Nearly Nowhere: The story of the trekking capital of Argentina

El Chalten wasn’t set up for trekking. It wasn’t really set up for people. It began life as a geopolitical pawn; an outpost of the Argentine government to stake a claim to the wilderness between Argentina and neighbouring Chile. The tapestry of individuals that created this place, from climbers and adventurers, to gauchos and pioneers, left an indelible mark on the location and created something unexpected.

The History of El Chalten

For early settlers to the region life was hard. Travelling by horse or foot from Buenos Aires and having to navigate the vast pampas and rugged terrain of the Andes would have taken several months to arrive. It wasn’t until 1985, long after climbers had begun to explore the region, that El Chalten was officially founded. Use the timeline to explore El Chalten’s full history.

1877 Perito Moreno claims the land

Francisco Moreno a Geologist and Explorer (nicknamed Perito Moreno which means expert or cleverclogs) discovers the mountain named by the indigenous Tehuelche people, El Chalten. He renames it Mount Fitz Roy after Captain Fitz Roy who discovered the Santa Cruz river. He planted the Argentine flag at Punta Bandera near El Calafate, claiming the land for Argentina.

1903 The first house of El Chalten

Andreas Madsen builds the first house at the foot of Mount Fitz Roy

1937 Los Glaciares National Park

Through pioneering work by Perito Moreno the National Park of Los Glaciares was established. Los Glaciares means "The Glaciers", a name the park lives up to as outside of Antarctica, Greenland, and Iceland, the park protects the largest ice caps in the world.

1952 The First Ascent of Cerro Fitz Roy

The first successful ascent of Cerro Fitz Roy was made on the 2nd of February 1952 by a pair of French Climbers, Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone.

1959 The Mystery of Cerro Torre’s First Ascent

Maestri and his climbing partner Toni Egger attempted to ascend Fitz Roy, one of the iconic peaks in the region of El Chaltén. They encountered extreme weather conditions and tragically, Egger lost his life during the descent. Whether Maestri completed the climb is still shrouded in mystery.

1968 The Fun Hogs Road Trip

A team of climbers from California, including Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia), Doug Tompkins (founder of The North Face), and Dick Dorworth, visit El Chaltén. They make significant ascents in the area, including the first ascent of Mount Fitz Roy's "California Route" on the peak's west face.

1970 Maestri’s Return

Cesare Maestri returned to the region this time in search of the first ascent of Cerro Torre. This climb was again shrouded in controversy as he used a compressor to attach bolts into the mountain side, did not climb the ‘ice mushroom’ atop of Cerro Torre, and yet still claimed the first ascent title. Maestri’s bolts were used by numerous climbers until Kruk and Kennedy removed them from the wall in 2012.

1974 The First Undisputed Ascent

The first undisputed ascent of Cerro Torre was made on the 13th of January, 1974 by the ‘Ragni di Lecco’ climbers Daniele Chiappa, Mario Conti, Casimiro Ferrari, and Pino Negri.

1985 El Chalten is officially founded

2015 The National Capital of Trekking

First elections for Mayor and Councillors of El Chalten. The elected representatives started working on December 12th 2015.

El Chaltén is officially declared the "National Capital of Trekking”. It is a pivotal moment for the town and a statement that the tourism industry can be a positive benefit to the town as a whole.

Our Favourite Treks from El Chalten

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Laguna de los Tres

Laguna de Los Tres is the hike to do in Los Glaciares National Park. Coined “the hike to the logo,” this route takes you to the lookout for Fitz Roy, the mountain that gives its outline to the Patagonia brand.

Route Distance

20km | 12.4 miles

Route Elevation

+804m | 2,638ft

Route Length

8-9hrs

Huemul Circuit

One of the best and most challenging multi-day treks in Los Glaciares National Park. Windy mountain passes, steep terrain, but your rewards are some of the best views of Viedma Glacier and the Southern Patagonian Ice Field.

Route Distance

55km | 34 miles

Route Elevation

+2191m | 7188ft

Route Length

4 days

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado

Loma del Pliegue Tumbado is the best way to get off the beaten track in Los Glaciares. This hike is a favourite of local guides’ and gives you the zoomed out perspective of the entire mountain range.

Route Distance

20km | 12.4 miles

Route Elevation

+1,084m | 3,556ft

Route Length

8-9hrs

Ice Field Expedition

This is more than just a trekking adventure, this is an expedition style trip. Looping around the Los Glaciares Massif with Fitz Roy towering above you. You’ll sleep at the feet of Cerro Torre and enjoy a few days of the Huemul Circuit as you exit by the Viedma Glacier.

Route Distance

68km | 42 miles

Route Elevation

+2128m | 6982ft

Route Length

8 days

Laguna Torre

Cerro Torre is the most popular out-and-back hike from town, with an initial ascent to the first viewpoint and then a moderate, undulating path to the iceberg-filled waters of laguna Torre.

Route Distance

18km | 11.2 miles

Route Elevation

+382m | 1,253ft

Route Length

7-8hrs

Piedra del Fraile

A beautiful hike that takes you a little more off the beaten path than others in the region. Stunning mountain views throughout the hike and a great route for avoiding the crowds.

Route Distance

6.5km | 4 miles

Route Elevation

+68m | 223ft

Route Length

2hrs

There’s so much more to El Chalten and Los Glaciares National Park. You have so much history and culture - the pioneers, the climbers - and you can still feel that in El Chalten today. You’ve got famous mountaineers, famous climbers and they’re walking the same streets that someone going for their very first trek is also walking.

Antarctic Guidebook Editor

Meet Sarah Patagonia Trekking Expert

El Chalten Today

El Chalten is often referred to as the South American Mecca for trekking. A large part of that is owed to its incredible location but the culture of the town itself is central to how it is viewed amongst trekkers. It is a hive of gear stores, bakeries, bars and restaurants, all of which pay homage to the climbers, trekkers, and adventurers that paved the way for the town to become what it is today.