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jueves 12 de diciembre
Objetivo: Trek al Mirador Modo: Pies Distancia: 25 kilómetros
Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, Argentina
We woke at 6:00 to the shrieks of a screaming baby. Startled and more than a little ticked off, we stuck our heads out of the tent and saw the culprit not fifty feet away. Apparently, the German couple that we met last night had decided that it would be a good idea to bring their one year-old son along for la experiencia patagonia. The infantile shrieks that pierced the morning calm raised a handful of parental and cultural questions: Is bringing a baby into the untamed wilderness considered a good idea in Germany? Is it really that hard to find a babysitter in Baden-Württemberg? How much does a two-week supply of Das Gerber weigh? And finally, are there any of those molded plastic Koala Bear Kare diaper changing stations welded into the upper face of Mount Fitz Roy? These were probably just a few of the questions the German parental units were now asking themselves. Little Deiter continued bawling, soliciting evil looks from the surrounding acampantes, including the two gringos with the fresh Trango digs. As annoyed as we were by the wailing German tot, the hard-core French climbers across the way were downright incensed with their European neighbors. The Franchutes flung their gear around their site and looked poised to launch a crampon salvo at the little brat. If anything, the disturbance probably served as incentive for them to get an earlierthan-anticipated start on their Fitz Roy ascent. Extremely windy conditions and seasonably lower temperatures were two factors weighing against them, but they looked determined to plant the tricolor atop Fitz Roy’s 11,166 foot spire sooner rather than later. From our present elevation of 2,800 feet, it seemed they would have their work cut our for them. Over a tasty 8:00 breakfast of warm oats and raisins, Andy and I 66
plotted our Thursday morning trek which would take us southwest of the campsite and approximately 2,500 feet higher than our present elevation. Our destination, the Mirador Fitz Roy, offers one of the best views of the summit. A brief, post-breakfast chat with Señor Ricardo confirmed that we would need at least eight hours round trip to do the hike. Before departing, he cautioned us that the trail was a bit tricky in spots and would be potentially rough on our knees on the way down. On the upside, he told us to be on the lookout for climbers who might be scaling the upper face of Mt. Fitz Roy later that afternoon. Andy took one last look at the trail map while I whipped up a batch of pomelo juice for the long trek. At 8:30, we left Los Troncos and set out into the valley west of the campsite. The biting wind was unwelcome, but certainly not unexpected considering the local topography. The valley in which we found ourselves was surrounded on three sides by mountains and glaciers which gave incoming winds the opportunity to bounce off of frozen surfaces, circulate wildly Franchute: Frenchie, French person Che!: One of the most frequently heard and ultimately penetrate the flesh expressions in Argentina. Che, por favor! and bones of trekkers and (Oh please!) is a common expression. Refers to Argentine-born revolutionary climbers alike. The intense Ernesto “Che” Guevara, who chronicled sunlight helped offset the wind his youthful South American adventures in The Motorcycle Diaries (1951-52). gusts, and the combination of impresionante: impressive, incredible! crisp Patagonia air and bright skies sendero: path. Synonyms include senda and camino. was just plain invigorating. As brújula: compass. Not to be confused the Argentines might say, ¡Che, with bruja which means witch. culo: butt. The word cola is a synonym, es impresionante! but it also refers to a line of people. After a twenty-minute hike over solid ground, we started looking for the main sendero up the steep slope to the south. Unfortunately, our brújulas were a little out of whack and we missed the narrow path completely. Instead, we were lured up a makeshift footpath which ran alongside a cascading stream originating at 5,000 feet. After about one-hundred yards of climbing, we knew that we had gone astray. There were no paint marks or rock pyramid markers to give us any indication that this was a legitimate trail, and our hands and legs were getting sliced by dense thorn bushes and jagged rocks. To make matters worse, we had scaled some large boulders coming up that were going to be hazardous going down. 67
When we finally decided to cut our losses, we did a 180º on the trail and practically slid down the step hillside on our culos. Once back in the valley, we trekked east for about a quarter of a mile before we found what had to be the real path. This sendero turned out to be the steepest and most challenging trek to date due to the incline and the dramatic change in altitude. The footing was good for the most part, although there were rocky areas that had “ankle toast” written all over them. After a one-hour uphill slalom, we came to a grassy plateau. The path flattened out considerably and wound around large boulders and pools of water that had formed during a recent thunderstorm. At this point in the trek, we would not have believed that we were only one-half of the way there. Just past the pools, the incline returned and we were led away from the path for about ten minutes clambering over boulders. Eventually, we got back to the path at the point where it traversed a large patch of fresh snow. Unable to restrain the juvenile urge, we both packed icy snowballs and hurled them down the mountain face. The view of Fitz Roy was good from here, yet still a bit obstructed by a long rock line that we were determined to reach.
