouds began to move in up high and completely obscured our view of Cerro Electrico. We were tired, stoked, and ready to find a place to crash for the night.

The skiing may have ended too soon as Skyler navigates the icy walk down to get back to our shoes.

The skiing may have ended too soon as Skyler navigates the icy walk down to get back to our shoes.

We all make our way down towards the cow pasture slopes and eventually back to the car.

We all make our way down towards the cow pasture slopes and eventually back to the car.

Fortunately, on our way out of Vicente’s house the day before we met a man working in his yard who furthered the Chalten hospitality. Aristides works seasonally for Parque Nacional Los Glaciares building trails and maintaining park service structures. He told us to stay in his home while we were here in town. Little did we know when we arrived after Cerro Electrico that we would be offered our own fully functional house that he was building furniture for. To have a warm roof over our head during the following day of rain is a gift that we could never have asked for.

With a good weather forecast for the rest of our time here and an incredible community to be welcomed into, we are looking forward to exploring this area more.

Photos: Louie Dawson and Jonathan Cooper


8 Responses to “Chalten Hospitality and Cerro Electrico Provide”

  1. Jason Davis September 1st, 2014 11:38 am

    Absolutely incredible! I have to admit I looked at plane tickets to El Calafate after reading this, but I’m going to have to wait a couple months. Keep up the unbelievable pictures!

  2. Aaron September 1st, 2014 8:03 pm

    Sick! Looking forward to more.

  3. Lou Dawson 2 September 1st, 2014 8:35 pm

    Same here Aaron!

  4. Lisa Dawson September 2nd, 2014 5:46 am

    4 hours of dry land hiking to 15 cm of powder, then back to town to complimentary lodging — what a trip!

    Loved the “Riding off the top. Best snow of the trip so far.” photo. Quite an extraordinary place.

  5. Frame September 2nd, 2014 9:04 am

    Great report.
    I thought the Matterhorn was the most amazing mountain i had seen, but I really need to check out Fitz Roy to be sure or just to enjoy them both.

  6. Dorothy Cooper September 2nd, 2014 10:33 pm

    Awesome pictures – awesome descriptions. Looks amazing.
    Thanks for the update of your travels.

  7. chris blatter September 3rd, 2014 11:22 am

    Brings back memories..nice place to ski eh? In 1978-79 we spent 3 months climbing Fitzroy; we had Lovett Mountouring skis with Silvretta cable bindings but did not spend much time skiing. Sure would like to go back with 30 year old legs and my Dynafit Huascarans!! Keep on keepin’ on.

  8. brody leven September 15th, 2014 9:41 am

    YES ! this is so cool

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