El Chaltén to Piedra del Fraile (Cerro Fitz Roy)

A spectacular out-and-back hike to the base of one of South America’s most fabled peaks – Cerro Fitz Roy. I completed this hike in February 1997 with Dave from New Zealand, who in subsequent years joined me on other treks such as the Pyrenean Haute Route (1999), Western Arthurs Traverse (2002), Wonderland Trail (2003), and the Taracuera Canyon in Mexico’s Copper Canyon region (2005). 

Distance:  50 km (31 mi) – Including side trips to f_2Laguna Sucia and Lago Electrico.

Avg.Time: 2 to 3 days

Difficulty:  Easy to moderate

Start / Finish:

  • El Chaltén. Out-and-back hike to Piedra del Fraile, located near the base of Cerro Fitz Roy.

Season:  November to April.

Maps / Planning Information:

  • Map & Notes: I used the trekking notes and basic map contained in Lonely Planet’s Trekking in the Patagonian Andes, which were sufficient for navigation purposes on this well-marked and easy to follow trail.
  • Parque Nacional Los Glaciares: The entire hike takes place in Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, which was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1981. Almost half of the Park’s total area is taken up by the massive Patagonian Ice Field, the largest contiguous ice field in the southern hemisphere outside of Antarctica.
  • Getting There & Away: During the summer months there are daily buses to and from the town of El Calafate. See elchalten.com for an up-to-date timetable.
  • Supplies: You can pick up everything you need at El Calafate, but it is also possible to purchase meals at the Refugio Los Troncos. Additionally, there is now dormitory accommodation and a small restaurant at Piedra del Fraile. See elchalten.com for details.
Cerro Fitzroy, Argentina, 1997

Lago Electrico and Cerro Fitz Roy.

Route / Conditions:

  • My friends and I did an out-and-back hike from El Chalten to Fitz Roy, which included side trips to Laguna Sucia and Lago Electrico. The route was reasonably well marked and easy to follow.
  • In fine weather, the above-mentioned side trips both offer stunning views of Cerro Fitz Roy. The track to Lago Electrico is the more difficult of the two options, and should not be attempted if conditions have taken a turn for the worse.
  • Weather in this area is notoriously unpredictable. It’s a good idea to have an extra day or two up your sleeve just in case. The views are definitely worth waiting for.
  • In 1997 I drank the water without treating. That being said, things can change. Before setting out, check with the National Park information office in El Chaltén in regards to the current state of water quality.

Cerro Fitz Roy at sunrise.

Post-hike Excursion:

  • If staying in El Calafate, don’t miss a trip out to Perito Moreno Glacier, universally recognized as one of the most beautiful glaciers in the world. It used to be possible to camp out by Perito Moreno, however, I think the campground may have closed in recent years. Check with locals in El Calafate for details.