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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

Estancia Helsingfors – the unknown corner of Los Glaciares National Park

Welcome to the Shire - lush green rolling hills remind us of the movie landscape
A sheep in distress - we save a little lamb from certain death
The turquoise blue Laguna Azul lives up to its name
Insider tip in El Chalten - the Valle Electrico is spared from crowds of tourists

We've visited the well-known corners of Los Glaciares National Park. With El Calafate and El Chalten as starting points, we explored the great gateways into the glacial landscape (>>> see our blog). Time for an insider tip - Estancia Helsingfors, located right between the two places. It's anything but known and frequented. A 70 km long gravel road leads there from Ruta 40. Sounds like a place for us!

We need almost 3 hours for the very bumpy route to our destination. First, miles of pampa await us. Arid, desolate landscape in which only one or the other guanaco gets lost. The 1600 m² glacial lake Lago Viedma is on our right, churned up by the wind. Huge waves roll in on the shores - you could almost think of surfing if it weren't for the water temperatures around freezing point. The landscape changes slowly. Some glaciers can be seen in the distance. Nothing around us. Suddenly we see a lamb caught in a cow fence. It hangs in there with all four legs, no chance to free itself. The herd has already given up on it and moved on. We can't watch that. Without further ado we approach the poor thing, it willingly allows us to help. Micha lifts the fluffy animal and it jumps away. Initially limping slightly, but then running faster and faster in the direction of the herd. We are relieved!

The last few kilometers the landscape changes dramatically. Flamingos are chilling in the lakes. Lush green meadows and gentle hills lie in front of a wide glacial landscape. In the distance you can see the distinctive contours of mount Fitz Roy. We have arrived. The road ends at the private Estancia Helsingfors. There is a ranger station right next door. Noone there at the moment. We park next to it, sheltered from the wind. As it should be, we first say hello to our neighbors from the estancia. It is an exclusive hotel that only offers all-inclusive packages. In other words, there are small groups of tourists - mainly from the US - who come to enjoy the "Estancia experience" for a few days. Good Argentinian cuisine, campfire and one or the other activity, such as horseback riding or hiking. However, this has nothing to do with a real "working ranch" like the Estancia Mercedes (>>> see our blog). We don't really fit into the scheme either - a single horseback ride cannot be booked. Well, we enjoy the beauty of nature and the quiet to ourselves. Among other things, with a mate tea from my new, self-made cup, made of bull balls leather. A souvenir of the Estancia Mercedes :-)

Geheimtipp Estancia Helsingfors Argentina Patagonia El Chalten Calafate
Enjoying my mate tea in style

The next day I hike up to Laguna Azul, a nearby glacial lagoon. Micha doesn't feel like accompanying me. Too windy. The way is easy - it is on the Estancia's tourist program... Thank God nobody's out that day. I enjoy the rough nature for myself and feel free. At the end, a bright blue lagoon awaits me in front of the glacier backdrop. Even though I've seen a few places like this in the meantime, I'm always amazed. You can feel how nature is changing near the glaciers. Cold air flows against you, vegetation gets sparse, the weather, still sunny down in the valley, becomes rougher. Sleet is coming up. Doesn't matter - I have a good jacket for that reason.

Estancia Helsingfors Laguna Azul Calafate Chalten Geheimtipp, off the beaten track, Argentina Patagonia
Harsh climate, but still so beautiful

Unfortunately we have to cancel our planned kayak trip on the Moyano Fjord. Contrary to good forecasts, the wind is not decreasing. The water is so rough, we wouldn't make any headway. Time to return to El Chalten. The charming little town is (almost) on our way north. If possible, we want to hike from there onto the ice field, to the so-called Circo de los Altares. The expedition to cross the Southern Patagonian Ice Field to the west of the spectacular peaks of El Chalten, takes 6-8 days. Unfortunately the weather window is too bad. Extreme winds and snow are forecast - no good conditions for being on an ice field. The ranger tells us that unfortunately people have died in such conditions. The only thing you can do with winds around 100km/h is stay in the tent - not that tempting either. We therefore content ourselves with a hike in Valle Electrico. We left that open during our last visit to El Chalten (>>> see our blog). Not too many people come there. The trailhead is about 15 km away from the town. The easy hike is leading through the forest in the river valley and is very idyllic. After about 2 hours we reach the Refugio Piedra La Fraile. From there we walk a little further to camp on the shore of Lago Electrico. We are on our own, at the foot of the striking Marconi Glacier. After a yoga session the next morning, we start our way back.

Lago Electrico El Chalten Circo de los Altares Hiking Patagonia
Lago Electrico after sunset

For the first time during our journey we are truly devastated, as the Circo de los Altares was a dream destination of ours. We need some time to motivate ourselves for new projects.

Hopefully a change of location will help. It is with these feelings that we leave El Chalten. We want to travel further north. After about 2 months in the area, it's time for new impressions. However, we are sure that we'll be back. Too many adventures are left on the bucket list :-)

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