The Cerro Fitz Roy, also known as Cerro Chaltén, is a mountain located near the village of El Chaltén, in Patagonia, on the border between Argentina and Chile. Fitz Roy is situated in the province of Santa Cruz (Argentina) and in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica region (Chile). It gave its name to the Fitz Roy massif and rises just five kilometres northeast of Cerro Torre. Its altitude is 3,405 meters. It was first climbed by the French mountaineers Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone in 1952.
The Fitz Roy is located both in the Los Glaciares National Park (Argentina) and the Bernardo O’Higgins National Park (Chile).
The Kingdom of the Skies: Discovering Fitz Roy, the Blue Giant.
The Fitz Roy, this majestic peak that pierces the Patagonian sky, also bears a more mystical name: Cerro Chaltén. Each name tells a story; one is a tribute to a daring explorer, the other a distant echo of an ancestral people.
The name Cerro Chaltén is a whisper from the tradition of the Tehuelches, this proud people who lived here long before us. They named this mountain, thus, the term meaning “blue” or “bluish” in their language – an ode to its mantle of ice shimmering in the dawn light. Their legends speak of Elal, a demigod and hero of Tehuelche mythology, who was brought to the summit by the protective swan Kelfü.
The colour of the peak, blue like the plumage of their winged saviour, inspired them to name it Chaltén. The Tehuelches had no written language of their own, and their language, Aonikenk, contains sounds that do not exist in European languages. Thus, the mountain’s name, as we know it today, is only a Western approximation of its true name.
But the mystery of Chaltén doesn’t stop there. This name could also mean “smoking mountain,” alluding to the clouds that almost always veil its summit. These cloud formations were mistaken for smoke by the early Western explorers, who believed that Fitz Roy was a volcano. This notion was only debunked in 1902, when geologist Rodolfo Hautal proved that it was not the case.
The name Fitz Roy was given to this giant of stone and ice by the explorer Francisco Pascasio Moreno in 1877 in honour of the captain of the HMS Beagle, Robert FitzRoy. The latter had explored the sources of the Río Santa Cruz in 1834, but a technical problem had forced him to turn back before reaching Lake Viedma.
Contemporary history has seen attempts to restore the mountain’s original name. In 2012, Argentine Senator Jaime Linares proposed a bill aiming to change the name of Fitz Roy on official maps. Unfortunately, this proposal went unheeded. Two years later, Linares, backed by his colleagues Rubén Giustiniani and Alfredo Martínez, introduced a new bill to the Argentine Senate, citing the Argentine Constitution, which “recognizes the ethnic and cultural pre-existence of indigenous peoples.”
Thus, the Fitz Roy, or Cerro Chaltén, continues to stand majestically, its name shifting with the wind, just like the clouds surrounding it. It remains a symbol of history, culture, and adventure, beckoning the intrepid to come to discover its secrets.
Fitz Roy: Exploration at the Heart of the Granite and Icy Empire, a touch of geography.
Navigating the Empire of Stone and Ice: Fitz Roy.
Fitz Roy, this sentinel of stone and ice, stands proudly at latitude 49° 16′ south and longitude 73° 02′ west. It is located on the enchanted border of southern Patagonia, where the Argentine province of Santa Cruz (Lago Argentino department) meets the Chilean province of Última Esperanza in the Magallanes and Chilean Antarctica region.
It is the sacred peak of the Fitz Roy massif, a realm of granite needles and icy ridges arranged in two majestic chains stretching from north to south. The Fitz Roy chain is a tableau of stone giants, such as the Guillaumet, Mermoz, Val Biois needles, and of course, Mount Fitz Roy itself, accompanied by the Poincenot, Rafael Juárez, and Saint-Exupéry needles. In parallel, the Cerro Torre chain emerges with titans like Mounts Pollone, Piergiorgio, Domo Blanco, the Cuatro Dedos, Bífida, Standhardt needles, the Torre Egger, and the Cerro Torre. The Torre and Grande glaciers separate these two chains, the icy crown of this rocky crown.
