We woke up just a few minutes before the alarm. Breakfast was fine, an okay buffet, not quite Explora though. Whilst dinner options are better in El Chalten, breakfast is the opposite. Justin wondered if he'd miss his Coca Light on the trail - he didn't want to get a caffeine headache in the middle of the hike. There were lots of Americans in the restaurant, wearing clothes that didn't seem sufficient for bad weather - lots of tights, lululemon shirts, and matching headbands. That doesn't do a whole lot when the wind is blowing 50 mph and there's precipitation. Hey, but you'll look good.

Arturo and Nicholas picked us up right at 8:15. We waited just a moment for Milena, our Argentine guide for the National Park. Chino had told us how only people who'd passed the test for Argentine National Parks could guide in the national parks, so the Explora guides could be in the park, but couldn't be "guiding" us. That's why we weren't sure what would happen if we had to split up from Roger and Donna on the hike. You can hike to Laguna de Los Tres directly from town, but we drove north from town, actually out of the National Park and into Huemel reserve. The point was to prevent and up and back hike, and also cut down on some of the elevation gain on the way up. Doing the trek this way, the trail is 13 miles, with 3159 feet of elevation gain. We couldn't see anything to the west, but it was perfectly clear to the east, however. We worried we wouldn't be able to see anything, but whatever, we're here.

After a slow bumpy road to the Huemul Reserve, we got out with Milena, but not Roger or Donna. We weren't sure exactly why, but probably so Nicholas wouldn't be alone with Roger and Donna inside the national park. Alternatively, maybe it was because we couldn't see anything, so why waste the effort for Roger and Donna. The hike was along the eastern side of river (Rio Blanco), going up slowly. There were a fair number of people, in larger groups. The clouds to the west seemed like they were clearing very slowly; every 5-10 minutes, it seemed 1% clearer. Also, it seemed to be clearing from the Northeast to the Southwest. There was still no view of Mount Fitzroy - the supposed star of the show today - but we could now see Electrico (lots of bright red tones) and some glaciers, including Piedra Blanca. While we were trying to stay positive about the weather, Milena seemed a little down on the weather. We weren't sure if she was really into the hike, or maybe she just knew better. The weather continued to get incrementally better, but at the "decision time" for going vertically up to the lake, we still had no view. Milena mentioned a Spanish phrase translated as "If we came to the party, we might as well dance" or something similar. Plus, we came all this way, and felt good, so why not try. Milena said "Vamos al ver" - we will see.

The walk up was a pain, but doable. It was just this last 1km of the walk (on the uphill at least), and was similar to Ferrier - straight up. There were some workers out putting steps together from boulders, trying to make natural (looking) steps and minimize erosion. The trail, despite having so many people, was very well maintained trail, all around. At what we thought was the top, we could see some of the peaks (including Poincenot), but not Fitzroy. Then, out of nowhere from the north, the wind blasted us, and was a beast. In quick succession, it started hailing; Milena called it granita. The tiny pieces of ice were like shave ice, and beat the hell out of our faces. We were now at the top, and there were rocks everywhere, and places to explore. We we went down a bit and saw the lake, then went up to see another lake on the left, Laguna Sucia.

Everything looked awesome, but frankly at this point we just wanted out of the wind. We needed to add multiple layers to what we were wearing, and needed a spot where we could actually get things out of our pack without them flying away. Milena found us a little rock fortress, where we had lunch and changed into warmer clothes. We had some sort of vegetable soup (carrot or tomato), sandwiches, an apple, and a brownie. We also had tea, including Justin, who wanted/needed some caffeine. It was still clearing, little by little, and we could see the bottom of Fitzroy. At the end of lunch, Justin put on his balaclava, as he wanted to walk around in the wind and take pictures.

