Section GPT39 begins on the northern bank of Lago del Desierto. According to the Gendarmería, the Argentine Border Control, the wind patterns on the lake are unpredictable and shift frequently. There is also no good access to the trail on the east side if bailing becomes a necessity, so have caution when deciding whether to packraft or not.
Jan: Lago del Desierto is an innocent looking beast. While very calm at put in, heavy wind can pick up in the middle and make a traverse both demanding and dangerous.
There is a well-established trail that runs along the east side of the lake. However, it isn’t flat, and the 11 or so kilometers takes longer than expected. There is an option to take a ferry across the lake which is popular with Carretera Austral bicyclers. More information regarding times and prices can be found at the Argentine border control station on the north side of Lago del Desierto.
Hungry hikers are rewarded when they reach the south end of the lake. A burger stand with some snack options is located here along with an established campground with showers, flush toilets, and a communal kitchen.
Walk along RP23, a gravel road, for several kilometers until reaching the put-in for the packrafting section of Río de las Vueltas, which is a sloped rocky beach. The serpentine river section before Lago Condor is fairly swift with no rapids, only some wooden snags. After Lago Condor, the river widens and forms many braided channels.
Instead of exiting Río de las Vueltas onto RP23 as shown by the GPS track, we floated the river al the way to El Chaltén and took out just after the bridge crossing east of the town.
Jan: To my knowledge packrafting the Rio de las Vueltas all the way to El Chalten requires a permit by the park rangers. Without this permit park rangers might get very nasty and may even confiscate your packraft. I recommend leaving the river before entering the national park. Packraft track [email protected]# only if you have a permit.
Town: El Chaltén
El Chaltén is a medium-sized town with several hostels, restaurants, and decent resupply options. There were also a few outdoor gear outfitters which offered rentals for the famous Huemul Circuit (GPT40).
It is good to note that there are many beautiful day hikes from this area as well. The GPT39 packrafting and hiking route does overlap with some of these hikes, but if time allows, hiking to Lago de los Tres or any of the other lakes at the base of Monte Fitz Roy is well worth it.