Huemul Route

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One of the best hikes in the world

Huemul Route

Hikers who visit the more famous Torres del Paine in Chile are urged to hike nearby Fitz Roy, Argentina on the same trip. A similar fantastical landscape — but with even worse weather! 🙄

Fitz Roy is at the northern tip of gorgeous Parque Nacional Los Glaciers, itself part of Hielo Sur, the largest icecap not in a polar region. The Southern Patagonian Ice Field is the second largest in the world.

The Huemul Route gets you very, very close to the big ice.

image via Travel 2 Walk
vista from ‘Windy Pass’

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AT A GLANCE

  • 4 days, 3 nights hiking out of  El Chaltén
  • 35.40 mi (56.97 km) … but it feels much longer!
  • close to the southern tip of South America
  • close to the great Paine treks
  • Los Glaciares National Park (Spanish: Parque Nacional Los Glaciares)
  • jumping off point is the bustling tourist town of  El Calafate. Fly via Buenos Aires.
  • After picking up camping food in  El Calafate, bus to El Chaltén (“Argentina’s Trekking Capital“).
  • NOTORIOUSLY bad weather
  • TOUGH hike. Big river crossings. Big elevation gains & loses.
  • no reservation, trekking fee nor permit required. FREE registration on your first day is required. Each registered group must show and carry a Tyrolean Traverse harness. Or two.
How the PROs do a Traverse

Why We Like This Hike

  • Paine, Fitz Roy and the Huemul are the best hikes in Patagonia. Huemul is by far the least well known.
  • the jagged mountains of Paine are surreal — but we feel Fitz Roy is even more stunning
  • Mt Fitzroy 3,375m (11,073ft)  is the highest point in the park though you only get brief glimpses at the start of day 1 on the Huemul
  • no need to speak Spanish, though it helps
  • no risk of altitude sickness
  • chance to see condor, guanaco, fox & nandu (rhea) though we saw only cows & rabbits. Lots of cows & rabbits.
  • most hikers like El Calafate better than Puerto Natales (the two jumping off points for Fitz Roy & Paine respectively)
  • side trip visit to Perito Moreno Glacier, however, out of Calafate, is one of the top tourist attractions in South America
On the way up to WINDY Pass day 2. You can dream of weather this good. 😎

The history of these impossible spires adds a special flavour. Named after Captain Fitzroy, skipper of Charles Darwin’s Beagle, Fitz Roy is one of the most notoriously difficult mountaineering destinations in the world.

No need to organize transportation to trailheads. The Huemul starts at the National Park Information Center just outside of town.

El Chaltén

Though highly unlikely, you might be tempted to swim with the icebergs. 😀

Dumb Things

Considerations

The biggest concern for hikers is wind. It can blow steady from November to April. Fitz Roy is colder and windier than Paine, on average. The huge Hielo Sur ice sheet diminishes the maritime influence.

Elevation gain and loss is extreme.

Barefoot Ausie

At El Chaltén:

  • February (summer) low maximum 5C (41F) plus wind chill
  • February (summer) high maximum of 22C (72F)

In addition, temperatures in your tent, closer to the mountains, will be colder.

  • plan for horrible weather: rain, sleet, hail, snow
  • bring warm, dry clothes
  • hypothermia is a slight risk
  • you need a strong tent & good tie-downs 
  • rodents are a pest at the official campgrounds. Check recommendations on how to hang or store your food safely. You’ll see many warnings about Hantavirus.
  • you need a stove  (rent in town) as open fires are prohibited
  • November to April are the best months
  • there are some good spots at the 3 designated campgrounds, but they are not all great. Protection from wind will be your main criteria when choosing.
  • the days are long in Patagonia during their summer — it is light until at least 9:30PM
  • in the past hikers were asked to show a rope to return the pulley to the correct side of the river after the two Tyrolean Traverses. I wasn’t required to do that in 2019. It’s a dumb idea in any case. That rope should be in place full-time at each when you arrive.
  • conversational Spanish is recommended
  • Looking for trekking partners? Plan an extra day or two in Chaltén. Put a note up at your accommodation & check at popular gringo restaurants. It is fairly easy to hook up with others for this trip. And easy to meet other hikers on the trail and in El Chaltén. You won’t be alone for long on this hike.
Paso del Viento camp – night 2

Cost

  • rental gear, if needed, can be hired in El Chaltén. The shops there are perhaps better than Calefate.
  • In February 2019 our only cost was for  Tyrolean Traverse harness rental. About $5 / day ($20 for the 4 days).

