I’m up at about 5am but the alarm is not going to go off till 6am, today is a little exciting, a child again on Christmas eve waiting for the house to stir to race to the Christmas tree. At the crude chime of the alarm it’s all battle stations, for the first time in forever I’m up and alive before Charlie and ready to go. Head torches blaze our trail from the campsite in the silver glow of pre-dawn, the upper reaches of the beech forest whistling in this wind which is a constant companion here. The reason for this idiotic hour is a final up close meeting with Fitz Roy, an hour hike up a nearby rise should lead us to a mirador (viewpoint) on the lake at the base of the famed peak.
Perito Moreno glacier was like a proverbial first date for this area and now getting into kissable distance of Fitz Roy is a gleefully accepted invite to a second date. Maybe we did something right? A quick stop off for water refill in the crystal alpine stream sets us off into the slowly crystallising day. In pretty short order we push up, it’s a direct path today straight to the top, the peak hovers above us menacingly far away framed by a halo of dusty blue dawn. It doesn’t take very long for the walking phenomenon that is Charlie to strike out ahead with camera in hand chasing the sunrise leaving me to plod along as quickly as I can. Surprisingly enough we are passed by a steady stream of hikers not ascending with us but descending back down. I’m trying to think of why in the world they would be leaving just as the dawn is breaking but I’m coming up blank; we’ll gladly take the less populated space at the top anyhow.
There is that Andes game that gets played on us all the time, the point you’re walking to is inevitably not your final destination, a leg punishing crest gains us enough altitude to see that we’re now just a little over half the way. This is an uncanny trick here, there’s always more to go, more to be done to earn your view. On I trudge barely glancing back at the sky ablaze in molten orange with the first cracks of dawn against the pervading cool blue screen that is our world, Charlie is long gone by now, those short strong legs are built for this. With eyes fixed to the ground on the rocky path I await a forming shadow, it’s inevitable clarity outlining the rising dawn that I am missing. I make that next peak sweating in the ripping cold wind only to see another peak, this is just a cruel joke. Charlie is basically at the top and with a wave I can see now that this is the last trick, it’s just there and my shadow is not; yet.
This game is still alive as I push my legs, it’s a cloudy day yet to clear and with one last push I’ll be able to make it, no stopping now. Victory declared, Fitz Roy is right there and the ten or more people that have left already leave just four more preparing to walk down. I still don’t get leaving now. In no time we’re sheltered aside a large boulder from the wind, the clouds obscuring Fitz Roy for the moment but it’s a stunning view none the less. As if in a knowing reward for the tricks played the sun peaks out not long after the crest has been made, we make up our breakfast to sit together and watch a new day dawn on Fitz Roy. It’s just a basic cereal yet it seems so much more, the setting defining the meal far more than the meal itself, in this respect we dine like kings in this most magnificent of dining halls.
The morning sun slowly erodes the cloud cover forming off the ice cold grey stone of the range calling time for us to explore our newfound playground. Around to the left of the lake we cross the meltwater stream cascading down the mountainside over 100m to yet another lake below. We stand at the head of the waterfall, spy over precipitous edges and climb another highpoint, this is Christmas morning and these kids are playing with all our new toys.
The sun slowly does its work, the clouds lift and we are treated to the view we came for, the one we have waited so long to see up close. The day is not as clear as yesterday but we see plenty, pulling up a patch of ground to sit together and allow the view to make our whole world a wonderful place. There hasn’t been a soul sharing this place for nearly an hour, it’s our little domain and it really does feel a little like Christmas morning, two happy boys with exactly what they asked of Santa. Fitz Roy delivers on it’s much anticipated hype, in places like this there really is nothing quite like size; just like wrapped boxes under the tree, big is better after all.
On our way down the weather does start to come in, light rain forcing the hoods up as we pass a new stream of latecomers that will get no sighting of Fitz Roy today. The rain calls for a return to town, it’s down tent and back the way we came for us but the day has already been won, it can rain all it likes. With all the time in the world we make the descent back to El Chalten town floating on a bit of a high with plenty of time in the day, there’s no passing up any present beauty in the chase of a destination, it’s minute by minute for now.
Taking in all the sights that surround this small town it becomes clear that it really is a big kids playground. We’ve spent three days walking trails, seeing amazing sights, being inspired and surprised but above all playing in the perfect playground. Park entry to this outstanding place is free, water is pure and the trails are spotlessly clean, the perfect advertisement for minimal impact into the wild. Visiting this area you live in the playground and visit the town, not the other way around, In El Chalten life is an eternal playtime. Bunking down in our tent for the night we are backed by a blazing orange rock wall illuminated by the town lights under a star laden sky. It seems that even when we step out of the playground and into the town the playground finds a way to engulf us still. The whole world might not be our playground as the saying goes but for now, life certainly is.