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  • Writer's pictureMarion Marquardt

The Huemul Circuit, legendary trekking in El Chaltén - our highlight after 2 months in Patagonia

Between ice and granite - demanding 4-day trekking around the Cerro Huemul
River crossings with zip lines, glacier passages and exposed terrain - fun and thrill guaranteed
Breathtaking views from the Paso del Viento - the Patagonian ice field in front of us
Hiking along the Viedma Glacier - blue ice far and wide

We are still in El Chaltén. After the classic must-sees, we still have a little insider tip on the bucketlist - the Huemul Trek. We heard about it from so many people that we absolutely cannot miss this 4-day trekking. There are a few challenges that we have to face. Two river crossings with so-called Tirolesas (i.e. zip lines), long daily stages, wild terrain and steep passages. In addition, as always in Patagonia, the unpredictable, rapidly changing weather and strong winds. Good weather is recommended above all for the second and third stage. We have found the perfect weather window for us. There seems to be almost no rain and little wind all week; that means max. 20 km/h with gusts up to 40 km/h. That's the forecast... Here it mainly serves to give you the good feeling of being informed.

Fitz Roy El Chalten Trekking Wandern Huemul Trek Patagonien
Fitz Roy after sunset - in the night before we started

Again, there is no infrastructure on the trek - thank goodness. In addition to the food for 4 days, we have harnesses and carabiners for the zip lines in our backpacks. Nevertheless, quite light luggage. We start with great weather - in shorts. It's summer in Patagonia. And on windless, sunny days, it can also feel like that. The first stage takes us from El Chaltén towards Laguna Toro. We cross the lush green valley of the Rio Túnel north of Cerro Huemul. It is said that the Huemul, the southern Andean deer, after which the mountain is named, is rarely seen here. Unfortunately we don't see any... Everywhere are bushes with so-called Calafate berries, which ripen slowly. Very idyllic. In my opinion, nowhere else the green is richer than in Patagonia. After just under 5 hours we reach our destination, much faster than planned. The path was easy - hardly any incline, easy terrain. The camp is sheltered from the wind, in the forest. There are only a few people, although we arrive late. And probably not even all of them do the Huemul circuit. Laguna Toro itself is also a popular destination for hikers.

Laguna Toro Huemul Circuit El Chalten Wandern Hike
On our way to Laguna Toro

The next day we start a little earlier. A demanding and long stage is ahead of us. First we head towards Laguna Toro. Shortly after, the first river has to be crossed. You have the choice of either wading waist-deep through the glacial river with your backpack over your head, or using the Tirolesa. We don't want to get wet feet, that's why we have some of our climbing equipment with us. We put our harness on and heas off to the zip line. The river looks pretty raging. It is also a few meters down into the gorge. You shouldn't fall.

In the meantime, a few hikers have arrived from the same direction and are queuing at the Tirolesa. Micha is first. At the other end, he seems to have trouble hauling himself the last bit ashore. I don't know why. Communication is impossible close to the roaring river. It looks like the safety line is too tight to disengage from the zip line. A few minutes pass in which Micha holds on with pure arm strength. At some point we notice on the other side that the tow rope for the sled has gotten caught on our side; that's the reason why Micha can't move on. Oh shit. Well, apart from a few blisters on his hands and some sore muscles, nothing happened. Micha is not exactly amused. Well, that's the fate of the first mover - for me the traverse works smoothly. I have to admit, even without counterweight, the second half requires quite a bit of arm strength, especially with a huge backpack. Nevertheless, quite fun (at least for me :-)).

Tirolesa Huemul Trekking Flussüberqueerung Stahlseil Karabiner Klettergurt
Marion traversing the canyon

We move on towards Túnel Glacier, walking along the moraine, parallel to the edge of the ice, and enjoying breathtaking views of the glacier. The way over the loose gravel is quite strenuous, finding the path is not easy, but the landscape rewards it. Now the path winds up to the Paso del Viento. Almost 600 meters of altitude are ahead of us. The first part of the path is buried, a rockfall has destroyed it. We can only guess where it was and climb up direttissima. Not that easy, given the loose terrain with a heavy backpack. We are really happy when, after about 250 meters of altitude, we find a path that continues uphill with moderate incline. The views keep getting better. We see the full extent of the Túnel Glacier embedded in breathtaking mountain ranges, Fitz Roy in the distance. The weather couldn't be better. Bright sunshine and only light wind. It doesn't feel like Patagonia at all. But only until we reach the pass... The view is literally breathtaking, inland ice and wind shake hands. We're blown away! Even if it's not too pleasant, we spend about an hour marveling and taking pictures.

It's already 6 p.m. The stage took us significantly more time than planned, due to difficult pathfinding, rough terrain, paired with lots of great photo spots. Finally we set off for the camp. It is about 500 meters below the pass. We descend with a constant view of the seemingly endless ice field. As we lose some altitude, the wind weakens and we have almost summer temperatures. The terrain is easy, the soft moss very pleasant for the battered joints. After about 2 hours we reach the campsite, which is idyllically situated on a small lagoon. We are hungry and glad that we packed a three-course meal: onion soup as a starter, pasta with tomato sauce as main course and a bar of chocolate for dessert! Well deserved, I'd say.

