|From Loose - S. America Winter 2009|
|From Loose - S. America Winter 2009|
The Verse: New Years Eve, Miami Airport, overnight flight to Buenos Aires (BA), Argentina. Let the games begin. Unlike the 2008 Olympics mine lacked the digitally enhanced fireworks, but all the same, the torch was lite. By 3Am Jan 2nd, I had dropped my extra luggage in BA, arrived in Rio Gallegos, Argentina, waited at the bus station, traveled 4 hours to Rio Turbio, cabbed to the Argentina border post, transferred to the Chilian border post, cabbed to Puerto Natales, and split a hostel bedroom with the couple I had been traveling with along the way. Next Stop......Torres Del Paine......
The string of people along the way was more than coincidental. In the Buenos Aires I ran into of my good friends and old co-workers completely unexpected...in the park, I talked with a girl from Columbia business school who I used to have drinks with in Aspen in 2004, in El Calafate i met one of my friends roommate from his internship in Dallas.....either we are getting bigger or the world is getting smaller....I purport the latter.
On to the trek....I heard that the "circuit", a six day trek around the "Towers of Blue (Granite)" was a beast and equally rewarding. I went to inquire with one of the local shops. Obviously my only previous research of the hike was through second hand bus station knowledge. The guide company proceeded to tell me that it was too dangerous to do alone, in fact they won't let you go if you say you are alone. Step One: say I am in a group. The merchant then tells me that a girl almost died last week and a rescue team had to intervene. Getting more interesting...but wait a minute, I am pretty sure this lady sells guide service. I suspect conflict of interest. I continue to listen. She further describes the perisl of this girls near death experience....there was snow involved while walking between the glaciers in one of the notable valleys, the girl lost the path (step two, buy compass) (step three, realize there is a magnetic field distorting compassing down here). Then the merchant reiterates just how dangerous it is, for example that girl that almost died had four guides with her. HOLD THE PHONE....first off, are you trying to sell me on over the top expensive guide services when in fact I could have a small herd of guides and still stare death in the face? I think I will go solo thank you very much. If I am going down, let it be in the peace of nature without a running tab at the local guide shop.
I get my pack ready and buy a ticket for the 2:30pm bus into the park. I miss the bus while buying trail mix. Broken spanish fails me again. Some guy throws me in the back of his pick up, they hold the bus two miles outside town and I catch up. I apologize to the bus full of alpha male hikers and their female counterparts. America represented....count it.
While on the bus, I decide I should further research the perilful journey before me. Next too me sits a German who looks like he has done this before. (Stage right - enter Thilo, you handy experienced mountain guide). No joke, he used to give guided mountaineering tours in the Alps - JACKPOT. I lay the groundwork and he welcomes my company for the trek, and I welcome all his well done research, planning, and life saving abilities.
I love it when a plan comes together (imagine me smoking a cigar while Mr. T drives the van). To get to our entry point making efficient use of time, we get off the bus at Guardia Pudeto (I say pow ta toe, that is neither here nor there). We wait and catch a catamaran across Lake Pehoe. The ride reveals the starkly contrasting topography painting the canvas I will be walking around. Stunning, absolutely stunning (translated to British English that is Brilliant). All water is fed by the glaciers resulting in bright blue that looks like it was truely the impetitus for the sky on a clear day. In the middle are three towers of granite shooting towards the sky. Towering over the landscape like gaurdians of glacier icefield that rest beyond their peaks.
The other notable feature of resides within ear shot of the South Pole is that they have about 17 hours of sunlight a day with the sun reluctantly consceding the sky to the constellations around 10:30pm. This means that despite arriving out entry point of Refuge Pehoe (not sure if that is the right name, but close enough), we could still afford to hike to Camp Italiano...
"We are really doing it people" - 40LB pack, hiking boots, Bob Ross background, and open trail. Their was clearly an inverse relationship between enjoyment and pack weight. Two hours later I am official a burly mountain man (week two of beard in the works - still not visible to the untrained eye).
