Guest Blog Post - El Chaltén By Nicholas Spooner
Patagonia, the land of epic vistas, glaciers the size of cities, and chaotic weather. I’m here on assignment to document the changing of the seasons. It’s early April, fall in the Southern Hemisphere, and the sun has just risen giving us our first view of the towering granite spires of Los Glaciares National Park. As I stare out the window of my bus seat, I can’t help but think to myself, that this may be the most beautiful places I’ve ever been.
As we neared the end of our long journey to the remote town of El Chaltén, I could feel the anticipation building inside. If you’re anything like me, travelling can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming. As someone who makes a living photographing wild and remote places, the irony isn’t lost on me. As thrilling an experience as discovering a new country can be, I often find myself craving the comfort of a routine while on the road. Culture shock is a real thing, and having a source of familiarity helps me navigate the chaos. For me it has been the little things such as nightly rituals, exercise or even something as simple as a quality cup of coffee that have kept me grounded.
El Chaltén was first established in 1985 as a border town to dissuade the territorial dispute between Argentina and Chile. Quickly though, its close proximity to Fitzroy and access to world class hiking has made it a premiere destination for outdoor enthusiasts across the globe. Today, El Chaltén maintains its existence solely based as a tourist destination. Trails can be found winding their way out from all sides of the town. Whichever direction you take, you can be assured to find epic views of the Fitz Roy skyline towering above you. Despite its formidable reputation, the town has remained somewhat undeveloped. As we took our first steps down the Main Street, it felt as though we were transported back in time to an old western movie set.
We would be spending the majority of this trip backpacking our way through these incredible landscapes. Our route would have us passing through alpine lakes, ancient forests and glacially fed rivers.. I’ve found the best way to get to know a place is to truly immerse yourself in it. To rise with the sun, and sleep out under the stars, there is really no substitute. This being April, fall colours were at their peak. Coming from eastern Canada, even I was impressed at the vibrant reds of the Lengas trees. While the days were quite comfortable, the nights could easily go down bellow freezing. Packing thus became very important as we’d be holding everything we needed to survive for several days at a time on our backs.
As an avid coffee lover who can’t stand the taste of instant, having the ability to quickly make a quality cup of coffee or instant espresso shot has become an essential part of all my trips. The Nanopresso and Pipamoka were our choice of Wacaco products for this particular adventure. Each had their respective roles. Mornings were dedicated to the Pipamoka. There’s really no substitute for a freshly brewed cup of coffee after a cold night of camping. Later in the day, when the trails grew steeper, and our legs grew tired, having a shot of espresso with the Nanopresso was the answer. We chose these devices in particular for their light weight, simplistic designs and packable size. At only 336 g and 425 g respectively, even the most weight conscious of backpackers would be hard pressed not to bring them along. The lack of waste also makes it an especially appealing choice for the backcountry.
The days went on, and slowly we fell into the rhythm of Patagonia. Our morning routine would consist of an early rise to watch the light slowly illuminate the peaks. As any camping enthusiast knows, crawling out of your sleeping bag on a cold morning can be difficult. Thankfully a warm cup brewed in the vestibule of your tent made this challenge so much easier. The sealed lid on the Pipamoka was especially convenient for these situations, making transport afterwards incredibly easy. Mornings would often be calm. The winds seemed to settle down as if to also take a moment of pause to enjoy the view. It was a show that we could not pass up only made better by a warm cup in your hands.
But it wasn’t always so easy, and we soon learned Patagonia presented a few unique challenges for brewing coffee. Known for some of the worlds fiercest winds, you can imagine it was sometimes a balancing act to manage gear. I can remember one morning in particular. We had hiked to the beautiful Lago Sucia for sunrise. Alpine lakes are notoriously windy and today was particularly bad. Despite this, we had been dreaming of a shot of espresso on the long hike up and we wouldn’t let the winds dissuade us. This is where the quick nature of the Nanopresso device really comes in handy. The ability to poor a shot of espresso in under minute was ultra convenient when timing between gusts of wind.
Here are a few tips we learned making coffee in strong wind:
-Find some form of shelter. This can be as simple as a large boulder or small line of trees but taking a moment to find a decent spot will make a world of difference.
-Get low and stand upwind. Use your body as natural wind protection. This will ensure you wont lose any precious coffee when scooping grounds and pouring. Pro tip: If you anticipate bad weather, pre packing your espresso or coffee is a great way to cut this step out. Just add water!
-Warm up your cup. Patagonia winds aren’t only fierce but also freezing cold. We would always boil a little extra water to warm our glass beforehand. We also brought along a double walled espresso mug for those especially cold mornings.