We’ve been extraordinarily blessed to find stellar ski conditions in the mountains around El Chalten. Sunshine, calm weather, and dry powder are always exceptional, but when combined with views of Patagonian towers, the skiing becomes truly once in a lifetime.
After an incredible day of skiing on Cerro Electrico, we stayed in town for a few days of rain. Chalten during winter is fully in the off season. Numerous closed hostels and shops are the only evidence of the busy summer. After a few days of enjoying the laid back town, we were eager get back into the mountains.
We headed to Lago de los Tres, a lake situated in a valley directly below the towering massif of Fitz Roy. The lake is a popular summer destination; it has a small refugio, and several well-maintained trails lead to the area.
Around mid-morning, we left the car at a trailhead and headed up the trail. After awhile, however, it became obvious that the trail was veering off in the wrong direction. We turned onto a faint trail that went the right way, but that soon petered out into a muddy bushwhack. Retracing our steps, we decided to follow a rocky river bank that led up the correct valley. Eventually we saw the trail on the other bank, so we forded the river and finally reached the well-maintained route we had meant to start out on.
Our little detour had sucked up time so we reached the refugio a little before dark. Like many South American refugios, this one was run-down, with holes in the roof and evidence of rampant mice. However, it had a roof, and saved us from carrying our heavy tent.
The next morning we headed up to investigate the snow and the surrounding mountains. From the refugio Fitz Roy is hidden from view by a small hill. We booted up the hill on our way to the lake, and were greeted with an incredible view. As we continued up the lower slopes of Cerro Madsen, a nearby peak, we were pleased to find light, stable powder. I was psyched that the past few days of rain in Chalten hadn’t affected the powder we skied a few days ago. We took a quick lap back down to the lake, and then headed back up towards the top of Madsen.
We stopped at a col below the summit, and decided to go down from there. We had a few hundred meters of great turns in light powder, and then had the option of continuing all the way down Madsen, or traversing back to the lake. We hadn’t checked out the route from below, but we could see that it narrowed down into a deep couloir, which hopefully emptied to the valley bottom. We decided to go for it. A little further down the snow transitioned from pow to warm spring-like snow. We continued down the run, as it narrowed to a deep, narrow couloir, with our fingers crossed. Alas, as we rounded a turn in the chute, it dropped over a 20 meter waterfall, before continuing to the valley bottom. Stymied. Luckily a break in the steep walls allowed us to escape across snow slopes and ledges to the skier’s right, and we bushwhacked down to the nearby refugio.
Excited after one of the best ski days of our trip, we were looking forward to skiing another day in the area before hiking out. This place yielded just to many beautiful pictures, so I split it up into two posts. The next should be up in the next few days.
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.