2nd mt. fitz roy trek
the long path up andy hunkers down for the rocky ascent “everything that you see has been formed by glaciers”
The final leg was just plain steep and rocky, but occasional glimpses of the Fitz Roy summit pushed us onward. Finally at 12:30, we reached the mirador, and the views were spectacular: the looming spire of Fitz Roy directly above us and the panoramic view of the valley below us. Andy and I sat down on two rocks and took in the sights. I reached into my pack and pulled out the park brochure that I had picked up at the Administración in an attempt to get my bearings. From this altitude, we 68
could truly appreciate the opening paragraph of the brochure: “Everything that you see and every place that you visit in the park has been formed by glaciers. The lakes, the waterfalls, the crevices and the entire U-shaped valley are evidence of that.” After an extended period of rest, dried apricot feasting and silent meditation, we realized that un momento Kodak was upon us. Andy set the timer on his Nikon and we struck a al aire libre: outdoor. The word windy pose. After our impromptu photo aire means air and libre means free or clear. shoot al aire libre, the harsh winds kicked del parque: of the park up and encouraged us to head back down. se han adoptado: have adapted un ambiente hostil: a hostile The wind was another factor that the park environment literature addressed without any hint of ventoso: windy frío: cold Spanish sugarcoating. To quote the Fitz inestable: physically unstable. Roy brochure, La vegetación y la fauna Mentally unstable is loco. rompevientos: windbreakers del parque se han adoptado a este ambiente hostil: ventoso, frío e inestable. Now the best way to combat the first two factors, wind and cold, was by immediately donning our Patagonia®rompevientos. Conquering 69
“instability“ was another issue entirely. For both of us, instability was usually overcome via a pint of refreshing Isenbeck, a vitamin-rich Guinness or an icy-cold Quilmes. Unfortunately, none of these beverages would be served on our return flight to the lower base of Fitz Roy. I use the word “flight” literally as we flew down the steep grade from the mirador back to Los Troncos in less than one hour. At 15:30, we were back at Los Troncos, famished and fatigued. While the first half of the day had revolved around climbing, the second half would be devoted to vegging and feasting. For a late lunch, we agreed on rice and a hearty blood sausage. Post-feast, I turned into the carpa for a much-needed siesta. Meanwhile, Andy was content to sit outside in the late afternoon sun with Agatha Christie. When I woke at 16:30, Andy had already set off for a short solo trek around Lago Eléctrico in the valley directly to our west. I had to admit that the boy’s energy level was impressive: eight hour trek, no nap, big meal, off for a second trek. Not to be left in the Los Troncos dust, I opted for a short trek of my own. Considering that I only walked around the campsite, I am not sure that my activity could be classified as a bona fide trek. It was more of a short “wander.” Still, you had to give props to Ricardo for his landscaping prowess. The grounds of his site were so immaculate and aesthetic that one could easily spend a couple of hours roaming around the base camp. One sign at the perimeter of the property caught my attention: Subir y bajar por la escalera. (Go up and come down on the stairs.) This sign marked the entrance to an elaborate series of trails that Ricardo had created by strategically placing timbers around a bluff leading up to his own personal mirador of Lago Eléctrico.
I grabbed my camcorder and climbed the stairs up to the lookout in search of great visuals. The view did not disappoint as I filmed the sights and sounds of the glacier-formed valley. Given the exposed nature of the bluff, strong winds wreaked havoc on the camera mike. After thirty minutes of filming, a quick glimpse in the viewfinder revealed increasing cloud cover and a gathering storm. I returned to base camp and took 70
shelter in the Trango. The late afternoon silence was a radical departure from the morning chaos of wailing tots and cursing Frenchies. Uncertain of Andy’s whereabouts, I picked up Cerruti’s book to read more about the childhood and political aspirations of Carlos Menem. The controversial tell-all work explained how meetings in Spain with the exiled Juan Perón, early in his political career, had a profound impact on the young politician. It was quite ironic that Menem, who had run for office on the traditional Peronist platform, had enacted the sweeping neoliberal reforms that began to transform Argentina’s economy in the 1990s. Many critics considered Peronism to be the sheep’s clothing that got the caudillo from La Rioja province elected to the nation’s highest office in the first place. During the late 1990s, the Argentine political landscape was characterized by the jockeying and formation of opposition alliances looking to offer alternatives to the economic program that critics referred to as menemismo. Few countries have a citizen base as knowledgeable and passionate about political parties, strategies and coalitions as the Argentines. But add “restless” to the list of adjectives describing Argentine political views in recent years. While the country has witnessed a miraculous turnaround in terms of industrial production and foreign investment, increased efficiency and technological innovation have resulted in massive layoffs in Buenos Aires and in the provinces. One of the biggest challenges of future presidential administrations will be raising the standard of living for a greater percentage of the population without resorting to the unprecedented level of federal expenditures that bankrupted the system during the Perón era. When Andy returned at 18:00, he found me out cold in my Crazy Creek camp chair. His now-familiar, “Yo, Trick,” was enough to pull me out of my slumber. I opened my eyes and gazed at the clouds that were snaking through the mountainous spires surrounding Los Troncos. Once Andy had put his gear away, he pulled up his camp chair and we started to talk about, what else, dinner. As we had fallen asleep hungry every night of the trip so far, we resolved to cook up a huge meal: polenta napolitana with tomato sauce and chimichuri seasoning. 71
While sitting around the campsite sipping hot tea and planning our next trek, Ricardo casually strolled over in our direction carrying something in his hands. His offering turned out to be the perfect end to a perfect day: dessert. The Los Troncos landlord gave each of us one of the homemade confections he had whipped up in his cabin. Essentially, they were hot biscuits covered with dulce de leche (the closest that anyone can get to a real alfajor in this remote corner of the country). We thanked our host for his generous offer and asked him to pull up a chair and sit a spell. Ricardo, in turn, thanked us but said that he had to get back to the cabin and finish cooking his dinner. He explained that he had just spotted us finishing our meal and wanted to bring us something for dessert. Andy and I stared at each other and expressed our disbelief over how cool Ricardo turned out to be. As was the case in most every sleepy town, bus stop, campsite and kiosko in southern Chile and Argentina, people were, by nature, just plain friendly. Speak a little Spanish, provided that it’s not your native tongue, and they, like Ricardo, just get friendlier. The dessert gesture was the perfect example of the mentality of many people in Latin America. Despite limited financial resources and few material possessions, most folks in the deep south will go to great lengths to do a favor for a friend, old or new. When we turned in at 22:00, the sun was just starting to settle down behind the Andes. I filmed briefly in front of the tent but found myself longing for some quality sleeping bag time. Tomorrow would be another very big day. 72