After our unplanned 7.5 hour day to Laguna de Los Tres, we decided the next day, which happened to be our final full day in El Chalten, would be an easy day. We woke up and had a leisurely breakfast. We edited some photos and I update my journal with the happenings from the past couple of days. We did some laundry and hung it up to dry in our room. All in all it was a relaxing morning. Then around 12pm Jason mentioned that he wanted to get lunch. In the couple minutes that it took me to finish writing in my journal, his idea changed from lunch to hiking Loma de las Pizzarras (not be confused with Loma del Pliegue Tumbado). Loma de las Pizzarras is a trail that marked by a dashed red line on the map, indicating that the national park recommends an A.P.N certified guide lead you on the hike. The trail up to the first “loma” was on Strava, so we assumed it we could just follow the navigation on my Suunto Ambit 3 Peak. From what we read there were only a couple tricky sections as long as you found the correct route.
We left the hotel at 12:15 pm but made a detour almost immediately to Che Empanada to pick up 12 empanadas for lunch/hiking fuel. As a side note, it only costs 240 ARS (less than $16 USD) for 12 of the most delicious empanadas on earth. Seriously. We ordered three cerdo de barbacoa, three pollo, three carne picante, two humito (corn), and one jamon y queso. With six each, we were as happy as clams (and my Ultimate Direction Fastpack smelled like empanadas for the rest of the trip).
The hike starts by following the same trail to Mirador Torre and Laguna Torre. We had hiked to Mirador Torre on our second day in town after the rain storms to capture the sun breaking through the clouds near sunset, so we were familiar with the first section of the trail. We quickly made it up to Mirador Torre and then descended down into the valley towards Laguna Torre. The trail was flat and followed a rocky dry riverbed with incredible views of Cerro Torre and the “hill” we would be climbing.
At the intersection of the Laguna Torre trail and the Laguna Madre y Hija trail we turned right onto the Madre y Hija trail (which also connects to the Laguna de Los Tres trail). Almost immediately the trail began to climb steeply through dense forest. When we got the first “downhill” we briefly looked for the trail but couldn’t find it so we continued down the main trail. We did this at the next two “downhills” before the trail steadily trended downhill. We decided we would look again on our way back at each “high point” and if we couldn’t find the trail we would go to Laguna Torre instead since we had only seen it from above. At the last “high point” we found a very faint trail through the underbrush. The trail quickly became more defined but was definitely still a climbers trail and not a maintained one.
The trail meandered through a forest before starting up a sandy incline. As it began to traverse the sand we noticed large puma prints in the sand, and they were fresh. We prayed we wouldn’t meet the owner of the footprints and continued upward, generally following relatively fresh human bootprints. As the sand turned into a rocky scree field we picked up the trail that the A.P.N guides use, following the slightly more crushed rocks and using cairns as guides when we could spot them. Although from below the loma looked like it climbed steeply, then leveled out, climbed steeply, then leveled out, until reaching it’s terminus, it actually just climbed the entire time. Since the trail didn’t give us any breaks, we took a couple by pointing our feet downhill to give our calves a break.
After about 1.2 miles of steady uphill climbing on general class II terrain we came to a wall of slate-like rock. There were a couple of cairns so we headed towards then but then had to pick the “path of least danger” up through the sharp slabs of rock. I’m not an expert on classifying terrain and certainly not an expert climber/scrambler, but I would classify the route we took up as class IV terrain. A fall was likely and could cause significant injury or death. We made it up without incident although both of our hearts were pounding. At the top of the first loma we saw another couple from France reclining on the rocks overlooking Laguna Torre. Jason really wanted the view that looks down on Laguna de Los Tres (Loma de las Pizzarras separates the main valleys of El Chalten) so we continued on the top of the next loma.
Unfortunately from the top we still could not see down to Laguna de Los Tres. Based on our hike from the previous day I remembered seeing a rocky outcropping at the end of the loma that was likely the only viewpoint down to the Laguna de Los Tres and Laguna Sucia valleys. The rocky outcropping was nowhere in sight, and there were at least two more lomas that we could see. It was getting late and we didn’t want to be trekking around after dark, even though we brought headlamps. Although puma sightings aren’t common around El Chalten, we didn’t want to be the ones to see one. We ate some empanadas to raise our spirits and continued back down the way we came.
At the class IV scramble, we looked down the way we came and decided to see if there was a less steep section to downclimb. We followed the knife edge ridge down a little ways and found another cairn that marked a much easier route back to the class II terrain. The rest of the hike back to the main Laguna Madre y Hija trail was fast and uneventful. Luckily we never ran into the owner of the puma prints! We stopped a couple of times hiking back towards Mirador Torre through the riverbed to capture the sun dropping below the horizon. We made it back to town as the sun set and headed straight for La Cervercia for pizza and beer. Although we did not make it to the viewpoint we were looking to see (here’s a photo of what we wanted to see), the hike was amazing and it was wonderful to get away from the crowds and have a mountain almost entirely to ourselves. It was the perfect way to close out our trip to the trekking capital of the world!
Hike Stats: 14.5 miles, 4,600 feet elevation, 7:14 total time, including the stop at Che Empanada (4:55 moving time), details on Strava
The whole hike to the end of Loma de las Pizzarras is approximately 16.5 miles, with about 5400 feet elevation