During the Huemul Circuit I met Oliver who had some personal reasons for wanting to hike to the climbers camp Polacos, on the backside of Fitz Roy and Poincenot peaks. It seemed an interesting challenge to hike with him to this remote place, I was looking for some tougher hike I couldn’t do on my own. So once the weather forecast was good enough, we prepare for the trail, registering our intentions at the ranger station, preparing food, backpacks, renting some gear (I am done with my broken mattress and rented a hopefully more insulating one).
We start a bit late at 10.45h to what we were told by Oliver’s friend would be a 7h hike, arduous beyond the Laguna Torre. The first 3h are easy, I already hiked that bit before, to the Laguna Torre.
The sky is covered but it seems stable and after a while we start even to see bits of a blue sky until in the afternoon almost all clouds are gone. At Laguna Torre we decide to go up to the Mirador instead of staying at the lake – it didn’t look like there’s a trail and we got two options from two people. After the Mirador things start to become tougher. To walk around scree avalanches we need to descend again, hike up again, not sure where to go it’s good to see two other hikers with helmets, probably climbers who should better know the trail.
Finally we arrive at the other side of the lake at the glacier and now plenty of pirkas (stone piles) guide us through a “tunnel”, on the left the glacier and on the right the mountain walls.
Boulders and scree everywhere make us climb up and down all the time. At 5pm we already realise that it takes far more time than we thought and that we might not reach the campsite tonight. After some kind of small lookout, the pirkas are gone and so are suddenly the other two hikers. From now it’s really hard hiking. There’s no trail, just big boulders, scree, forming little hills to climb up and down, relentlessly.
Oliver checks the map, his app, his watch for the coordinates to ensure we are at least still heading to the right direction. We don’t have crampons and ropes to hike on the glacier but we still hike on its outer bit, where the ice forms those hills covered in stones. The sun is shining now and the view is amazing. I cannot recall though when it was such tough hiking for the last time. We decide to continue till 7.30pm and then look for a place to camp as it’s gonna be dark at 8pm. I am already really tired, my body is used to normal hiking but not climbing and my legs hurt.
Luck is on our side, we look around for 15minutes and see a few options until Oliver finds a perfect spot. It’s off the glacier, flat, sheltered by big boulders, kind of secure from falling rocks and just big enough to fit our two tents. On one side we see Cerro Torre, on the other the backside of the Fitz Roy massif. Despite feeling slightly uneasy about camping right here, it’s the best campsite I have ever had. And it’s gonna be the full enjoyment program for us: We set up our tents in the beautiful red light of the sunset.
We only have the water we carried, there’s no other water source (we can see a waterfall not too far but still out of reach), so we cook carefully to not waste too much water. As we cook it gets dark and suddenly the moon is rising, illuminating Cerro Torre and the glacier. Together with the stars and some disappearing remaining clouds, it’s almost unreal. How can I be so lucky? After assuring each other that there won’t be any pumas around up here (not many hikers come here to be eaten), we try to get some rest. I sleep surprisingly well before waking up to the next treat, sunrise. We have breakfast while admiring the red glowing Cerro Torre. It’s just magical, a tough hike is always rewarded.
After our a bit restricted breakfast (we are not sure when to find water), we leave the gear in our tents and continue towards the Polacos campsite. My leg muscles still ache from yesterday’s effort, but it’s not getting any easier.
After continueing somehow along the glacier for (felt) hours, we have to gain elevation to hopefully find the camp. Oliver read again and again the maps to try and locate the camp. There are no pirkas, no other signs. We climb up, have a rest half way, thirsty, but at the top we cannot climb over the last bit. It’s unstable and we fear the wall will collapse. It’s too risky so we have to accept going back down and trying another route up. This time we are successful and get just underneath the peak walls. We walk backwards, trying to locate the camp.
In the end we aren’t very sure if we found it but we have to walk back. The beginning is relatively easy but then there are some more climbing parts. My body is already tired and I already had to overcome my fear a few times to continue climbing. Oliver is great, finding the best path through this mess and helping me if needed. We thought it would be easy to get back to our tents, but we don’t recognise anything on our way back. Luckily Oliver saved the coordinates of the campsite on his watch and directs us back. We actually went down some too many meters of altitude. At the tentsite we take some more pics and pack up.
I go and get us water, we saw a creek in the morning not too far away. It’s 2.30pm as we leave. We are already tired and know it will be a close call to make it out before darkness, but neither of us feels at ease staying here another night. The only problem is that I didn’t realise how much harder it will be to continue now with my big backpack. It’s very hard. I struggle as my legs are exhausted and don’t want to obey my head. I fall many times but it’s not too bad, I will for sure have many bruises though. But then a rock slips away and I hit right with my knee another rock. It hurts so bad I am close to tears. Oliver offers to take some of my stuff so I have to carry less weight and although I hate not being able to manage on my own, I gladly accept, there’s no other choice. My full attention is now on hiking, scrambling, climbing without falling again. I cannot help Oliver to find some kind of trail, he’s always ahead trying to find the best possible way and warning me about difficult sections. It’s the best we can do to continue at least a bit faster, but again, it’s difficult to not be able to contribute. For the last 9 months I was usually the more experienced and stronger person when hiking with someone. Strange to be in the opposite role now.
After an endless time, Oliver finds again some pirkas and the trail gets somewhat easier. We can see the lake and feel reliefed, it’s 6pm and we think we can at least reach the final easy section around the lake before sunset.
Some pressure is removed and we slow down a bit our pace. It’s still some more scrambling before we are at the part where we can “just” walk along the lake. As the sun illuminates Laguna Torre in shiny red, we walk and walk along this lake, hating it ever more as we are not getting closer to the campsite at the other end. Now I am again in my element at least, hiking as I am used to from New Zealand, I almost run ahead now. We end up with our head torches at the other side, taking pictures of the moon before setting up camp in the darkness at the Agostini campsite where a few other hikers are already camping. We have a quick dinner before I crash in my tent, completely exhausted.
Although it was much tougher than I thought, I am very happy I went to this incredible place. I got to see Cerro Torre from a spot not many people can reach, I got the most amazing sunset, moonlight and starlit sky, the red glowing sunrise and enjoyed the beautiful mountains and glaciers. My body will recover quickly, the memories will last. It’s been a long time I haven’t been out of my comfort zone while hiking, but I only can gain more experience through adventures like this one.
The next morning I head for a quick look of the sunrise (but without walking back up to the lake, my muscles are hurting).
In El Chaltén there’s only one spot left in the evening bus to El Bolson, my next destination. As I am not in a hurry, I let Oliver take it and I check in for another night at my hostel. A long hot shower later I enjoy some ice-cream and finally can have my clothes washed, before having a goodbye drink with Jéhanne and Oliver.