We spent about an hour at Laguna de los Tres, admiring Monte Fitz Roy…
…before starting the journey back down – every bit as difficult as the hike up, just in a different way. The last 1/4 mile of the trail is a scramble over loose rock and gravel left by the last glacial advance and it’s very slippery.
So, even though going down is normally faster than going up, you have to be cautious; and, it’s tough on the knees and feet.
After sliding down from the top of the overlook, we continued across a short level area to the edge of the main – and more difficult – descent down to the river, about 3/4 of a mile below. The river bed is that grey band running diagonally through the lower third of this photo:
About 50 yards down, we came upon an older woman who was having difficulty maintaining her footing on the rocks and gravel of the trail and we asked her if we could give her a hand getting down.
With a great look of relief, she said, “Si, yes, please,” so Dale took her bag and walking sticks and I took her pack and her arm, and we slowly made our way all the way back down to the river together. Here we are at the bottom.
We introduced ourselves while we caught our breath and refilled our water bottles. Our new friend’s name was Lely Mariel, a third-generation Argentine of Italian descent; a 74-year old abuela (grandmother) and world traveler.
She was traveling alone, vacationing in Bariloche from her home in Buenos Aires, when she had gotten bored and decided she needed some adventure, so she had taken a bus from Bariloche to El Chaltén where she was staying in a youth hostel in a room with a couple 20-year olds. They had all decided to hike to Laguna de los Tres that morning, but her hiking companions had apparently decided she was too slow and they went on ahead without her. But, other young hikers she had met along the way assured her that she could make it to the top, in spite of the signs along the way that warned of the difficulty of the trek.
And, she did, indeed, make it all the way to the top! Talk about spirit – wow!
At any rate, we were concerned that the delay in getting down the mountain would mean that we might arrive back in El Chaltén near dark and we didn’t want to leave Lely to fend for herself, so we asked her to join us for the entire 8 mile return hike to town.
She called us her “guardian angels,” but we felt just as deeply blessed to be in her company. She spoke fluent English and a little Italian, in addition to her native Spanish, and she was a walking encyclopedia and travel documentary, regaling us with her trips to Africa, Europe and the USA, where she had lived for several years. And she helped me with my Spanish and pointed out different plants for Dale along the trail.
We took the direct route back to El Chaltén, not the one we had hiked in on, and it traversed different terrain.
Here’s a photo looking back at Monte Fitz Roy from the end of the boardwalk, above.
About half-way back to town, this trail passed along the shoreline of Laguna Capri…
…where we had another nice view of Monte Fitz Roy as dusk approached.
Our path took us along the edge of the valley that we had driven through from El Chaltèn to Pilar earlier that morning.
The valley was beautiful in the fading sunlight. But, we were anxious to get back to town, so we didn’t linger.
At last, we could see El Chaltén, not far away. We had been on the trail for 11 hours and had hiked a total of 15 miles with an elevation change of nearly 1/2 mile.
Certainly, this was the most strenuous hike of our travels, to date. And, Lely did it, too – at age 74!
Here we are at the trailhead, glad to have arrived.
And then, Lely amazed us by asking if we minded stopping with her at the camping store on the way to her hostel so that she could pick up some hiking boots for – get this – her ice trek planned for the next day!
Because she had come to El Chaltén on a whim for adventure, she wasn’t properly equipped and needed to get boots that support crampons. We looked at the shoes she had been wearing on her hike up to Laguna de los Tres and saw that they were slip-on tennis shoes, now destroyed by the rocky trail.
I hope I have that kind of energy when I get to be 74.
Lely said she’d meet us back here in 20 years to do it again; and I don’t doubt that she will.
Lely was my Godmother, she had the greatest, most lovely spirit I’ve ever seen in a person. I love your article about her, you just got her essence and heart. Thank you for this! Kind Regards, Xime
I’m happy my path in life connected with that of your godmother: an angel on earth, now returned to heaven.
I am very happy too 🙂 Thank you for your words! Warm regards from Buenos Aires, Argentina.