4-days on the Huemul Trail (El Chaltén)

It was four magnificent days we had on the Huemul trail, but also the hardest and most difficult hike we have ever done. We would recommend the hike, but also keep in mind that the trail has steep and long ascents and descents. Also you have to have good weather, otherwise you can’t enjoy the amazing views.

If I have to pick the best moment on the hike, it was the sight of the huge 977 km2 glacier Viedma

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I have a Garmin Fenix 3 watch, that I use for recording our hikes. If you want to do this hike – you can find more information and download the GPS trail and typographic map at the end of this post.

Day 1: 17km ascent 750 meters and descent 500 meters

The first day is quite easy going, and has a few good views over lake Viedma and we also passed by a smaller glacier. The Huemul trail starts at the visitor center for Los Glaciares National Park, and the hike is on a well marked trail to Laguna Toro, were we camped at the campground. The campground has good shelter, one pit toilet and no view at all, because it is located between tree at a cliff wall.

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As we got to Rio Túnel the trail follows the river all the way to Laguna Toro

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We picked some calafate berries on the way. They are quite tasty, but small. Also making it across a few smaller river crossings

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Then we got to this river, and two other hikers were putting on their boots on the other side. So we figured out, that we had to go on the other side (left picture)… BUT after getting to the other side, putting on the hiking boots, and only walking for 10 minutes we found out, that we were trapped on a small island in the middle of the river. The only way to get back on track, was two walk across the river one more time. We never found out if there was way to the right side of the river. Just saying that the water in the river come from melting glaciers, and it is freezing COLD wlEmoticon-freezing 4-days on the Huemul Trail (El Chaltén)

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So we ended day 1 with clean feet.

Day 2: 15km ascent 1000 meters and descent 700 meters

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This was the toughest day on the hike, but also the most amazing day. From Laguna Toro (the water was just grey) we climbed to towards glacier Rio Túnel Inferior, but before reaching the glacier we had to cross a river using a zip line.

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A lot of people were on the trail, but we got an early start, so only four people were in front of us for the zip line. The mandatory equipment for this hike is: one harness, two carabineers and a safety line per person, which we had rented in town the day before, and a typographic map plus a 35 meter thin rope for the pulley on the zip line (per group), which we had to buy in a camping store. The map was useful, but we never needed the 35 meters of thin rope.

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Now we just had to get to the glacier

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At the bottom left side of the glacier, we could get on the glacier and went on our own small glacier hike. We never thought, that it would be so amazing to get the change to walk on a glacier.

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At the same time we also had t be really careful, because we were walking on the ice with no crampons (a metal rack with spikes, that you attach underneath your hiking boots). The ice got really slippery, when the surface was not level.

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Panoramic view of Glacier Rio Túnel Inferior

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Nothing last forever and we still had a long way to go, so it was time to get off the glacier – tasting glacier water from the first time

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After getting off the glacier, we had lunch before climbing 1000 meters in elevation to the top of “Paso del Viento”. If you want to know more about what and how much food we bring on a 4 day hiking trip, read this post: “Get inspired – how to eat right when hiking”.

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We walked up hill or more up the mountain side for 3 hours. Talking several breaks on our way, some 30 seconds and other 10 minutes. To be able to walk al day and for several days, it is important to take breaks, drink plenty of water and eat snacks. On a day like this Esben burn off about 4000 kcal. The trail turned from easy to follow to totally disappearing due to a landslide. The closer we got to the top of the pass the more rocks and loose grave we meet.

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It as worth every drop of sweat – yes we had amazing and total clear weather. Here it only happen 4 times a year (that is what the local told us in El Chaltén)! In this pictures you see Laguna Túnel Superior, to the left Glacier Rio Túnel Superior o de Quervain and to the right Glacier Rio Túnel Inferior (the glacier we walked on).

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Getting over the pass “Paso del Viento” (the windy pass) was a victory!

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The large 977 km2 Glacier Viedma

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Viedma is a part of the huge Southern Patagonian Ice Field, located at the southern end of the mainland of South America. Viedma Glacier is a valley glacier and its moraine-rich terminus flows into the western end of Lake Viedma. Viedma is also located in the undefined part of the limit between Chile and Argentina. So here in Argentina Viedma is in Los Glaciares National Park, and in Chile it is a part of Bernardo O’Higgins National Park.

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The massive force of Viedma has created is wall of rocks and sediment. What an amazing force mother nature possesses

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After more than 8 hours of walking we reached the campground, and filled up water at the nearby creek. We found a spot in the sun to set up the tent, and hang our sweaty clothes to dry. Goodnight wlEmoticon-sleepinghalfmoon 4-days on the Huemul Trail (El Chaltén)

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Day 3: 16km ascent 650 meters and descent 1300 meters

This day was almost as amazing as day 2! I started early and watched the sunrise over glacier Viedma.

