El Chaltén is located on the northern margin of the Viedma Lake, in the confluence of the Las Vueltas and Fitz Roy rivers, in the area of North Zone of the Glaciers National Park.
This place combines the magic of the glaciers, hidden lagoons, estancias with rich history, Viedma Lake, the third largest in South America and the magnetic presence of Mt Fitz Roy. The top of its distinctive and imposing silhouette is almost always covered by a cloud which the Tehuelches confused with smoke. This is the error that led to the aboriginal name of the hill, as “Chaltén” meaning “mountain that makes smoke.”
The town has 1,627 inhabitants according to the 2010 census and it is located 220 Km from El Calafate.
” This was the world of my dreams during my childhood;
space without limits and land without an owner”
– Andreas Madsen.
The town is a centre of activity for trekkers and mountaineers from all over the world, which is why it was declared the “National Capital of Trekking in Argentina”.
El Chaltén was founded in 1985, by Law 1771/85 in the Santa Cruz province. The creation date is the 12th of October, making it the youngest town in the Republic of Argentina.
The population and the infrastructure started to grow in 1987.
The first Inhabitants
In 1877, the expert Francisco Moreno, in an exploratory expedition in the area of the lakes Argentino, Viedma, del Desierto and San Martín, spotted a mountain, Chaltén. He named it Fitz Roy in memory of the explorer of the Patagonian coasts (the captain of the Beagle, the boat that brought Charles Darwin to Patagonia). At the end of the XIX century, another expedition took place, also lead by Francisco Moreno with the aim to define the border line between Chile and Argentina. This group was made up of a mix of Skandinavians and Germans, accustomed to the harsh weather found in Patagonia. These were the pioneers of the area; they founded the first estancias near Lake Viedma together with other European inmigrants. They initially arrived via Punta Arenas and then travelled across the sound of Ultima Esperanza onto the continent, crossed into Argentina and settled in the the environs of where El Chaltén is located today at end of the XIX and beginning of XX century.
The first inhabitant of the area was Fred Otten, who was followed by the Ramstrom and Halvorsen families, Rojo from Spain, Madsen from Denmark, Martín Bjerg, Alberto Wittwer, Jean Henriksen, José Pérez Rubio, Wittwe and Mac Leod, all bearers of similar dreams of development and jobs related to rearing cattle.
Today the streets of El Chaltén are proudly named after these pioneering heroes, who put down roots in a difficult region, and even at times violent regions, due to language misunderstanding, the lack of money and the constant fight with the large foreign cattle companies.
After various expeditions to El Chaltén, the Salesian Priest Alberto de Agosti spotted the Patagonian ice field. In 1937 the National Park Los Glaciares was created, in which the mountains Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy are located, (Northern limits of the park). After having explored every corner of the land in the area, a new challenge was found; to conquer the mountains. They were impressive to look at and wouldn´t be easy to climb. After some fatal attempts, an expedition took two French alpinists, Lionel Terray and Guido Magnone, to the summit of Fitz Roy in 1952; and in 1970 the Italian Cesare Maestri, surppassed the rocky difficulties of Cerro Torre.
Source: Various books written by Patricia Halvorsen