Posts Tagged: hiking

Oct 10


The day had started badly. One where you have lots to do, not a lot of time in which to do it and the tools that you depend on to get the job done have turned their backs on you during the rush. For me this meant that my computer, who is beginning to get a few too many italian notions into his circuits, had decided that a strike was in order. By the time Gina opened my office door at 11 with the bags nearly packed and a itch to get into the hills, I was a danger to myself and others. Nothing was good, nothing was helpful, I didn’t want to do anything or see anyone and I certainly didn’t want to go walk around the mountains with a heavy bag on my back. But 20 minutes later there I stood, bag on my back, trekking poles in hand, mood only slightly abated since leaving the vicinity of that bucket of electrons (you backstabber).

But here is where I’ll stop moaning. No human can stand in the magnificence of the high mountains, trees in full autumn colors, with a clear blue sky overhead and feel sorry for themselves or angry for very long. With every passing step and every meter gained I felt better, clearer and happier. By the time we reached the first pass I had completely forgotten about work, computers and the outside world. All that mattered was that Gina had packed lovely panini, that we were exactly where we happened to be at that moment and that I could here the lovely tinkling of bells from around the necks of the goats that dotted the hillsides all around us.

Deep breaths all around…there that’s better isn’t it?

I do this more often than I would like to admit. Building myself into a frenzy over something that, with only the slightest perspective, reveals itself as completely insignificant. Hello, my name is Jeff, and I’m a rage machine.

From this first pass we traversed. And traversed and traversed and traversed. My legs, still wobbly from being laid up in bed with a cold earlier in the week began to tremble beneath each step. But each small ridge we approached, tromping up to peer over the edge at the next valley we’d be dropping into, each basin we traversed across and climbed out of, was childhood exploration at its best. Each view something completely new and unknown to both of us.

And then, all of the sudden, we reached the top of a small rise, uncharacteristically in the middle of a basin, and caught sight of our home for the night, Bivacco Ledù, bright red against the grey stone and brown grass. Like the other bivacco’s scattered around the hills here Ledù is perched high in the mountains, tucked in the crease between two high peaks. Nearly always open year round and nearly always functioning on a donation basis these shelters provide a simple, fun way to stay overnight in the hills without having to carry your tent and the rest of your kit. We’ve been amazed at how many of them exist here and how well cared for they are and Gina and I joke regularly that the extortionately high taxes we’ll be paying here in italy are really to help pay for all these bivaccos not Burlesconi’s lady friends. It makes you feel a little better about, if only for a moment.

Until arriving at the bivacco we hadn’t really placed the strange feeling that both of us had felt the entire day. But as we stood there, sun sinking over the mountains, staring down at a sea of clouds blanketing the bottom of the valley below us we realized what it was, there was no wind. None, not a single breath of wind. Neither of us could remember the last time we’d been in the mountains with absolute calm. It was beautiful. Made all the  more beautiful to be sharing it with my wife and knowing that we were the only humans around to witness this view and this calm.








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…

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.

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…