Monday, February 8, 2016, WRTD 31, On to Patagonia
We leave with our group at 8:00 am. Russ and I leave our larger bags in the storage room at the hotel, and each take a small duffle and a day pack, as we will be returning here at the end of our walking adventure. We are in the van all morning and travel from El Calafate and El Chalten.
Chalten is an indigenous people's word for "smoking mountain". The early people thought the clouds that appeared from behind the prominent mountain was smoke from a volcano. Argentina's scientist hero Pietro Moreno, renamed the mountain Fitz Roy after the captain of the Beagle that brought Charles Darwin to this part of the world.
We get a glimpse of Fitz Roy and the town of El Chalten after a three hour drive from El Calafate. Our hotel is a cozy two story chalet. Our ground floor rooms have a nice view of Fitz Roy. Luck is with us, the mountain is often shrouded in clouds, but today the clouds whisp by and the mountain fades in and out.
Once we get settled in our rooms, we set out for lunch, and then a 3 kilometer walk up the first small mountains to get a better view of the Andes. They are tall, jagged, and the tops slightly dusted with snow, but little sticks because these jags are nearly vertical.
Tomorrow, we will take our first trek up and back to Laguna Torre. A glacial lake at the foot of the most recent moraine.
Tuesday, February 9 , 2016, WRTD 32, Laguna Torre
Although, I felt prepared, I was a little concerned about a 14 mile trek up to the most recent moraine left by the glaciers. We would be doing a lot of uphill and downhill trekking. The coming down part is the most difficult for my knees and hips. But I have two walking sticks and this will help as we go up ancient moraines and down into now dry lake beds revegetated with scrub bush.
Trees and older growth are on the ancient elevated, lakebed shores. The path winds through these treed forests and through the lakebeds. We glimpse the Rio Fitz Roy from many vistas high an dlow. As glaciers advance they push rubble forward making mountain size moraines and dams, then they retreat and the dams capture the glacier melt forming glacial lakes. Again the glacier advances pushing up another moraine and once again retreats. This glacial dance repeats for tens of thousands, millions of years. Our hike is through a wide valley cut by glaciers, up, down, across, up, down across several times until we reach the last moraine, and lakebed filled with latte colored water. There is another moraine at the back of the lake that has been deposited by a now retreating glacier. The glacier walls are behind the lake, and behind that rises the glacier and the Cerro Torre Mountain.
We collapse on boulders and eat lunch. The day is warm and beautiful. We are in short sleeved shirts. Our mountain guide tells us how lucky we are to see the mountain, and luckier that there isn't any wind at the moment otherwise we couldn't have made it this far or could only be here long enough to take a quick photo before retreating and sheltering behind the moraine. No sooner has he spoken and we feel a puff of wind. Our guide puts on his parka. He knows. It's coming!
The velocity from calm to full gale force is a matter of minutes, as we struggle to get into warmer clothing and pack up our belongings before they are blown away forever. The dust is kicking up, and I tuck the camera in my back pack. The glacier winds descend on us and clutch us in its frigid claws and tries to tear our hair from our heads.. Wow! We hurriedly retreat from the lake and make our way to the back of the moraine, where we find relief.
New comers hiking to the lake shelter behind boulders to eat their lunch hopeful the wind will subside and they will make it all the way to the lake for at least a photo. We trek back to town, and find a torrent duck in the glacial river flow. It must be paddling 10-15 miles per hour to stay in place and to swim upstream in the glacial rapids of the river. It disappears and resurfaces farther up river. Our guide tells us that the duck eats small crustaceans. There are no fish in the glacial river.
We return to El Chalten around 5:00 pm. My pedometer informs me that I have walked 30,600 steps, 13.7 miles, and have burned 1,100 calories. The group plops down in chairs. Beer first, showers second, dinner third. It's been a good day; exhausting, brutal on our feet and knees, but the scenery was spectacular.
Tomorrow, the hike is harder, longer, steeper. Oh boy!
Wednesday, February 10, 2016, WRTD 33, glacial lake Laguna de Los Tres at the base of Cerro Fitz Roy and fresh water Laguna Capri on the Rio Blanco.
Our muscles ache as we pull ourselves out of bed at 630 am. Is it morning already? How easy it would be to just pull the covers over my head and sleep some more. We prepare ourselves for the day, layering with clothing, putting on sunscreen, bandaging hotspots. Yesterday as the temperature rose, I peeled off my thermals when I had the chance. In so doing, I took off my boots and socks. As I redressed, I accidentally pulled on one of the socks inside out. By late morning the the rougher texture of the sock created enough friction that a hotspot developed.
