El Pilar Trail to Camp Poincenot, El Chalten, Argentina

This post covers day 2 of a 3 day guided trek with Walk Patagonia in El Chalten region,  first in Los Huemules Reserve and then in Los Glaciares National Park.

Today from Refugio Puesto Cagliero we would hike back to Los Huemules Reserve Visitor Center, drive a short distance and take the El Pilar trail to Camp Poincenot, private campground at the base of Mount Fitz Roy.

Leaving Refugio Puesto Cagliero

I woke before 7:00 to heavy winds crashing against the refugio. Gusts hit so hard I thought we would be picked up and transported to the land of Oz.

The simple French style breakfast served at 8:30 includes homemade bread, jam, butter, cereal with powdered milk and strong fresh brewed coffee.

Mariano is very proud of the bread he makes in his old fashioned wood burning oven.

At 9AM we are packed up and ready to brave the wind. It’s a perfectly clear blue sky but the wind is so fierce that when crossing the moraine we can barely walk upright and have to crouch down to brace ourselves against the strong gusts. Sally is knocked to the ground and is skinned up but not hurt. We have to stop several times before we enter the protection of the forest.

In this wind the bridge crossing is tricky as it’s an exposed low wooden structure with no sides. Betty tells us to stay low, on all fours if necessary, and hold on with our left hand (the upwind hand) if there is a strong gust. I take a few photos, put my camera in my bag and cross. The gusts spray my bag but it’s not so strong that I have to hold on.

The rest of the way back to the visitor center is mostly protected by the trees. You can hear the wind raging in the branches above, but below it’s just a warm breeze. Returning the way we came in we make good time.

The area around the visitor center is a high-end housing development as 5% of Los Huemules Reserve has been set aside for private housing.

El Pilar Trail to Camp Poincenot

Zoe, our driver, meets us at the parking lot where we swap out our trash for a fresh lunch.  She then drives us the short distance to the start of El Pilar trail.

From the parking lot we can see that we are losing our blue bird day as the clouds are accumulating around the peaks.

There is a hotel near the trailhead, Hostería El Pilar, a popular place to stay if you want to do day hikes in the park.

Although the trail starts out along a river, most of the way is spent in a forest with old craggy trees. Fallen trees and branches litter the floor, a sort of tree cemetery. The way is Patagonia flat. Rain showers blow through but generally the trees protect us.

We stop for lunch – vegetable wrap with lettuce, corn and carrots; chicken empanada, a peach, alfajor (an Argentinian sweet) and hard candies.

Shortly after lunch we reach the Piedras Blancas Glacier viewpoint. Despite the weather we have good views of the glacier.

More stomping through forest. The sky looks like it might clear with blue sky to the east but rain showers keeps blowing off the mountains to the west. Just before camp we have to cross an open section. Pelted by rain, Betty says it’s just 5 minutes to camp.

Camp Poincenot

We arrive at Poincenot, a private camp near the free campground on the east side of the towers.  Mount Fitz Roy is now cloaked in clouds.

Several tour companies have semi-permanent camps here. Walk Patagonia has a large dome dining tent where they have set out hot drinks and snacks for us.

Betty has us play a game but mostly we entertain ourselves waiting for the weather to clear. We are supposed to climb to the Laguna de los Tres, the viewpoint for Mount Fitz Roy, but with the weather the climb will be postponed until morning.

Just outside the tent are fabulous views of Mount Fitz Roy. We spend the afternoon watching the clouds move across the mountains. An occasional ray of sun passes through other times just more rain.

Caught a couple of small avalanches high off the face of the glacier.

Tents, sleeping bags and pads are provided by the tour company. Tents are smallish but have a large vestibule for backpacks. They gave us two sleeping bags each. The pads are the thin kind. If you have your own air mattress bring it.

They also have a clean private pit toilet. However, it’s located across camp and is too far from the tents for a convenient midnight pee.

Dinner, prepared by Manu the camp cook, started with an awesome  picada – sun dried tomatoes, cherry tomatoes, carrots, olives, cheese, salami and avocado.

The main dish was a pasta with sautéed vegetables. Nicely done with more vegetables than pasta. For dessert a canned peach half with ducle de leche. Wine is included with the meal ; 3 bottles that were shared with Betty and Manu.

During dinner the clouds begin to clear with beautiful light on the peaks.

February 24, 2018

For links to all the posts in this series see the Hiking in Patagonia page.

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