This kingdom of stone and ice is bathed to the west by the ice cap of the Campo de Hielo Sur, a frozen ocean that stretches as far as the eye can see. To the east, the massif is bordered by the verdant valley of the Río de las Vueltas, where the Río Fitz Roy meanders, freshly birthed from the glaciers and lagoons of the region. To the north, the Río Eléctrico valley, fed by the Laguna Eléctrica and the Fitz Roy and Marconi glaciers, offers a striking sight. Finally, to the south, the Río Tunel valley, nourished by the Lago Tunel and the Río Tunel and de Quervain glaciers, provides an escape route to the Paso del Viento that leads to the Campo de Hielo Sur.
The Fitz Roy is a true compass for the adventurer, pointing to the four cardinal directions, each direction offering a new adventure through landscapes sculpted by time and the elements.
Fitz Roy: A Ballet of Microclimates and Untamed Elements.
The meteorological tapestry surrounding the Fitz Roy massif is complex and constantly evolving. Standing as a barrier between the vast Patagonian ice field to the west and the dry pampas to the east, Fitz Roy is an arena of dazzling and sometimes baffling microclimates.
In this natural theatre, the west wind plays the leading role. Tenacious and omnipresent, this wind shapes the region’s climate with astonishing power, especially during the summer. Imagine yourself in the heart of the Río Eléctrico valley, to the north of the massif, where gusts of wind can reach a dizzying speed of 180 km/h. Three actors share the stage: a cold northwest wind that brings summer showers, a west wind that pours out abundant precipitation all year round, and a temperate southwest wind that offers clear and serene days.
The Fitz Roy is also the stage for choreography of precipitation. The western slope, bathed by the moist currents of the Pacific Ocean, receives abundant rainfall, sometimes reaching more than 5 meters per year. On the other hand, the eastern slope, influenced by the dryness of the Argentine pampa, offers a more moderate display, with only about 85 cm of precipitation per year in El Chaltén.
In this climatic kaleidoscope, six distinct microclimates emerge, each with its own character: from the sunny and windy dry pampa to the temperate marshes, from wind-swept forests to the wet, cold, and windy valley, not to mention the low-altitude glacier, relatively mild, less windy, and rainy, and finally the cold, snowy, and windy Hielo Continental.
Temperatures at Fitz Roy are as unpredictable as the rest. Generally cool, they can fluctuate dramatically, adding another dimension to this dance of the elements. On the western side, expect heavy rainfall, while the eastern side, near El Chaltén, is drier, with a mix of rain in the summer and snow in the winter.
For those looking to explore this captivating landscape, the period from November to April, the southern summer, is ideal. A visit to Fitz Roy on a clear day promises a breathtaking view of this jewel of Patagonia.
A Granite Giant Shaped by Nature and Time.
Rising from the earth like a granite beacon, the Fitz Roy embodies the raw power of nature. Its pyramidal silhouette, carved by centuries of violent winds, snow, and ice, tells a story as old as time itself.
This stone colossus is anchored to the earth by magmatic rocks, silent witnesses of a bygone era. Its origin dates back to a titanic dance of tectonic plates that began 100 million years ago. Magma erupted at the heart of this dance, making its way through cracks, then solidified, creating an impenetrable network of granite.
Over time, the elements have eroded the surrounding rocks, gradually revealing the splendour of Fitz Roy. What remains today is a testament to the power of nature, a monolith that stands with majesty, defying the Patagonian sky.
A Wild and Resilient Nature
While the summit of Fitz Roy stands barren of life, the base of this mountain harbours a world of resilience and rugged beauty. As one ascends towards the peak, hikers traverse low-lying forests of southern beech trees, with their vibrant leaves and gnarled trunks. The green mantle of Nothofagus pumilio, Nothofagus Antarctica, and Nothofagus betuloides stretches as far as the eye can see, symbolizing nature’s perseverance in these extreme climates.
