Argentina


4
Feb 10

The Luckiest

We lay in the tent in the fading light of dusk. Every so often a freight train tore through the tree tops above. The noise of each passing gust precluded any reading outloud or talking – all we could do was lay there, listening and wondering. I looked at my watch again. We had lost altitude, only a few meters, but a step in the right direction. The pressure was rising.

All climbers know the meaning of the word Patagonia. No matter that the real definition refers to a massive area of southern Argentina and Chile; when you are speaking to climbers, the word has one and only one meaning. Some of the best climbing on earth, situated in an area renowned for some of the worst weather on earth. It is a word that inspires awe and fear in a single breath.

The lore that surrounds these peaks has held me in a trance for years now. The legends of climbers and summits, snow mushrooms and rime ice had gelled into a knot of emotion in my stomach. A sort of reverence for the powerful extremes present in this landscape. So I had been prepared for the overwhelming sense of awe but it was the minute beauty of the place took me completely by surprise. The lenga, gnarled into natural bonsai by the ceasless wind; the small racketball sized birds, with feathers sticking out at odd angles and mohawks raised in defiance to the weather; the way that constant wind can become a tangible object – like cotton shoved into your ears or a brace to lean on while hiking. My dreams that night were filled with trains, jet planes and birds circling around while I rappelled down frozen “shrieks turned to stone” (as Maestri so aptly described Cerro Torre).

Dawn was shrouded in silence. No freight trains, not even the rustle of leaves. It had been a cold night: Gina had reported snow on an early morning trip to the bathroom. I looked again at my watch, we were 180 meters lower than we had been last night. Could this be right, I wondered sleepily? I dragged myself from the tent to make porridge and was hit squarly over the head with a blunt object. Appreciating the minutiae would not be necessary today. Monte Fitzroy, flanked by Cerro Poincenot, stood sentinal over our campsite, wrapped in ice and fresh snow. Needless to say, breakfast was quick.

When the clouds finally do part in Patagonia it creates a sense of panic deep in the pit of your stomach (at least it should) and you just keep thinking, “This could be the only time I get to see anything!”. Forty-five minutes. We had done the Lago de los Tres trail in half the suggested time. My lungs felt like they were bleeding, my breaths came in ragged, shortened spurts. But the view more than made up for it.

The high pressure lasted for two days. Nearly half our time trekking in and around the Fitzroy massif was in clear weather. In addition to the frosty view of Fitzroy, we watched the sunrise on Cerro Torre and spent our day hiking back to town throwing glances over our shoulders at the entire range, standing in clear relief against a cobalt sky. The significance of this is best illustrated by the first comment we heard upon returning to El Chaltén: “It’s been almost a month since we’ve gotten any view of the mountains.”

Jackpot.


23
Jan 10

Ready to sit still for a bit

About to embark on about 35 hours of bus travel to El Chaltén in Southern Patagonia. Only 3 weeks until our flight back to the US. We were sitting here wondering where the time has gone and why we feel so tired…

I think we’ve worked it out…

Since reaching the Andes we have spent:

  • 20 days trekking
  • 3-4 days climbing
  • 4 days on buses
  • 6-7 days resting or waiting out bad weather ( and gorging on fruit and Dulce de leche mmm 🙂

And yes, I am a nerd.


22
Jan 10

Trompsing Over Mountain Tops

Three days in on a four-day traverse of the mountain range outside bariloche. This is high mountain trekking at it’s finest. The route passes up and over multiple high peaks, up and across steep snow slopes and today, the 3rd day, spends much of the time traversing a spectacular high ridge line. Standing on this ridge looking down into the bright blue waters of Lago Azul I feel like I might burst with happiness and the excitement of it all. It’s just all too wonderful to absorb at one time. So much beauty everywhere I look that it turns my thought processes to mush, and I start to sound like someone who has just fallen in love for the first time. Diarmuid would be busy slagging me off right now.

Each morning we set off early to catch the snow while it is firmer and easier to walk on. We spend most of the day walking through the mountains, with nobody else for miles around us. Such a wonderful feeling, allowing us to daydream that we are discovering these mountains and valleys for the first time, making the first tracks across the snow and drinking water from the unspoilt rivers and streams.

Of course it wasn’t all sweetness and light. Finding our way gets tricky at times, especially when the only way past is to walk through a lake, or when loose soft snow is covering the usual route with scary cornices hanging overhead. By the end of each day we are exhausted.

We reach our chosen camp spot for the night, which becomes home as soon as our yellow tent springs into action. It’s funny the bond you make with your tent over time, a constant when most all else is variable.

Life becomes so simple up here; walk, eat, sleep. Free time in between is just that : completely free. Time to sit and chat and watch the beautiful world go by…


13
Jan 10

Está cerrado

Está cerrado. It’s closed. This is a phrase that we’ve heard a lot so far in Argentina. It seems to be the standard approach by the appropriate authorities to dissuade trekkers from treks that might cause said appropriate authorities to mobilize a rescue of said trekkers. The trick, we’ve learned, is to ignore the doomsday warnings and forge ahead with your request. Insist that you have ample experience, proper gear and a strong desire to proceed with the trek. After some time, the authority in front of you will generally begin to smile and then, with no small hint of excitement, tell you all about your intended route. This is how our first trek in the Bariloche area started.

