Sick. I mean that in the best possible way. Cerro Fitz Roy, also called Cerro Chaltén, is a mountain near El Chaltén village in Patagonia. While called a mountain, Fit Roy is more like a massive granite spire, flanked on either side by slightly smaller spires. In the climbing world, Fitz Roy is considered to be among the most technically challenging mountains on earth.
I set out by bus for El Chaltén from El Calafate. Soon after leaving El Calafate, our bus was traveling down a road that crossed a portion of the vast Patagonian steppes. Little, scrubby desert plants hunkered down in the desiccated soil. In the distance, the land rose in long, flat, beige plateaus. Gullies and washes of brown earth added to the mystery of the place.
The wind that day was rampaging across the open landscape like a runaway freight train. As our bus made its way on a long straight away, a particularly fierce gust broadsided the bus, which lilted severely to one side. Everyone on the bus gasped in fright. I thought for sure the bus was going to tip over. As the wind released its gripped and continued on, the bus rocked back the other way, beginning a pendulum motion. The bus took some moments to balance out again. When I saw the driver’s face in the rear view mirror, it was white, and his eyes were wide with terror.
Flowing through the arid land was a river of jade colored water. I’d never seen such a color in nature before. The contrast between the jade water and the beige desert land was astounding and gorgeous.
Eventually the snowy spires of Cerro Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre came into view. Excited exclamations of ohhh! and ahhh! erupted from my mouth and the mouths of everyone else. Our bus driver pulled off the road to let us take pictures. The granite spires rose out of desert landscape like a mirage. Clouds swirled around the peaks, the mountains attracting their own weather. Sunlight glinted brightly off snowy glaciers. The scene was so magnificent as to look fake.
After we arrived in El Chaltén, I found my way to the bungalow I had rented. The town was quite small. Walking from one end of town to the other was no more than a fifteen minute stroll. But given the way the wind was blowing, walking any distance was a chore.
After unpacking my backpack at the bungalow, I set off to buy some groceries. The bungalow had a gas stove, and I wanted to make myself a pot of soup. On the way to a little market, I had to brace myself against the wind and protect my face. Roaring gales rose up from the valley, rushing through the streets with great force. Desert sand was carried along with the wind, sandblasting me and everything else.
After buying some vegetables and some chicken parts, I set off back to the bungalow. A particularly strong blast of wind caught me off guard, and blew my glasses off my face. I watched in surprise and horror as my glasses were then blown down the street. I had to run after them with bags of groceries in hand. I’d never experienced such brutal wind.
I spent that night eating chicken soup and watching old American movies. It turns out that the owner of the bungalow — a wonderful, boisterous Argentinian women — was a fan of classic American films. In the bungalow she kept a small collection of DVDs for guests to watch. I watched The Birds, All that Heaven Allows, and All About Eve. Great films.
I went to El Chaltén to hike to the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. I’d have to wait a couple of days to do that because of foul weather.
On my third day in the little town, I met up with Ana, a young German woman I’d met in Chile. Together we set off on the Sendero Fitz Roy – The Fitz Roy Trail. On the way to Fitz Roy, we passed through patches of evergreen forest, wandered along a stream, and saw a few impressive mountains. The trail was a loop hike and not difficult, as we chose the easier direction to take, avoiding a substantial climb from El Chaltén.
After a few hours, we arrived at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. Even close up, the scene still looked fake. There was a lagoon at the base of the mountain, filled with glacial meltwater. The water was a vibrant, mesmerizing turquois. Wind and snow blew around the summits, sometimes washing over us. While the wind was nothing like the previous days, I still had to hunker low on occasion, afraid that I’d be blown off the mountain.
Ana and I ate lunch at the base of the mountain, sitting quietly and smiling at the beauty of it all. I imagine there probably aren’t many other places in the world as captivating as Cerro Fitz Roy. So I bequeathed Cerro Fitz Roy with my own moniker: Throne of the Gods. It was one of the few places where Patagonia lived up to its legend.