Beyond the forest, the plains stretch out, dominated by short and sturdy vegetation adapted to withstand the harsh climatic conditions of Patagonia. It’s a stark sight but with a subtle beauty that cannot be overlooked.
As for the wildlife, it is discreet but no less fascinating. Small but resilient creatures, like the long-tailed pygmy rice rat and the yellow-nosed akodon, have found their niche in this landscape. The Magellan fox, cunning and adaptable, also roams the area. The skies are watched over by majestic eagles while a few rabbits scuttle between the bushes. In Fitz Roy, life persists against all odds.
Fitz Roy: A Journey Through Centuries and Peaks
A Journey Through Time and History
Before the arrival of the Spanish explorers, Fitz Roy was already a landmark for the indigenous Aonik’enk people, as evidenced by the numerous archaeological remains found around Lake Viedma. This imposing mountain was not just a geographical marker; it also featured in their mythology: Elal, the main hero of the Tehuelche cosmogony, was said to have been placed atop Fitz Roy by a swan before descending to join the Patagonian plain.
The West’s first encounter with Fitz Roy likely dates back to 1782, when an expedition led by Francisco de Biedma y Narváez reached Lake Viedma. Guided by the Tehuelche natives, the team discovered two prominent mountains, with the tallest being named Chaltén.
Fitz Roy was later visited in 1834 by the British explorer Robert FitzRoy. Although he did not succeed in reaching the peak, he was able to observe Chaltén from a distance during his exploration of South America aboard the HMS Beagle.
However, during his expedition in 1877, Francisco Moreno named the mountain Fitz Roy in honour of the British explorer. The Argentine government tasked Moreno to delineate the border with Chile precisely. Although he was unsure of the exact position of the watershed line, Fitz Roy remained a fixed point of the border in treaties, an error that later caused territorial conflicts between the two countries.
Only in the 1930s was the Fitz Roy massif truly explored, thanks to expeditions led by the Salesian missionary Alberto María De Agostini. A pioneer in crossing the South Patagonian ice field, he also established a base camp in the valley, later named Piedra del Fraile in his honour, to continue his explorations.
The history of Fitz Roy is a chronicle of adventure and discovery, and every visitor today walks in the footsteps of the explorers, indigenous people, and mythological heroes who came before them.
First Ascent: Conquest of the Granite Giant
The history of the ascent of Fitz Roy begins with the Italian mountaineer Aldo Bonacossa in 1937. Accompanied by his team – Titta Gilberti, Leo Dubosc, and Ettore Castiglioni – they reach the base of the South face of Fitz Roy. Despite their expertise, they are forced to retreat in the face of the final 400 meters, which are of formidable technical difficulty.
It wasn’t until ten years later that Hans Zechner made his own attempt to conquer the mountain. He led an exploration in 1947, searching for the most accessible route. Returning in 1948 with the Italians Mario Bertone and Nestor Gianolli, they failed successively from the southeast face, then by the North ridge. A year later, Zechner tried once more, identifying a snow gully potentially suitable for the climb, later named “supercanaleta”.
The victory over Fitz Roy was ultimately claimed by French mountaineers Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone in 1952. Their expedition, which also included Jacques Poincenot, Marc Antonin Azéma, René Ferlet, Louis Lliboutry, Louis Depasse, and Georges Strouvé, set up their base camp near the present-day village of El Chaltén. Their exploration of the massif was marred by the death of Jacques Poincenot during the crossing of the Río Fitz Roy.
The mountaineers establish a base camp at the edge of Río Blanco, which is still used by climbers today. Subsequently, they reach the “Italian Col”, the highest point reached by the 1937 expedition. After an extended wait due to bad weather, Terray and Magnone begin the final ascent on February 1st. After a night near the “spider snowfield”, they resume their ascent and finally reach the summit at 4:40 pm, marking the first successful ascent of Fitz Roy.
