Jesse and I have been back in the United States now for a little over two months and we've been asked countless times what our favorite experience was. We have a few, but we both will say without second guessing that one of our favorite experiences was hiking the Huemel Circuit in the south of Argentina and that our favorite moment of the entire year came from this hike.
If you've heard about Patagonia and hiking, you've probably heard about the 8 day Torres Del Paine Circuit, in Chile, or maybe even the hike to Mt. Fitz Roy in El Chalten, Argentina, both of which we hiked, but without a doubt, the Huemel Circuit was our favorite. It's one of the most physically challenging things I've ever done, and definitely is not for the inexperienced hiker, but if you'd got the adventure bug, adequate hiking gear, and a week off, I'd highly recommend considering the hike yourself.
Originally we weren't going to do this hike, but we altered our schedule after the advice of someone we hitch hiked with a few weeks back to go white water rafting, so we were running out of time and had to choose between the Huemel and a trip to see Perito Moreno, the famous glacier in southern Argentina. I was NOT thrilled about skipping Perito Moreno, but Jesse really wanted to hike the Huemel. It took a while for him to talk me into it, but what eventually hooked me was the following comment from a blog post about the Huemel...
"If you're going to propose to someone in Patagonia, Day 2 of the Huemel is where you do it."
I'm such a romantic; I was sold. We arrived in El Chalten, the base town for both Huemel Circuit and the hike to Mt. Fitz Roy after a long overnight bus. We were so in awe of the town as we approached that we asked the driver to pull over and take some pictures.
Once we pulled into the town, we immediately checked into the Mountain Range office because this hike required a formal registration, safety video, and equipment check. We couldn't really remember the name of the hike at first in our tired state and we mistook the hike to Mt. Fitz Roy as the Huemel because the ranger said that the Huemel was closed due to dangerous wind speeds. We'd had enough close to death experiences hiking this fall (just one, but it was enough), so we set out to find a coffee and breakfast and to plan the next few days. We ended up realizing that the hikes were two different hikes, but since we couldn't start the Huemel that day, we started the 3 day circuit to Fitz Roy that afternoon.
Before I jump back into the story of the Huemel, I'll share about Fitz Roy.
It was November 1 and tourist hiking season had officially begun. For the past 2-3 weeks, we'd had almost every trail completely to ourselves in the peace and quiet of nature, but the first of the month hit and travelers from the world flocked for the start of the season. We left pretty late in the afternoon to start the hike and were floored at the number of hikers still on the trail. We were barely able to snag a camp site that night at one of the tent shelters that are set up to protect people from strong wind speeds because there were so many people.
The hike was relatively easy and was filled with what I'd call glamour hikers. People who bought their tents just to say they got to Fitz Roy, take their photos, speed walk away with their unnecessary walking sticks and neon rain covers out when there's not a drop of water from the sky. They see whatever site there is to see, post their adventure on Instagram, and then make their way back home. Not that there is anything wrong with this, but we definitely felt like tourists this day. Most people who do this hike only hike to the first nights' camp site, see Fitz Roy in the morning, then turn around and go back the way they came. I don't blame them, the views were pretty incredible, but doing a hike just to see the big mountain at the end isn't really our style.
Anyways, here's some pictures from the first day en route to the campsite.
It was pretty close to sunset and we'd heard about a glacier about an hour away so we chose to run off to see that and save Fitz Roy for early the next morning. Most people were either hustling to Fitz Roy or settling in for an early night so we had the luxury of en empty trail despite the crowds of tourist campers. I'm not sure I would even call it a trail; it was more like a hike down a river where we jumped from rock to rock to get to the glacier.
We stayed as long as we thought we could get away with and still have time to make it back before dark.
The next morning we ventured for an extra early morning two hour hike to the base of Fitz Roy, and while it was one of the steepest sections of the hike to the top, the views were worth it.
After the morning, we went back down, made breakfast, packed our tent, and enjoyed some rest before heading off to the second night of the circuit instead of turning back the way we came like most "hikers" did.
We had the trail pretty much to ourselves on this second day too which was nice. We were the second people at the camp site so we had our pick of the shelter spots. Most of the spots with built up shelters were on extremely uneven ground or were really close to other spots, so we chose a spot appropriately positioned to protect us against the forecasted winds and set up shop. This was the night where my obsession with "camp homes" started. I decided to make a cozy home with whatever materials that I could find to make a dining room table, some seats, and a place to set out the sound system (just our UE2 Boom speaker).
Home away from home.
I actually was secretly hoping that some other hikers might see the set up I'd made and invite themselves over for dinner. Two solo male travelers actually did once they heard the music and saw us cooking; they brought their stoves over and the four of us made like old friends at a dinner party.
One of the guys we befriended that night was Ben. He's an American traveler and although a bit younger than us, he was a wonderful dinner companion for the evening and we enjoyed filling him on the hikes we'd done so far since he'd just arrived in Patagonia. We told him about the Huemel and how we'd planned to do it once we got back to El Chalten if the weather cooperated. We told him that he was welcome to join us, but if I'm being totally honest, we were just saying it as one of those things you just say when you're a friendly traveler, but he ended up taking us up on the offer.
(Side Note: Jesse and I have a lucky coin from Bolivia that we carried all around the world and flipped for heads or tails whenever we needed help making a decision that was a toss up. Get it, a toss up! Sometimes, we'd flip for what to do, and other times, we'd decide, then flip to see and if the coin made us feel guilty for not going the other direction, we knew we'd made the wrong choice and would change our minds. We told Ben once we got back the next day that we'd let him know what the ranger office said, but we decided that we'd rather do the hike just the two of us since it was going to be pretty intense and we barely knew him. We flipped to make sure we felt good about the decision and were pretty immediately with filled with guilt, so we changed our minds and text him all the plans. We are so glad to this day that Ben came with us - the coin has yet to lead us wrong.)
We went with Ben to watch the sunset and check out another glacier on the west side of Fitz Roy after dinner and ended up liking this view way more than the views of Fitz Roy that are the "instagram" shots most people see.
And here's a few more pictures from our hike back to town the next day.
Fitz Roy was breathtaking, and our souls were full, but the Huemel awaited us, and we wanted more of the beauty that El Chalten had to offer.