We’ve attained the ranking of supreme lords of overnight buses after eleven nocturnal journeys in six countries taking us nearly the the entire length of the continent. Always a good time to try something new, we jump on the daytime bus for the hop-skip north to El Chalten at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. Cerro Fitz Roy is a massive granite spire mountain that populates tourism brochures now as it did nine years ago; that is to say quite a bit, a rare piece of the world that deserves it’s long time in the spotlight. If seeing the Perito Moreno glacier was a first date after a nine year gestation then Fitz Roy clarifies that we’re really dating this whole part of the Andes, not just Perito Moreno. Before setting off on this trip we were often asked: ‘What are you looking forward to the most’? My glassy eyed response rarely failed to include Perito Moreno and Fitz Roy, such was the lasting impact from those many years ago.
We skirt lakes worthy of postcards themselves with their too-bright washing detergent colour but it’s Fitz Roy that we really want to see. Not until we get to the speck of a town that is El Chalten that we get to see the cloudy sky that the base of Fitz Roy disappears into, fashionably late leaving us eager at the door for our second date it seems.
Fitz Roy must wait another day though, first we pack everything into the tent and set off on a day walk to Cerro Torre, a nearby similar formation boasting a spire like elegance if not Fits Roy’s immensity. Through town we walk before starting up and past the canyon that gushes the water away from the lake afoot Cerro Torre; that colour again, amazing. Over grassy dales flanked by impressive rock walls we skirt the river interspersed by deviations into alpine beech forests that are the definition of tranquility. In no time at all we’re at our first mirador (viewpoint) and wham, Cerro Torre right there. This is a little exciting and uncommon, not many hiking destinations give you the luxury of a full frontal shot so early, usually it’s a hard slog till the last minute.
Soon past the mirador we see, we think we see, we’re pretty sure we see the swollen girth of Fitz Roy towering above a nearby mountain. It’s a little tricky not to personify great mountains, it’s teasing us.
Despite our plain view Cerro Torre is quite a way away signposting our walk better than any pathway sign ever could. This precarious spire oversees our approach from afar, this could easily have been the inspiration for Sauron’s tower in Lord of the Rings such is its commanding view over such a vast landscape. Banishing the focus on Torre we do our best to appreciate the changing world we travel through but it’s not easy, the tower teases us at every nearing step. Cresting a rise of rocky scree we join the sparse crowd staring up like an old fashioned outdoor movie cinema, we’re here.
In some way the extensive views of Cerro Torre blunt the wow factor of the tower itself but the whole picture is what this walk has all been for even if we didn’t know it. We’re at the shore of a lake of milky jade meltwater leading up to a glacier sweeping its way to the shore, ample icebergs like sculptures of a winter pageant precede our vista. The towers are all grand pale grey awesomeness but it’s the surrounds that complete the trick. Skirting around to the right of the lake the rest of this glacier carved amphitheatre is dark sand and stone in jagged shards dusted with snow like too much icing on a gothic style wedding cake gone wrong. Our trip around the lake also displays Torre and its surrounds in slow rotation, the worlds grandest lazy-susan granting an ever changing view. It’s in this range of visual assault that the grandeur of this place is revealed, it’s hard to know where to look, so many awesome sights with Cerro Torre towering grandly above them all.
Taking time to soak it up is the most obvious point of making a walk like this yet sadly not always a luxury we afford ourselves. A little over four hours walking time up sees no mad scramble back, we pull up a rocky seat and wile away the time. It’s in this time where space of mind is given and awesome places sink into your skin and permeate memories. Photos capture the view and sadly with a quick turn around that is often all you’re left with. Like an expertly planned garden it can be hard to place the origins of mood affecting beauty, sometimes it just looks right. In time the distracting wow factor of all the sights around settle into a chance perfection to make any Zen gardener proud.
This walk is as much an experience as it is a learning process for us. Jettisoned from our high paced demanding lives we set off into the world to experience the world of course but a little part of it was to be able to teach ourselves a few things. Making plans and chasing goals often leads us setting a new goal before a current one is reached; never fully appreciating the attainment of that goal for distraction of the next. A life of perpetual non-success. But not today, the next goal can wait for us to indulge in what we would often deny ourselves, enjoying finding the rainbow rather than chasing the next. The rest of the world can wait but turning over a new leaf has already started.