If you like trekking and nature, one of the excursions not to be missed during your visit to El Chaltén is Piedra del Fraile – the name given to a huge block of rock located near El Chaltén. This place was used as a base camp by the famous Italian missionary, photographer and mountaineer Alberto María de Agostini, who in the 1930s came to this unexplored area and with his publications put southern Patagonia in the spotlight of the mountaineering world.
From this mountain refuge that offers lodging, food and services to visitors who want to spend the night in this privileged natural environment, you can enjoy breathtaking views of the north face of Fitz Roy and other emblematic Patagonian peaks.
The refuge has a camping area, dorms and a small restaurant. From here you can go on several hikes along the Eléctrico river valley, such as the Eléctrico lake, the Pollone lagoon, the Marconi glacier, the Cuadrado pass or the Negra stone.
How to get to Piedra del Fraile?
To get to Piedra del Fraile from El Chaltén, take Provincial Route 41 towards Lago del Desierto. About 16 km from the village you will find the bridge over the Eléctrico River, where there is a sign indicating the beginning of the trail to the refuge. You can get there with your own vehicle or with regular transports that leave from El Chaltén.
The hike to Piedra del Fraile is of low difficulty and lasts approximately two hours. The trail begins in an open area with no slopes, and the path is always close to the river and gains altitude very slowly.
When you reach the refuge you can spend the night at the campsite or in the dorms, for a fee. Reservations are not necessary, except for groups of more than four people. It is necessary to bring a sleeping bag and note that there is no hot water or shared kitchen.
What to do in this wonderfule place?
Once you are settled in Piedra del Fraile, there are several options to continue enjoying the nature and the views. One of them is to go up to the natural viewpoint Piedra del Fraile, which is located about ten minutes from the refuge along a path that quickly gains height.
From this point you can see the Eléctrico valley to the west and to the south the north face of Mount Chaltén (Fitz Roy) and the Mermoz and Guillaumet needles.
Another option is to continue on to the Eléctrico Lake, which is about 5 km further along the valley floor. This lake has a deep green colour and is surrounded by mountains and glaciers.
For the more adventurous, there are other more demanding hikes starting from Piedra del Fraile, such as the Pollone Lagoon, the Marconi Glacier or the Paso del Cuadrado. These routes require more time, equipment and experience, and it is recommended to consult with the National Parks Administration before doing them.
When is the best time for trekking at Piedra del Fraile?
The best time to go trekking in Patagonia depends on your preferences and the routes you want to take. Generally, the summer months (December to February) are the warmest and the busiest, with more tourists and better services. However, they also have more wind and rain, which can make some trails more difficult. The spring (September to November) and autumn (March to May) seasons are less crowded and offer more colorful landscapes, but they also have lower temperatures and shorter daylight hours. The winter (June to August) is the coldest and the quietest, with snow covering most of the mountains and some trails closed. However, it also offers a unique experience of seeing Patagonia in its most pristine and wild state.
Whatever your preferences and trekking experience, the mountain refuge Piedra del Fraile is certainly worth a visit and a stay, whether it is your final destination or just a milestone on your trekking route!