Some online reviews rave about the merits of the best restaurant in town when they’ve spent a handful of days and tried only a handful of places, so as a caveat to the title of this piece: I’ve not done that many trail-runs and have not previously owned trail shoes.
Before leaving London I bought a pair of Saucony shoes from the lovely staff “Run and Become”. The shoes have been a revelation for me, taking in sand, mud and even a little rock scrambling with ease.
Their first proper outing was a 20km run starting 16km north of Chalten leading up to a mountain lake called Lago Electrico.
Running can clear the mind and cleanse the body. Just occasionally something more magical happens and you transcend where you are, and for that brief time you are connected to something much greater. It is as if you found your natural state, running almost sub-consciously.
I’m not a natural runner. I had to have a hip operation five years ago where I was told I could not realistically expect to run in the future. Eventually, frustration led me to do up the laces again in a quest for that connection, and today was one of those days where the run and scenery overcame all. I ran and became.
The route starts at an iron bridge over the Rio Electrico and weaves along the river until it quickly enters a beautiful forest that takes you to the campsite and tiny Refugio at Piedra del Fraile. I was lucky with weather, with dappled sunshine coming through the trees but fresh cool air.
There is a small fee to pass the refugio, and as you do so the landscape changes. The trees stop and the route opens into the wide stony river bed. Ahead, great open views of the glacier in its majesty, on the left the formidable North face of Fitz Roy. I was alone. Mountains are special places and to have them to yourself is a real privilege.
Passing the refugio also opens exposure to the famous Patagonian wind. In fact, the “Piedra” apparently refers to a large boulder where the Italian priest Alberto de Agostini would take shelter.
By this stage any consideration from the return journey was gone and with the cool headwind I was running freely and found myself climbing to above the lake before I even realised I had arrived at my destination.
On the way down, I stopped at the little refugio for a quick coffee and a home baked biscuit before enjoying the descent back to the car.
The route descends gently, just enough to take some pleasure opening up the stride on the way down. The 20km round trip with photo stops and coffee took a little under 2.5 hours, a pleasant and fairly relaxed pace and a run I just can’t recommend enough.
If you’re in Chalten and want an alternative to the main treks or a route mainly sheltered in trees, this is a lovely option.
One day I will return here. I would love to run here with my sister Eleanor who was always the runner in the family, and hopefully one day with my son Bertrand as an older boy when we can redo this special run together.
In the meantime, one of the rather good local cervezas is long over due!
Info on the route:
Info on Chalten: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/El_Chalt%C3%A9n