Well, almost. Our trek actually began with us running, fully laden with packs and trekking poles, through the streets of Bariloche on the first day of the new year. We barely made the bus that would deliver us to the start of the trek, the car park at the ski resort of Cerro Catedral. But as soon as you climb from the pavement and onto the the trail, you enter an alpine wonderland. Contouring across fire scoured slopes and climbing higher you find yourself surrounded by golden granite spires. Huge scree fields descend from the ridges, highlighting the distinct treeline. Twinkling, whitecap carpeted lakes shine below you. And all of this transforms Gina and I into little excited kids, running wild in the hills yet again.

“Está cerrado.” The refugiero at Frey was stern. “There is too much snow.”

Pressing for more information, we eventually learned that two Americans had left on our intended route only that morning. Yeah right, closed. Perhaps he had slipped, perhaps he was beginning to trust in our ability but he finally began pointing out the important landmarks on our map, becoming more and more helpful with each passing minute. As we headed out the door, he wished us good luck.

We started early the next morning, figuring that if there was lots of snow on our intended route, it would be better to cross it as early as possible to ensure it would be firm and stable. We walked quickly towards the first snow covered ridge line ahead of us. The constant resistance we had come up against had made us paranoid, would the route be too snowy?

Four and a half hours later, we lounged in the sun, eating lunch at Refugio Jakob. The route was snowy, but not nearly the arctic endeavor we had been led to believe it was. It had been incredibly varied, wildly beautiful and had renewed our confidence in our own abilities. It had also redoubled our resolve to continue with the next “closed” section of the route: From Jakob to Laguna Negra. After a similar struggle that diminished into friendly helpfulness the refugiero at Jakob wished us luck and implored us to let the refugiero at Laguna Negra know we had arrived as soon as we got there (All the refugieros communicate with VHF radios each evening).

Our next leg, as promised, was very snowy. Our day resembled more of an alpine route than a trek: Steep snow slopes, long traverses across scree littered ridges and never-ending descents down bowling alley gullies filled with snow and fallen rock. It was a long, tiring and thoroughly exhilarating day. The refugiero at Laguna Negra greeted us warmly and asked about the route. We confirmed what he already knew from the two that had arrived the day before. There was lots of snow.

We curled together in the tent and fell asleep, before the darkness had even arrived. The next day we’d hike out to the road and get our bus back to town; back to gluttonous meals of pasta, meat, wine and glorious dulce de leche (the golden caramel of Argentina); back to hiding from the weather that was slowly closing in from the west.


31
Dec 09

The adventures of uncle Paul’s backpack

My uncle Paul died nearly 4 years ago. He was a wonderful man in so many ways. As a priest he was a man of God, but also a man of the mountains, a lover of the outdoors with a hunger for all things vertical. My bond with him changed as I too became addicted to high places. A mutual understanding. I wish he’d stayed around longer so we could have shared some more time together in the mountains.

When he died I became the new owner of a number of his pieces of mountain equipment, including his big sturdy backpack. It is with this that I have been travelling, trekking and camping in the Patagonian Andes since we arrived in mid December. It makes me smile to think that somehow Paul knows this and is pleased…

For the past 9 days, Uncle Paul’s bag has been exploring the mountains near Pucon, Chile. The strange volcanic landscapes with expansive old lava flows frozen in time, the huge snowy volcanoes and snow-filled gullies, and wonderful forests of giant, comical Monkey Puzzle trees perched high in the sharp winds. Paul’s bag has been soaked in Patagonian rain and warmed by it’s bright sun, almost in equal measures. It has doubled as a seat during mountain side lunch breaks, and as a foot rest on cold nights in the tent. Right now it is sitting nice and cozily by the radiator in our hostel in Bariloche (Argentina) where we recently arrived. The luxury of indoors.

Tomorrow we are bringing Paul’s bag on a new adventure in the beautiful mountains near Bariloche. Hopefully for 4 days trekking and camping, before we treat it to the luxury of a warm room again…


23
Dec 09

Con vino por favor

I am in love with the Argentinian people.

To grossly and perhaps prematurely generalise, they seem to me like a warm and welcoming people, with a strong appreciation of the importance of family and good food. Values which are close to our hearts. Although an impressively large consumption of meat perhaps leads to a somewhat skewed daily food pyramid. As someone with such a soft spot for Italy and Italians I can’t help but notice the similarities between Argentinians and some of their ancestors across the ocean. Italy is obviously not the only influence here from abroad, as Argentina, especially Buenos Aires, seems to have long been home to immigrants from throughout Europe.

Following a wonderful 3 days spent with the family of an old climbing friend of mine (Maria) in Buenos Aires, we found ourselves enjoying more Argentinian hospitality in the wine region of Mendoza. After a rocky start involving the wrong bus, a long walk in the heat and a lift from the local policeman in the back of his van, we reached the wineries area. Perched on a tandem bike we made our way from one winery to another where we were greeted with warm smiles (and wine). Jeff was visibly delighted with the prospect of leisurely tasting all those delicious wines with the vines in sight. Like the cat that got the cream, as they say back home.

As all who have shared a bottle of wine with me will know- I am a lightweight when it comes to alcohol. Yet I was pleasantly surprised to find that cycling a tandem bike actually gets easier after a glass or two…

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23
Dec 09

Backlog

Sorry for the long gap everyone. We’d like to pin it on the hectic holidays…but, alas, we do not have those down here.

The reason for this post is to apologize, as I have just done, and to say that we’re going to publish a bunch of posts at once that we’ve been meaning to put up for some time.

We hope you will forgive us. Oh and Merry Christmas to everyone!