Mary, one of our hiking companions, offered me some New Zealand Hiker's Wool. You place the soft light weight wool agains the hotspot. The texture of the sock holds the wool in place. It worked quite well in lessening more damage, but some of the damage needed to be bandaged this morning before we started off again. Of all the hiking we have done, I wish I had known about this hikers wool before. I seem to be prone to blisters regardless of how comfortable my boots feel.
By 8:00 We were boarding our van for a 30 minute ride up the trail head where we would start. Unlike and up and back trail of yesterday, we would be walking one way and back into El Chalten. The first part of our hike was along a stream that paralleled the Rio Blanco.
The first part of the path was rounded rocks that shifted under our feet and rolling unsuspecting ankles and knees. Before we had traversed 1/2 kilometer, one of our group knew that this was too much for his knees and that the promise of 13 more miles was not going to work for him. He and our tour leader returned to the van and back down to the hotel. Leila, took a taxi back to the start and caught up with our group led by our Mountain Guide Pablo, a little bit later that morning as we were trekking through a lovely forest.
We could hear the rushing of the river, the chirping of the birds, the swish of the persistent wind and the low rumble and thunder of collapsing ice and avalanches on the mountain. I could also hear Leila leaping and panting behind me as she caught up with us nearly an hour and half into our hike. She must have run most the way.
Our group reaches an option point about 1/2 way through the hike. Pablo explains we can split up into groups if we wish. Those who want to hike up to the upper lake, and those who wish to continue the walk to the lower lake. The first option will had about three hours to the hike and about 2 more kilometers straight uphill and back down again. The second option will return to the hotel 2-3 hours earlier, but the downhill trek back will be difficult. Russ is eager to find a geocache at the upper lake, me not so much!
It turns out, I am the only one not wanting to go up the hill to the lake. I just don't think my left knee and hip or my toes on the steep downhill will thank me. So I continue on my trek with Leila toward the fresh water lake, Laguna Capri, while the rest of our group pushes upward to Laguna de los Tres with Pablo.
Leila and I continue our trek to Laguna Capri and enjoy birds and beauty while eating our lunch on the beach. The water of Laguna Capri is the drinking water for El Chalten. There are no signs posted, but Leila tells me that the couple who have just stripped down to their bathing suits and taking plunge in the cold water, really shouldn't be doing so. We continue our hike downward back to El Chalten and arrive about 4:30. My pedometer is at 26,000 steps, 991 calories, and 11.58 miles. I feel a bit like a wimp not going the distance with the rest of the gang, but 11 miles is decent, and I have a blister the size of a large bean on the top of my middle toe. The wind kicked up at lunch time and is blowing like crazy once again pushing dark clouds ahead. The mountains are becoming less visible.
I spend the rest of the afternoon, washing dusty clothes, showering, packing, and backing up photos on my travel drive. Russ and the rest of the group return about 7:00 pm and have just enough time for quick showers before we gather for dinner at 7:25. They had a great time, and found the geocache.
Thursday, February 11, 2016, WRTD 32, On to Chile and to Torres del Paine National Park.
We get to sleep a little later this morning as we do not leave until 9:00 am. One of our group is not feeling well today, the rest of us are a bit creaky after we sit too long. It is nice though to sit still as we drive along to Chile. So far this morning, we have seen a fox and some rhea (big birds like Imu). There is another strike by workers and border control between Argentina and Chile is going to be slow and tedious.
No organic (fresh fruits, vegetables, cheese, meat) can pass over the border, so we are eating our lunches and organic snacks before we arrive.
It takes us a couple of hours to get through border control. First we check out of Argentina, go through no man's land, and check into Chile. We unload our baggage and empty the van for inspection. Our bags are run through a scanner. One of our group has probiotic pills in her baggage. The scanner picks them up as organic. The officials look them over and pass her through.
We arrive at our hotel around 4:30. It may be the rough road or the snacks we have eaten, but my stomach isn't feeling all that well. I pass on the alcoholic welcome drink and get hot tea. Our hotel looks over Pacific Ocean water. It is a fjiord in Chile. We are in Puerto Natales for the night. Tomorrow we will take boats up the fjiord into Torres del Paine.
The weather has turned. The sky is dark and it has rained a bit. We can expect wetter weather the next couple of days.
Check the blog later for photos. We had poor internet and some computer difficulties in El Chalten, so I am a little behind in photo editing and posting.
All is Well with the Worrall Travel Rs in Port Natales, Chile.