*Disclaimer: We are officially back in the United States working jobs and living ‘normal’ life again. Our apologies for the large gap between posts, but we are finding it prudent to finish the story and provide closure on our trip of a lifetime.
Leaving Villa O’Higgins, we began the journey north on the Carretera Austral in order to head further south once again. Villa O’Higgins is at the end of The Carretera Austral and to continue south to the tip of the continent, it was necessary to backtrack over 200km to the town of Cochrane, Chile where the nearest border crossing by land into Argentina was located. We didn’t mind because the rediscovery of the lower section of the Carretera was a wonderful pleasure. This little traveled road is full of sweeping views, unique ecosystems and endless waterways. Stopping in the mountain town of Cochrane, we found it to be an over-lander meet up! We were able to revisit with Danixa, Juan Pablo and Bruno, our Chilean friends in their Mercedes bus named Margarita. With our limited time in town, we headed out to go fishing one evening and some local children flagged us down full of questions. They thought it would be fun for us to take them on a quick road trip to the USA. Apparently they still have some things to learn about geography 😉 Instead, we drove them around town and up to the local view point to see the sunset together.
Winter was on its way so we said adios to our friends and the next morning headed into Parque Patagonia, which was land purchased by North Face founder and adventurer Doug Tompkins and his wife Kris, and is now protected as a publicly accessed park.They had completed a lot of work to preserve a vast tract of land before Doug’s tragic accident that resulted in his death. Today, his wife Kris still manages the park along side the Chilean Government. Doug’s grave was placed here due to his love and passion for the Chilean land.We spent our first day in the park lazily visiting the main office, their gardens and taking in the beautiful head quarters area. The guanaco were everywhere and didn’t seem to mind us.We decided to take full advantage of the beautiful fall weather and hiked for 2 days on beautiful maintained trails, fished and found a couple of great camping spots. This area of Chile was full of sheep farming prior to the conservation efforts, but now the fences and structures have been removed, and the Guanacos and Pumas have returned. We both had the pleasure of seeing a puma for the first time in our lives (no photo because the cat was too fast).Now on the doorstep of Argentina, we wished Chile goodbye again and talked about how nice it would be to come back in 10 or 20 years to see how well the forests and other wildlife have returned.We crossed the border back into Argentina early morning and the excitement was high as we were finally heading south once again.On the long slow washboard approach to the famous Ruta 40, we cherished the wide open spaces and other-worldly landscapes in the Argentinian pampa.We stopped for lunch and cherished the beautiful view along the road. The wind was howling however, so we were happy to keep moving onward. Arriving at the famous ruta 40, which is now mostly paved, the wide open space reminded us of Wyoming and Colorado. Getting to feel close to home so far away brought us both peace and pride for our homeland.For multiple days and hours and hours we drove through the windy pampa with feelings of joy as we remembered our beloved home. The excitement exponentially built as we approached one of our most desired locations of the trip: the village of El Chalten, which sits at the base of the Fitz Roy Massif, likely one of the most famous places in Patagonia. As we made the right hand turn off ruta 40, we were fast approaching the coveted town. El Chalten and the Fitzroy massif have been on the bucket list for a long time. From the very first moment to the very last, our time spent in this little corner of the world was very special. The fall colors were in full swing, the crowds of summer had left, and we were simply stunned by the beauty around every corner.Glacier National Park and El Chalten were a real treat for us. Tons of mind blowing hikes, easily accessible camping and backpacking in several locations throughout the valley and town, abundant clean water, and tons of good info on the area, and all free. Not to mention, rock climbing abounded. Although the big mountain climbing objectives were inaccessible at this point in the season due to the weather and changing seasons, a plethora of shorter climbs surrounded the town.We ended up staying much longer here than anticipated and enjoyed amazing food, scenery, and company. In this time we also celebrated Matt’s 33rd birthday with a proper Argentinian asado!A highlight of our time in El Chalten was the 4-day trek on the Huemul Circuit. This 35 mile long loop was stunning every step of the way and came to a view point overlooking the Southern Patagonia Ice Field. This particular trek was one of the most fun-filled adventures on the trip. Not only were there stunning vistas everywhere, but we had to use a Tyrolean Traverse to get across two large and turbulent rivers. There is a raw and intense quality to this environment. From howling winds to major temperature swings, all possible from one second to the next, we soaked in the beauty while being on our toes and fully prepared.Nothing can really describe the feeling of witnessing the Patagonian Ice Field and Viedma Glacier. The sheer magnitude and energy of the monstrous glacier and abyss of frozen earth was something we will not soon forget. The wind was an incredible force to recon with as well, as it tried to knock us off our feet more than once.Along the path we ran into two new friends Jelle and Emma from Belgium, and were lucky enough to enjoy their company for the last two nights of the trek.Our last night on the trail had us camp on the shores of Viedma Lake where we could stare at the great glacier we had hiked next to for miles. Reflecting on our time, we couldn’t have felt more lucky to experience our planet and its power in such a special way.The Huemul trek was the perfect way to get a full taste of this region. Arriving back into town, we had the pleasure of meeting up with some folks, Tim and Liz whom we’d met in Oregon that were on a similar trip in a very similar van. It was super cool for us to reconnect and share stories of our journeys.We just couldn’t enough of this place! One more hike with our Italian friend Rene was had in this mountainous candy-land.Having felt as though we experienced El Chalten area to the best of our ability during our 12 days there, we decided to see what else Argentinian Patagonia had in store for us. Finally on our way, we couldn’t help but glance back at the stunning mountains that we vowed to return to someday.