Flight of the Condors

We awoke to a glorious morning. It had rained while we slept and whatever weather system had been lingering to create Wednesday’s cloudiness had passed in the night.

Here in El Chaltén, we’re staying at another four-room B&B; this one is called Confin Patagonia. Like everything else in El Chaltén, it has a magnificent view of Monte Fitz Roy (the yellow building is where our room is; the owners live in the white house next door).

Today being my 57th birthday, we lounged around for the morning, letting our tired feet rest a little. But in the early afternoon, we decided to hike south to the ranger station to do a short hike up to the two lookout points offered there: Mirador Las Aguiles (eagle lookout); and, Mirador Los Cóndores (condor lookout). The terrain for the hike in was unlike what we had walked through the day before on the trek to Laguna Torre.

As we hiked up the valley, we came upon a couple of birdwatchers that pointed out a juvenile condor in the rocks, just as it took off and flew directly over us!

Continuing our hike to the top of Las Aguiles (a little over one mile from the trailhead), we were treated to a completely different panorama from that of the glaciers we had been seeing. Our bus arrived from this direction, two days prior.

As we sat, Dale said, “Wouldn’t if be cool if a condor flew by?” The minute she finished that sentence, she noticed a large bird flying along the edge of the bluff, gliding on the updraft from the heated plain below.

Since we were sitting next to a sign that said “Las Aguilas,” meaning “The Eagles,” we thought that might be what we were seeing. But, no, it WAS another condor, flying right at us! And close enough for me to take this sequence with my iPhone camera:

Not five minutes later, Dale spotted a second condor, high overhead.

Lo and behold, he flew right above us, too!

These birds feed on carrion, just like vultures, to whom they are related. But, unlike vultures, condors are huge, their wingspans reaching as much as 10 feet! They are the largest flying land birds in the western hemisphere, found only in the Andes Mountains and near the California coast. Condors mate for life and breed every two years, living as long as 50 years.

We figured it was unlikely that we would see another condor from this spot, so we turned to find another vantage point. Here’s the view directly behind us; it seems there’s nowhere you can go around El Chaltén on a clear day that doesn’t have a great view on Monte Fitz Roy:

Up at the highest point on Mirador Los Aguilas, we could see both of the famous mountains and the lower peaks between them. That’s Cerro Torre on the left and Monte Fitz Roy, right of center.

We decided to hike back down and around to Mirador Los Condóres, thinking that since that hill was called “Condor Lookout,” we should find more condors there. No such luck. But there was a nice view of El Chaltén from there (our B&B is on the far right in this photo):

I couldn’t take my eyes off of Monte Fitz Roy, however, as I stood on the very top of Mirador Los Condóres.

No problem looking at Fitz Roy on the hike back to the bottom, either.

Here we are, safe and sound, back near the trailhead. If you look closely, you can see that another hiker has taken my place up there on top of Mirador Los Condóres.

Tomorrow will be our big adventure in El Chalén, the hike to Laguna de los Tres and Monte Fitz Roy!

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