Milena wanted to leave, so Justin told her to just get out of the wind and give him 10-15 minutes. Crystal and Milena got out of wind, and Justin went back to area where both lakes could be seen. He actually had to get down on his knees because of the wind speed, probably in excess of 80mph. It kept getting clearer, then more obstructed - 2 steps forward, 1 back. Because of how much the Towers had cleared up two days earlier, Justin was confident the wind would blow the clouds away. But eventually he gave up, as it didn't seem like it was going to happen. So we started headed back down, constantly looking over our shoulders. We stopped a couple times hoping for complete clearing, but it was not happening. The wind was substantially less on the walk down, but still strong. About halfway down, we stopped to take off some layers. There was some French dude smoking, and Milena asked him politely in French to stop smoking, he said no. Justin asked if he spoke English, he nodded, and Justin said less politely "Put that fucking cigarette out." There was lots of yelling, but no physical altercation. Given how much of Torres del Paine has been scared for centuries if not millenia because of a fire, it is disgusting that anyone would smoke, but some people can't help themselves. Smoking while hiking is dumb anyway. Milena indicated the French were bad about this, and Justin started to like her a lot more.

The walk down was fine, although steep. When we got back to the bottom of the vertical part (where there was a small hut and the worst smelling bathroom ever), there was still cloud cover over the peaks. This was the fork in the road where we made the decision to walk up earlier, and so instead of walking back the way we came, we instead turned right, and walked back towards town. At around 15:00 (over an hour after we headed down), Fitzroy mostly clear, because of course it was. Unlike Torres del Paine in 2008 (where the Towers cleared up when we got back to the parking lot), today we were still fairly close, with a good panoramic view; the only thing missing was the lake. When we crossed the river and refilled our water bottles, it was almost totally clear. As we trudged on, we kept looking over our shoulders, and it was eventually clear. At that point we took a short break and got a photo of the two of us.

On the hike down we talked to Milena about requirements for being a guide in National Park, which included years of school and passing several tests. We also spoke to her about mountain climbing, Cerro Torre, and the long and interesting history of different climbing routes up Cerro Torre. It's a long story that you can read about here, but the short story is that mountain climbers are crazy. We were in the sun pretty much the whole time we weren't in the forest, as everything on East side of the Southern Ice Field is in a rain shadow. The east side of Torres del Paine (which is also right next to the Southern Ice Field) was also much drier as well. Nearing the end, there was a fork in the road around Laguna Capri, and Milena asked which way we wanted to go - "whichever is shorter." One of the other groups within ear shot of us got a chuckle out of that. It turns out that way was slightly longer, because that same group went on the other fork and reconverged on the trail before we did.

At the last little bit, we saw the entire town of El Chalten. It's very small, and was built in the last 30 years as part of a border dispute between Argentina and Chile. Argentina wanted to boost their presence in the area to help with their arguments to international bodies about who should control the area around Laguna del Desierto. In 1995, a panel determined the area did belong to Argentina - you can read the lengthy story here. We got back to town just before 17:30, and the hotel just after 17:30. We got cleaned up, then headed down to the bar. We opened up a bottle of Cab that Nicholas had given us. We tried to catch up on the last 48 hours for the trip log, before days merged together and memories were lost. Justin kept interrupting the last bit of Crystal's book to ask her questions, then finally stopped doing that. We saw that yet another celebrity had died, this time Debbie Reynolds - so sad. We wondered who would be next, and saw someone had started a fund to keep Betty White alive through the end of the year.

Once the trip log was caught up on, and Crystal's book completed, we looked at some of the photos from the past couple days. We grabbed dinner at La Tapera. Everyone got Bife de Chorizo, except Arturo, who got Bife de Lomo. Again, we think Arturo made the best choice. We also got some empanadas and other appetizers; everything was excellent. We ran into the same couple that had sat next to us the night before at Don Arguello; they asked for some tips for their hike the next day. It was a nice dinner all around. We got an added bonus, as Roger and Donna gave us their bottle of red wine, since they were allergic. We crashed shortly after getting back to the hotel.

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