I recently returned from a fantastic two week adventure to near the southern tip of South America with my friend and fellow nature photographer Marc Adamus. After two full days of travel we arrived in El Calafate, Argentina, on the heels of the first big snowstorm of the winter season. To take advantage of the forecasted snowfall, and periodic clearings, we drove to El Chaltén and made two overnight trips to photograph Fitz Roy, one of the most beautiful, and technically challenging, mountains in the world.
Click any image for larger view!
The storm brought almost two feet of wet and heavy snow, which covered the lenga beech trees (Nothofagus pumilio) with a thick white blanket. Our hike took us through several miles of perfect winter woods, and up the slopes of Fitz Roy’s foothills. The snow was so thick at times that we were practically swimming through it to move forward!
I’ve been told stories by people who have had to spend over a week waiting here for weather to clear before they saw the mountains, so I felt fortunate that we didn’t have to wait more than a day for some views. We were joined by a friendly little bird, who couldn’t have picked a more photogenic place to spend the winter (if you think you can identify it, let me know!).
Monte Fitz Roy was named by Francisco Moreno in 1877 in honor of Robert FitzRoy, captain of the HMS Beagle. The Beagle was, of course, made famous by Charles Darwin’s presence on the ship, which traveled around South America (exploring Patagonia) on its way to the Galapagos, and then to New Zealand before returning home to England between 1831 and 1836.
Unfortunately no image can do this mountain justice; it’s just too big. Even being there in person it was difficult to fathom how enormous it was. The granite spires reminded me of the outstretched fingers of a hand reaching out from the Earth, grasping for the stars. Those “fingers” are each 3-4,000 feet of vertical granite rock, protruding from another several thousand feet of glacial terrain. The summit is well over a vertical mile above Lake Sucia at its base. If you have seen El Capitan in Yosemite, imagine that, but as an isolated pinnacle, and then put three of them next to each other, and put all that on top of another El Capitan made of ice.
With another storm on its way, we hiked back to El Chalten to dry out our gear. There, in the rain-shadow of the enormous mountains, we cooked up some dinner with a spectacular view of the mountain range.
The storm had forecast just an inch or two of snow, but this being Patagonia, an inch or two can quickly turn into a foot or two. We spent the day watching a nonstop stream of enormous snow flakes drift past the windows of the only open hostel in town. The next morning, with everything dried out, we set out for another trip. That night the temperatures dropped to below 10° F, which produced beautiful ice formations along one of the streams in the valley below Fitz Roy.
Up next: Torres del Paine National Park in Chile, a place where just about every sunrise and sunset is guaranteed to be beautiful.