Micha while preparing dinner - a bit tired

Huemul Circuit Wandern Treking El Chalten
Last pictures from the glacier before falling asleep

Another difficult stage over the steep Paso del Huemul is on next day's agenda. But first things get off to a leisurely start in the morning. We hike the first 12 kilometers along Viedma Glacier, hardly any meters in altitude have to be managed. Only shortly before the pass the path leads steeply uphill. The wind picks up again. Even if - according to the weather forecast - we are supposed to face hardly wind, there are strong gusts whistling around our ears. We are pushed up the pass. Altitude meters have rarely felt so easy. With a last look behind us, we say goodbye to the ice field. Now I'm curious what kind of views are waiting behind the pass.

Huemul Circuit El Chalten Wandern Tirolesa Highlight Argentinien Patagonien
....last views of the icefield

In front of us lies the Viedma Lake, a 1600 m² glacial lake. The dimensions are unbelievable. In the sunlight it's shimmering turquoise-green, ice is floating everywhere, calved by the glacier of the same name. Our camp is down there. To get there, however, it is still a difficult way. We have to descend steeply about 800 meters. The terrain is beyond unpleasant. The way down is quite slippery over loose scree and sand. At least there are always trees and roots to hold on to. From time to time a rope is attached. All in all still doable. We had expected more difficult things. The decline is comparable to the one of Paso Virginia on the Dientes de Navarino Trek (>>> see our blog), but far less dangerous. In the worst case, you slip into the next bush with thorns, there is actually no danger of falling. Still, we're glad to be down.

Unfortunately, there was a fire at the camp in the Bahía de los Tempanos recently, so it is another 3 kilometers to the next camp. A cigarette butt caused a fire here, several square kilometers were in flames for some days. The constant wind and little rainfall did not make it easy to extinguish the fire. We see the tracks. It will take a while for nature to recover. At Camp Bahía Cabo de Hornos, however, everything's fine, the grass is green. The camp is idyllically located on Lake Viedma. In the evening sun, the ice is illuminated and the green moss glows in the most beautiful colors. I can only repeat myself once again... nowhere else the green is as beautiful as in Patagonia.

Bahía de los Tempanos Huemul Circuit
View on to Bahía de los Tempanos

We spend a warm night in our tent and start the last stage in the morning. The greatest difficulties have been overcome. Ahead of us are about 20 kilometers, albeit on easy terrain with hardly any climbs worth mentioning. We mostly walk along the lake shore, over gentle hills, until we reach the river of the same name just before the Bahia Túnel. Another river crossing with a Tirolesa. Wading through is impossible at this time of year. The river is about 25 meters wide and has rapid currents. For us no problem, we are equipped. Unfortunately, the sled is on the other side of the zip line, not connected to a rope from our side. The first one will have a hard time making the traverse with the carabiner directly on the steel cable. Luckily, an ambitious young Israeli has arrived to the riverbank with us; we generously let him go first. Micha still has open blisters on his hands and I'm concerned about my arm strength being enough. It's good that we have our fishing line with us, so as a team we can pull the sled to the other side and make it much easier for ourselves. Like that, the zipline is great fun.

Tirolesa Huemul Circuit El Chalten Fitz Roy Cerro Torre Wandern Hiking
one of the last challenges ...

Now I already have the final sprint in my head... only 5 kilometers to El Chaltén, according to the guidebook. Alternatively, a gravel road starts and with it the chance of a ride. My secret hope. Unfortunately, there is no one with a vehicle far and wide. Well, then we'll keep walking. Thoughts revolve around cappuccino and cake, shower, burger, red wine and all over again. The walk feels endless. Right now I can't get anything out of the landscape anymore. In addition, we have extreme headwind, which makes it really uncomfortable. Our provisions are gone, even the water bottle is empty. In retrospect, we learn that it was more like 9 kilometers. That's how it felt. But somehow we make it. And the feeling of heroism upon arrival taking off your backpack makes up for it. Now it's time to make dreams come true and we'll treat ourselves to a big piece of cake first, later a burger. We'll take it easy for the next few days. El Chaltén really is a nice town for outdoor lovers. We probably will be back soon. Some hikes remained on our bucketlist and there are countless climbing routes. First we go back to Puerto Natales, where we have a job at Estancia Mercedes for a photo/video project.

And how does El Chaltén compare to the world famous Torres del Paine National Park? Well, for us, the highlights around the Argentine town of 2,000 inhabitants can easily keep up with those in the Chilean national park. The striking mountain peaks of Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre, combined with the highlights of the Huemul Trek, are at least as scenically impressive. In addition, El Chaltén is not quite as crowded as Torres del Paine National Park. This is probably also due to the marketing by the Chileans. Argentina's El Chaltén may call itself the trekking capital of the country, but it's very down-to-earth. This is also reflected in the prices. All tent sites on the treks are free of charge. In Torres del Paine, on the other hand, you usually pay 50 USD for a campsite, plus the entrance fee for the national park. And that's just the minimum cost. As described in our >>> Torres del Paine blog, there are all sorts of comfort levels, such as portadores, rifugios, catering etc. that multiply expenses. For us, El Chaltén feels more authentic and doesn't have to hide behind Torres del Paine National Park. Nevertheless, both stays were terrific.

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Jay Menna
Jay Menna
Feb 25, 2023

Very nice and very timely for me. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

Marion Thurner
Marion Thurner
Feb 25, 2023
Replying to

Thanks 😃 Glad y like it!

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