We saw him before we'd even entered the town, standing tall in the sky, watching proudly over his citizens and guests. He sometimes hides behind a wall of clouds, sometimes even sending driving rains to keep all away from him, but we were incredibly fortunate to see him during our whole visit.
We left for our first hike in El Chaltén while the street lights were still aglow. The next 27 km would take us up a forested hill, along a ridge, down through a valley, across a marshland, then up, up, up to a gravel summit that had us staring him right in the face, and back again.
We quickly arrived at the first Mirador, our bodies well oiled after our three day trek in Torres del Paine, the soreness now gone. Things grew interesting when Craig led us on his own trail along the escarpment. We eventually found our way back on track, and arrived at the second Mirador in good spirits.
The second Mirador offers a marvellous view of Fitz Roy as well as down the crooked valley at his base. Many choose to end their hike here, though the hike is long, we would recommend continuing down the trail; the view is always stunning and even if Fitz doesn't change much, the slight differences in your surroundings make it feel like a whole new view. It is well worth continuing until Fitz Roy becomes obscured by the ridge even if you don't plan on scurrying up the shale to reach Laguna de los Tres at Fitz's base.
After three hours, we reached the base of the rocky mountain. The next hour was completely demoralizing. Switchback after tight switchback led us upwards to achieve a 500 m gain in 60 min. When we finally dragged our bodies over the crest of the hill, we looked up at the face of Fitz Roy, and saw to our dismay that yet another hill lay between us. Nearly collapsing with despair, our sentiment was mirrored by the hiker behind us who, as he turned the corner, bellowed "NOOOOO!!!!" into the great abyss with his arms wide open. But we managed to get up, over, and down the final hurdle where we gratefully enjoyed a rest, and our second lunch of the day.
When our bodies had finally recovered, we slid our way down the pebbly slope, somehow without wiping out, past the depressed faces of everyone hiking up as slowly and painfully as we had. We retraced our steps, but this time chose the lake trail, which also gave us beautiful views of the Fitz Roy range.
On our way back through town, we stopped to treat ourselves to two local specialties: Patagonian trout with a vegetable risotto, and Lorco, a chili-like dish with beans, chorizo, and vegetables. It was a good thing we'd stopped on the way home because after a quick shower, we collapsed on our bed and refused to move 'til the next morning.