All water in the park is drinkable. Let me put that a different way. There is glacier water cascading down the valley and you could literally dip you head in and drink away. Don't worry, i didn't do that. I filled up my camelback, broke out the pots and pans, the headlamp, and enjoy my first of several meals with Thilo while perched on a tree that had fallen over.
It is in the simple things. Deep in the crevices of the simple things it waits.
Gonna need to pick up the pace here....there are pictures to be had....so on we go.... Some timberly dinner and the next day would prove to fell like punching the Drago in Rocky....tough.
We woke early and took a day pack to the look out. Little did we know Dante's 7th level was awaiting for us. Courtesy enough to allow our 4 hour ascent / descent, but the brewing storm blocked any potential view. We returned to camp spirits high, feeling like the walk to the front door on the first date...little pep in the step. Packed up, on my back rest 40lbs of the bare necessities (think jungle book and sing to yourself if you want to smile).
With the first 11km hike behind us, we engaged the trail greeted with devastating proportions of rain and wind. Gusts were up around 60-70 kph, and the rain was persistent. On the two hour hike to Refuge Los Cuervos (the horns). What could have been gorgeous walk, was fairly intense. I hope the pictures / videos do it justice, but unlikely. This day would prove daughting.
Thilo and I walked seperately for the most part...he isn't all about the old conversation, again he is a burly mountain man of equal to proportions to Paul Bunyon and the legend of William Wallace (with the exception of shooting fire from orifices, that is just ridiculous). If fact, I only recall one distinct comment from him all day. "This is no weather for hiking."
At the Los Cuervos we met a delightful couple from Bermuda (shoutout to Bermuda chiropractor and retailer wife who are quite the trekkers....we would see them three more times). With 16.5 km behind the treading on my boots, it was onward for four more hours, 11 km mas, to the Refuge Torres del Paine. Including wild horses, glaciers lake fed by glaciers run offs requiring me to switch to my hiking sandals to cross. Then on to camp, to dinner, to countinued rain, to a wet tent, to a windy night, to aches, to pains, to 28km (16 miles) of pack carrying physical and mental weight. But for some reasons, I loved it. The sweet is nothing without the sour. Come here sour give me a hug, shows me my deviations (said sweet).
But that said, I was tired, cold, and wet. At the refuge I ran into Alison and Joe again (real time update: they are coming to BA next week and we are having dinner. They are introducing me to their BA crowd...hello more peeps).
The next morning was a beautiful (packless) hike up the tippity top. Really unreal, the glacier lake unsuccessfully supplanting the massive granite towers acting a gently reminder of our insignificance. Check the picks.
Key decision - the three days of rain and the forecast for continued atrocious weather, Thilo and I decided to scrap the full circuit....sadly, but there was a small part of me (my feet) that were joyous. We slept at the refuge that night, and celebrating our fleeting interactions with drinks...there I would run into one of the hundreds of business school students turning a blind eye on the recession by traveling. Five girls from Columbia business school....the relevance you ask? It wouldn't be until two days later and several hours of conversation that I would realize that I used to get drinks with one of them multiple times in 2004 when i lived in Aspen for a season (PPT - people place thing proper noun spot - Hola Cami, Mica, and tres otras chicas).
Monday, Jan 5 we caught the catamarran back to where we started to finish the "W circuit" and catch a glimpse of Glacier Grey, who is widely known for her epic proportions and ever ending flip flops relationship with McDreamy (shoutout Seattle Grace, thanks for all the Sunday and Thursday nights we have spent together).
We hiked, it rained, winds gusting up to 80 kmh now...view upstructed again....josh sad...weather bad, but those are the breaks....apparently it is with considerable fortune that you get clear skies. Next time Torres del Paine, next time.
In all about 3.5 days of hiking and 30 miles covered by foot. Miles of thought not included.
The Bridge: Next stop, Puerto Natales following drinks with the Bermuda couple, a bus / catamaran with Columbia girls, dinner with random trekkers, and splitting a hostel room with a guy from Montana. El Calafate for real vacationing to meet some of the cast.......
Lesson Learned: Bring more than one pair of pants.....