The Legendary Routes of the Argentine Giant
The first to step once again on the summit of Fitz Roy were José Luis Fonrouge and Carlos Comesaña in 1965. They followed the “supercanaleta,” an ice path of 1800 meters, discovered 15 years earlier by Hans Zechner, before venturing into the rock to reach the summit on January 16th.
In 1968, a daring group of Californians, Yvon Chouinard, Douglas Tompkins, Dick Dorworth, Chris Jones, and Lito Tejada-Flores, established a new route on the South face of Fitz Roy. Arriving at the base of the mountain at the end of 1968, they choose to climb the left side of the South face, passing through the “Italian Breach” and then the “Filmmaker’s Col.” After a six-day wait due to unfavourable weather, they embark on the ascent and reach the summit on December 20th, after thirty hours of intense climbing. Thus was born the “Californians’ route,” now the most taken to reach the summit of Fitz Roy.
The eastern pillar, standing at 1500 meters high, was the target of numerous unsuccessful attempts, including a French expedition in 1967 and two Italian expeditions in the early 1970s. In 1974, a Swiss expedition reached within 200 meters of the summit before being turned back by bad weather. Finally, in 1976, the Italian Casimiro Ferrari and his teammate Vittorio Meles reached the summit after six days of climbing, marked by a fall in which Ferrari lost several teeth.
The North Pillar was conquered for the first time in 1979 by Renato Casarotto, in tribute to whom the pillar now bears his name. The ascent was accomplished solo during his third attempt on January 1st, 1979.
Subsequently, other routes were opened on the west face of Fitz Roy. In 1979, the French climbers Jean and Michel Afanassieff, along with G. Albert, J. Fabre, and G. Sourice, established the Afanassieff route to the left of the supercanaleta and reached the summit on December 24th. In 1983, a Czechoslovakian expedition completed another route to the right of the supercanaleta after multiple attempts hindered by bad weather.
The Franco-American route (Ruta Franco Argentina) on the southeast face was inaugurated on March 10, 1984, by Alberto Bendinger, Marcos Couch, Pedro Friedrich, and Eduardo Brennerapertura, and became the normal route.
In February 2014, American climbers Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold achieved the first traverse of the Fitz Roy massif in four days, earning them the Piolet d’Or 2015.
In 2021, Sean Villanueva O’Driscoll repeated this full traverse of the massif, but this time solo. From February 5th to 10th, he faced a series of challenging summits, including the Guillaumet and Mermoz needles, Fitz Roy, Poincenot, Rafael Suarez, Saint-Exupéry, and de l’S needles. For this historic achievement, named the “Moonwalk Traverse,” O’Driscoll was awarded a Piolet d’Or, recognizing his accomplishment as a true feat in the world of mountaineering.
Conquering Fitz Roy: Between Technical Challenge and Forces of Nature
Although Fitz Roy is not the highest of peaks, its reputation as one of the most formidable on the planet is well-deserved. The resilient granite that makes up the mountain requires climbing expertise, while the extreme weather conditions add an additional challenge.
February 1952 marks a historic date: Guido Magnone and Lionel Terray became the first to conquer Fitz Roy. This remarkable achievement, which resonated worldwide, elevated Fitz Roy to the pantheon of iconic mountains. Its proximity to the nearest village makes it a popular subject for photography while remaining an insurmountable challenge for many due to its majestic and steep face. For a long time, Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre were shrouded in mystery, their summits often inaccessible due to unpredictable weather conditions. However, weather forecasting has become more reliable in recent years, allowing climbers to anticipate and plan their ascent on clear days, thus eliminating the prolonged waiting in harsh conditions that Terray and Magnone experienced.
Reaching the summit of Fitz Roy requires a solid experience in mixed terrain, snow, and ice, not to mention impeccable physical fitness to carry all the necessary equipment. The ascent of the predominantly rocky summit demands climbing skills ranging from 5+ to 6a+. The most challenging sections will likely involve aid climbing. It is crucial to master crampon techniques on slopes of up to 70°, as well as rappelling techniques.