Routes

Almost everyone does the same route. Counterclockwise. The three designated campsites in 2019 are marked.

  • independent trekking of the Huemul is discouraged. Everyone in Chaltén wants you to hire a guide. And the guides are very good. 
  • If you do choose to do it independently know that navigation can be difficult, especially in poor visibility. Visibility is often poor. We were lost 3 different times in good visibility!
    • carry a paper map back-up (Check which one is recommended when you get to Chaltén.)
    • carry the Maps.me app with the El Chaltén section AND the Icefields sections downloaded for use offline. (We didn’t realize the entire trail wasn’t included in the Chaltén section so our map quit when we got to the wildest section.)
    • consider downloading a GPS route from Wikiloc.
  • Confirm the designated campgrounds when you Register. Some have been closed over the years.
  • Looking for trekking partners? Plan an extra day or two in Chaltén. Put a note up at your accommodation. There are a lot of people looking to hike together on this one. You will likely meet people at the first campground night 1. I myself followed a guided group to watch how to do the Tyrolean Traverse.
  • day 1 — if visibility is good — and you have an extra 3 hours — definitely stash your pack and day hike the side trail to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado lookout

Trekking Guides

I met several guides on the trek. They seemed excellent to me.

Cost was around $1100 / person in 2019. Hiking independently I paid $20 harness rental plus my food & fuel.

Compare some of these offers:

It looks very easy to find a guide in El Chaltén on arrival. Wait on good weather before you commit. You could go shop-to-shop asking for groups you might join.

If you want even MORE excitement than Huemul, check out some guided Southern Ice Field treks:

walking Glacier Río Túnel day 2

Logistics

This section is for those who would like to do Fitz Roy independently.

  • make your way to El Calafate, Argentina
  • El Chaltenfrom El Calafate you can bus (4.5hrs) to the trailhead town of El Chaltén, entering the national park (free entrance) en route.
  • El Chaltén is a tourist town bursting with restaurants and accommodation
  • you start hiking directly from El Chaltén, which has grocery stores for last-minute purchases. ATM bank machines have finally arrived, too.
  • It is no hardship to relax in Chaltén, waiting for the weather. There is even a free campground on the edge of town.
  • Enjoy superb day hikes. And consider the Around Fitz Roy itinerary.
Viedma glacier day 3


Local Information

The National Park Visitor Center (Parque Nacional Los Glaciers) in El Chaltén is terrific. It’s the best park office in South America we can recall.

Ask for up-to-date news on weather & conditions on the Huemul.

walking out through grasslands day 4

Best Trekking Guidebooks

Best Travel Guidebooks

Related Books

Crouch is ideal reading when tentbound due to weather. 🙂

Best Maps

  • Zagier & Urruty Monte Fitz Roy & Cerro Torre trekking map is one option. Two different versions (at least) are available in El Calafate.
  • Ask in town for the best map for the Huemul Circuit.

Best Web Pages

The most dangerous section is the descent day 3. Especially when wet. This is the only bit where a rope is provided.

Best Trip Reports

Many of these trip reporters (including myself) were inspired to plan this trip by Steve Hänsch on YouTube.

Travel 2 Walk – Huemul Circuit (2019)
Travel 2 Walk – Huemul Circuit (2017)

Icebergs on Lake Viedma day 3

Movies

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

Click PLAY or watch it on YouTube.

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