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While I was enjoying the sunrise, Esben was still a sleep in the tent. Our tent is the orange furthest to the right in the picture.

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After breakfast we were back on the trail following a small creek, and later crossing a small river. We were still following glacier Viedma, but it was out of sight.

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After passing Lake Pepa, we got to see glacier Viedma again

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The clouds was gathering and wind was picking up

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The trail was now following the edge of the mountainside as we made our way towards the mountain pass “Paso Huemul”. The name of the pass also corresponds to the name of the trail “The Huemul trail/circuit”. Here in Patagonia live the south Andean deer also called the huemul. The huemul is native to the mountains of Argentina and Chile, but is endangered. The Huemul is well-adapted to the broken and difficult terrain with a stocky build and short legs. A brown to greyish-brown coat tapers to white undersides and a white marked throat. The long, curled hairs of the coat provide protection against cold and moisture. Does are 70 to 80 kg (154-176 lbs.) and stand 80 cm. (31 in.), while bucks are 90 kg (198 lbs.) and stand 90 cm (35 in). While it was previously found over much of southwestern South America, the current status of the south Andean deer is critical. In 2005 the populations of Huemul’s in Argentina were estimated at 350–600, in fragmented groups (Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Andean_deer). We have not been lucky to see a huemul.

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The wind was pushing us up the Huemul pass (1005 meter), and reaching the other side we took in the panoramic view of Lake Viedma

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Now we just had to make the steep descent of about 1000 meters down to the campground located at Lake Viedma

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We have never before tried longer ascent as on day 2, when we climbed “Paso del Viento” in 1415 meters, and never before have we ever manage to descent 1000 meter over a distance on longer than 3 km. The further we got the more visible the icebergs got in Lake Viedma.

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It took us 2,5 hour to get safely to the campground at Lake Viedma, but it was worth it!

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We washed our faces in the ice-cold water of the lake, and set up the tent. This campground are really small, and when a bigger group came to set up four tent, there was not enough space, and they hat to walk to the next campground. This is absolutely the most amazing campground on the hike, so do everything you can to find a spot for your tent.

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The icebergs in the lake are melting, so the ice formations are changing all the time. It takes time, but it is amazing just to sit and relax while watching ice break of the never ending changes of the ice formations. We watched the sunset, and was hoping for clear weather the next morning to see the sunrise.

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Day 4: 25km ascent 700 meters and descent 600 meters

The last day we had the most amazing morning with the most amazing sunrise.

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Still waiting for the sun to peak over the horizon, while creating these amazing colors – this is the reason, why you just have to find a spot for your tent at this campground

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As the sun peaked over the horizon, the colors of the icebergs, glacier Viedma and the surrounding mountains were just amazing

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Two close up photos wlEmoticon-camera 4-days on the Huemul Trail (El Chaltén)

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We packed our backpacks and were on back on the trail

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Following Bahia Cabo de Hornos, while the sun was still rising

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This last piece of the trail was easy only with smaller ascents and descents. The biggest challenge was getting across the water crossings without getting wet feet. Everything worked from wood to a scull, and I did my best.

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…and so did Esben. Still looking for huemul’s, but only saw some animal tracks in the mud. We are pretty sure, that the footprint in the right picture is from a guanaco. Want to know more about animals tracks here in Patagonia, check out this guide: https://www.cascada.travel/en/News/Animal-Tracker-s-Guide-Trekking-Patagonia 

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Our last view of Glacier Viedma and Lake Viedma! It has been an amazing meeting

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The final part of the hike was a zip line over the lower part of Rio Túnel, before it runs out into Lake Viedma

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Pulling myself across with my backpack

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After 17,5 km we reached the end of the trail, where the tour boats departs from Bahia Rio Túnel to glacier Viedma. Our plan was to take a bus back to El Chaltén, but the arriving bus was leaving for El Calafate and put El Chaltén. So we started walking the last 8 km towards El Chaltén. With this view of Mount Fitz Roy walking all the way back to El Chaltén, it was worth it!

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When we got back to the parking lot across the visitor center Lance (our van) was waiting for us, but also our friends Taisa and Ernesto had arrived. Hanging out with our friends, several other travelers jointed us, and we enjoyed several snacks, a cup of cold beer and the good company. We could not have wished for anything more, than the feeling of “Welcome home” after the 4 days on the Huemul trail.

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The next day we left El Chaltén and drove towards El Calafate – the weather was forming in the mountains, and Mount Fitz Roy was starting to disappear

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Are you ready for this hike? Get the map and GPS track for the here: https://www.gpsies.com/map.do?fileId=mjjfseomwrvgsowi

Map-Huemul 4-days on the Huemul Trail (El Chaltén)

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