Bishopstown Hillwalking Club go trekking in Patagonia: Vincent Murphy, Sean Cotter, Jim Ryan, Kathleen Buckley, Mossie Walsh, Sharon Burns, Jim Collins, Pearce O'Shea, Dolores Geary and Michael Byrne - 25th of January, and it's Cork to El Calafate, 1700 miles south of Buenos Aires.
First, we headed to the famous Perito Moreno glacier. What a sight. Jim Ryan had the Holly Bough, a photo was duly taken. You can't spend enough time taking in the breathtaking views, the sheer enormity and impressiveness of the glacier, and all under clear blue skies.
Then it's El Chalten for walking. Our guide Marcello leads our first walk to Laguna Torre and views of the impressive Cerro Torre, a vertical bare granite peak, 3,127 m high. This eases us in – about 20km and 600m total climb. Out of the town, up and down hills, through woodland and open country, past raging glacial streams and we reach the moraine at the edge of the lake. And the views are superb. Wisps of cloud cover the peaks, but occasionally they peep through. Take it all in and head back. A magnificent 8 hour trek.
Next day 7 head up Loma del Diablo (the Devil's hill) for an 11km 1,400m climb, while 3 of us go kayaking at the Lago Condor eco camp, where we spend the night. The walk is challenging, with a difficult descent through a rockfall of boulders. After 8 hours the 7 arrive back tired but enthralled.
Next it's a 23 km, 900m walk to Laguna de los Tres and back to El Chalten. Lots of ups and downs through woodlands, across streams and we arrive at the place where we have a 450m steep rocky ascent to Laguna de Los Tres and the views of Cerro Fitzroy – 3,375m, bare granite tower. The ancient Tehueche name is El Chalten,meaning smokey mountain, because it was nearly always covered in cloud. But today the sky and mountain top are clear and we see it in all its glory. We head down, stop at Lago Capri to cool down, dabble our tired feet in the water. 10 hours.
Next day Marcello suggests a short walk – there are no dissenters. Back early to chill out in El Chalten - a lovely town, serving trekkers and climbers, lots of good restaurants.
Then it's on to Chile and Torres del Paine where we will trek for 6 days, carrying our bags.
Day 1, an early start with our guide Seba – through woodland, bridges over fast streams, up we go. Then a scramble over rocks and boulders and we arrive at the lake and the breathtaking granite towers, up to 2,850m high. We are fascinated as we sit and watch, have lunch and take photos. A good walk, 14km, 900m climb. 8 hours.
Day 2 is a 14km, 450m, 6 hour walk along the shore of Lake Nordenskjold, ups and downs but nothing too difficult, and we arrive at refugio Los Cuernos (the horns). It's the one cloudy, overcast, sometimes showery day of the whole trip, not a good day to see the Cuernos.
Day 3 and it's the French Valley, no idea what's in store, but the mountains gradually reveal all until we find ourselves in a massive amphitheatre, surrounded by bare granite mountains topped with sedimentary rocks. About 9 hours, 15km, 700 m climb.
Day 4 is easier, 11km, 400m, 5 hours along Lago Skottsberg and Lago Pehoe. Views of lakes and mountains in the distance, and a relaxing evening at the refugio.
Day 5, we walk along Lago Grey, 11.5 km, 450m, 5 hours. Past Laguna de los Patos to the viewing point where we can see Lago Grey with Grey Glacier in the distance, small icebergs floating in the lake. A glacier trek in the afternoon - Zodiac boatride across the lake; 45 minute rock climb to the top of the glacier; crampons, harness and helmet, ice pick in hand and we are ready for our trek. It is magnificent – the expanse of the ice, the colours from white to pale blue to dark blue, the crevasses and water pools, the mountains all round, the sunshine, and we are in heaven. A few hours later and we head back down – what's happened? While we were walking, a chunk of ice has broken off the glacier and there is ice all across the lake. We heard nothing. The Zodiac ploughs through in its stride. A long day but so very thrilling.
Day 6, 4.5 hours back to Paine Grande, catamaran across Lake Pehoe. En route we see the Cuernos (horns) in all their glory. And it's back to El Calafate, a lovely meal in this most touristy of towns, washed down by Argentinian beer and malbec wine.
Next day Buenos Aires: Palermo where we sample the atmosphere in a local bar; Recoleta cemetry and Evita's resting place, also many with Irish connections – Admiral Brown, Fr. Fahy, Guevara Lynch family and others; Casa Rosada presidential palace, Plaza de Mayo – where the Mothers of Plaza de Mayo sought answers about those “disappeared” during the dirty war, 1976 to 1983; lunch in the classic Gran Cafe Tortoni; watching tango dancers in San Telmo. Then it's time to cool down (32deg outside) before dinner and tango show at Esquina Carlos Gardel. What a fabulous evening.
But it's not over yet. One last drink at a nearby pub – Santissima Cerveceria (Holiest Brewery). It's Carnival, not like Rio: they're playing Brazilian Samba music and we're enticed out dancing with the locals.
It was the best holiday ever, always to be remembered and spoken about – great walking, perfect weather, magnificent scenery and the best of company.
A selection of Sean Cotter photos may be viewed HERE
Created with flickr slideshow.