Patagonia mid March

Patagonia mid-March

I live in the north end of El Chalten so I’m one of those who can’t see the mountain from my house. Not that there’s much benefit to living on the south side because the mountains are so regularly hidden in clouds it only makes a difference on a few days in the month. No matter, I still get out as much as possible, I’m either out in the mountains in my tent or if I’m in town I’ll wake up and get out to a location for sunrise.

A young guy walks a 60 metre slackline high above the town.

A young guy walks a 60-metre slackline high above the town.

The morning of the 13th I woke up to thick dark rain clouds so I didn’t venture far. By mid-morning the conditions had improved and the weather forecast looked promising, even the wind had dropped from near hurricane.

Dragging myself out onto the street I set off to the south end of town, once there I got a glimpse of Mount Fitz Roy, there’d been a fine layer of snow in the night so the mountain was impressive and with a fine shroud of mist it took on a kind of ethereal look to it. Even though I was in the middle of town I couldn’t help taking out my camera and grabbing a shot. It was then I realized my camera’s battery was flat, the camera must have turned itself on and slowly drained the battery, this was Friday the 13th after all. Thankfully I had a spare, I’d learned that lesson a few days earlier when I missed out on a killer sunrise due to the same problem.

I’m a serious devotee of Google Earth and with the benefit of satellite imagery, I was able to locate a small pond at an area I’d never visited before. Despite being relatively close to town it took me a good hour and a half to access the pond. As soon as you step off trail you’re forced to struggle with the undergrowth, which can be very tiresome. Deep in the forest I disturbed a Huemul, the animal looks like a common deer with small horns, it’s not very impressive but it’s an endangered animal and it’s particularly rare to see one. Apparently, many of the locals have never seen one, this was my second sighting, back in 2012 I managed to photograph one, this time the animal ran off before I could get my camera out.

The pond proved interesting there wasn’t much water which considering the amount of rain we’ve had was surprising but I could tell it offered a nice composition especially if Cerro Torre was visible.

A shot from the river.

Rio de las Vueltas

Rio de las Vueltas

That evening Fitz Roy drifted in and out of the clouds. The mountains are rarely photogenic at sunset but you never know if you’re going to see them in the morning so I ended up using a lot of battery power shooting around sunset. I’d found another composition, one with the Rio Fitz Roy creating an interesting leading line as it came in through a gorge.

I spent the night with the battery tucked into my sleeping bag to stop it getting too cold. My tent was pitched in a perfect location so I only had to look out in the morning in order to see if Fitz Roy was visible. Sunrise was around 7.30am, at 7.00 the mountain wasn’t so impressive, I remember not being in any particular hurry to get set up as it didn’t look like I’d be getting a shot.

I set the camera up tying the tripod down to a heavy rock, I composed, focussed and only then put the battery in. It was showing just two bars of power so I knew it was on its last legs. This would be like shooting with film, like shooting large format where every exposure would cost serious money. Shooting Fitz Roy is dependent on three weather systems, preferably you need a cloudless sky to the east, a relatively clear system in the town, i.e. in front of the mountains but more importantly, you need clouds on the ice field behind the mountains. It’s a lot to ask for and unfortunately, it can be very frustrating especially when you need those three systems to work for you right at sunrise.

Thankfully on the morning of the 14th, I everything seemed to work nicely for me. I hung out all morning foraging for wild berries, never venturing too far from the tripod whilst always keeping an eye on the sky. At around 9.00am I managed to shoot the rainbow with a pretty impressive sky lingering over Fitz Roy. Unfortunately, Cerro Torre remained completely hidden in the clouds but I know I’ll be back to this location.

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Fitz Roy from unique vantage point

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