Experience in large granite routes, similar to the Grand Capucin, is an asset. Being comfortable with a 6a level on granite is imperative. Climbers must be capable of carrying a backpack weighing at least 15 kg for several days. When establishing the high-altitude camp, additional loads related to collective equipment should be anticipated. For this expedition, a guide will supervise two participants. A list of prior climbs is required upon registration, and in case of uncertainty, a preliminary climb can be organized.
Fitz Roy on Foot: Panoramic Explorations in the Andes Mountains Range
Mount Fitz Roy, one of the gems of the Andes mountain range, provides hikers with a spectacular backdrop for their trekking adventures. Several trails, many of them starting from El Chaltén, offer breathtaking views of this majestic peak, especially when the sky is clear.
Laguna de Los Tres
One of the most popular routes is the one leading to Laguna de Los Tres, nestled at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy. This 6-hour round trip takes you to the Maestri viewpoint, one of the best spots to gaze at the summit. Starting from El Chaltén, follow “Los Loicas” street southward, then take the trail on the left near the red building, which will lead you through a landscape of ochre-coloured pampas, forests, and wetlands known as “Mallin” in Spanish. The contrasting colours between the sand, yellow grass, dry wood, crystalline rivers, and rocks create a tableau of captivating beauty.
The trek to Laguna Torre is another gem of Patagonia. This 21 to 24 km hike, with an elevation gain of 650 meters, takes 6 to 7 hours to complete. The trail starts 1 km from the centre of El Chaltén and passes through a forest of lenga trees, typical of the region, before reaching the Fitz Roy River and Margarita Waterfall. The ascent of a steep moraine leads you to the Cerro Torre viewpoint, offering an unforgettable view of Cerro Torre and its famous snow “mushroom,” as well as the summit of Fitz Roy.
La Loma del Pliegue Tumbado
Lastly, the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado route is an 8 to 10-hour hike that offers some of the most beautiful panoramic views of the region. This outdoor adventure will introduce you to the hidden treasures of this part of Argentina, a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts.
What to See in the Fitz Roy Massif
Campo del Hielo Sur
The Campo del Hielo Sur, also known as the “Patagonian Continental Ice” in Argentina and “Campo de Hielo Sur” in Chile, is an extensive continental ice field located in the Patagonian Andes along the Argentine-Chilean border. It is the third-largest ice expanse in the world, after Antarctica and Greenland, and the largest among all non-polar continental areas accessible by land.
This impressive expanse of ice, stretching over a distance of 350 km from north to south, between latitudes 48º20′ S and 51º30′ S, covers a total area of 16,800 km². The majority of this area, around 14,200 km², lies on the Chilean side of the border, while the remaining 2,600 km² belongs to Argentina. The exact boundaries of this region are still being defined between the two countries in accordance with an agreement signed in 1998.
The Campo del Hielo Sur is the source of 49 glaciers, among which are some of the most famous in the region, such as Upsala Glacier (902 km²), Viedma Glacier (978 km²), Perito Moreno Glacier (258 km²) in Argentina, and Jorge Montt Glacier, Pío XI Glacier (the largest in the southern hemisphere outside Antarctica, covering 1265 km²), O’Higgins Glacier, Bernardo Glacier, Tyndall Glacier, and Grey Glacier in Chile.
Furthermore, a significant portion of this ice field is protected as it’s part of several national parks: Bernardo O’Higgins and Torres del Paine Parks in Chile, as well as Los Glaciares Park in Argentina. These areas provide visitors with a unique opportunity to explore this spectacular landscape and discover the incredible diversity of wildlife that inhabits it.
Nestled between Argentina and Chile, Viedma Glacier stands out as the second-largest glacier in Los Glaciares National Park, following Glacier Upsala. Despite its location on a border that remains under discussion, the majesty of this sea of ice is undeniable.
The glacier, stretching across a total area of 1,054 km², is bordered by an impressive ice front that plunges directly into Lake Viedma, located on the Argentine side. This wall of ice, rising 50 meters high and spanning 1,250 meters wide, is a truly captivating sight for those fortunate enough to see it up close.
The vast Southern Patagonian Ice Field feeds Viedma Glacier and winds its way between Cerro Huemul and Cerro Campana, two majestic peaks of the Patagonian Andes. The glacier acts as a natural dam at its end, holding back runoff waters and forming a picturesque lake.
Another intriguing element of Viedma Glacier lies beneath it: Viedma Volcano. Its last eruption dates back to 1988, a powerful reminder of the underlying geological activity in this breathtakingly beautiful region. Exploring Viedma Glacier is undoubtedly an unforgettable adventure for any outdoor enthusiast.
Lake del Desierto
Named Lake of the Desert or Lago del Desierto, this natural haven is nestled in the Lago Argentino department, Santa Cruz province, Argentina. This place is a true hidden gem of Patagonia, located near the majestic Mount Fitz Roy and Lake O’Higgins/San Martín.
However, this natural beauty was, for many years, the stage of a territorial conflict between Argentina and Chile. This dispute peaked on November 6, 1965, when a skirmish broke out between 40 to 90 members of the Argentine gendarmerie and four Chilean carabineros. This unfortunate confrontation resulted in the death of a lieutenant and the injury of a sergeant.
Finally, after years of tensions, the dispute was resolved in favour of Argentina in 1994 through international arbitration. Today, the lake is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts, offering serene tranquillity and breathtaking views of the surrounding mountain landscape. A stop at Lake of the Desert is undoubtedly a must-visit for anyone exploring the Fitz Roy massif.
Your adventure to Fitz Roy begins here
The charming town of El Chaltén is your starting point to the magnificent Mount Fitz Roy.
Begin your journey with an international flight to the vibrant Buenos Aires, then take a domestic flight to El Calafate. From there, travel on the legendary Route 40 by bus, taxi, or rental car to immerse yourself in the splendour of El Chaltén.
If you’re arriving from the South or the North, get ready for a picturesque journey on National Route (RN) No. 40 (215 km), followed by Provincial Route (RP) No. 23. Coming from the East, your route will include a mix of RP No. 3, No. 288, No. 40, and No. 23.
For those departing from El Calafate, several daily buses will take you directly to the base of Fitz Roy in about three hours.
If you’re arriving from Bariloche or the North, hop on a bus that crosses the legendary Ruta 40, the iconic road of the Argentine Andes. Get ready for an epic journey of 10 to 12 hours.
Upon your arrival, you will find El Chaltén’s bus terminal conveniently located at the southern end of the village, just before the bridge.
Ready for the adventure?
The Fitz Roy, an imposing granite monolith and a true icon of Patagonia, never ceases to inspire wonder. With its challenging climbing routes and hiking trails offering breathtaking panoramas, it draws nature lovers and adventurers worldwide. From the Campo de Hielo Sur, where glaciers extend at the feet of Fitz Roy, to Lake of the Desert, a gem nestled in a mountain setting, every angle of view, every starting point offers a new perspective, a new adventure to experience.
It’s a place where the past and present meet, where the legends of indigenous peoples blend with the history of modern exploration. Hikers follow in the footsteps left by pioneers of the past, each step forward paying homage to those who braved the elements to unveil the wild beauty of this region.
Arriving in El Chaltén, this mountain village that serves as the gateway to Mount Fitz Roy feels like an invitation to adventure. Whether by plane, car, or bus, the journey to reach this magical place is an integral part of the experience.
Fitz Roy awaits you. It beckons all adventurous souls to come to challenge its slopes, explore its trails, and marvel at its breathtaking landscapes. Get ready; grab your hiking boots, climbing gear, and camera. Fitz Roy is ready to offer you the adventure of a lifetime.
So, are you ready to answer its call?