Saturday, November 25, 2017

Patagonia 2017: Los Cóndores y Las Águilas - Día Cuatro

Patagonia 2017:   Morning Hike to Los Cóndores and Las Águilas Viewpoints - Día Quatro – 2/11/17 – 6 km

After yesterday’s chaos everyone slept very hard (I was reminded more than once that my friends had hiked more miles than I). This morning, after eating odds and ends for breakfast, we packed up for our return drive to El Calafate.  It didn’t feel like a good ending to our time in Los Glaciares. There was one more short trail from the visitor center that we decided to check out. 

At the VC, Carol introduced me to the ranger who had assisted in looking for me yesterday and I was able to apologize and thank him.  Carol complimented the park staff on their helpfulness and inquired how to make a donation, but the concept wasn’t clear to them – why would tourists give money for the park?

Today’s hike was a simple path to two viewpoints, Los Cóndores looking at the Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre ranges as a backdrop to El Chaltén, and Las Águilas overlooking Lago Viedma.  The walk is easy and worthwhile for the casual visitor, to whet the appetite upon arrival or to bid a farewell.  

El Chaltén nestled in the Fitz Roy Valley

Almost guaranteed are bend-over-backwards-to-look-straight-up encounters with the largest bird in the Americas, the Andean condor.  Endangered and protected in some parts of South America, they are abundant in Patagonia.  Wing spans can measure up to 3 meters wide tip to tip.  Condors are an everyday sight riding the thermal winds above El Chaltén.

Fitz Roy was still hidden behind a gray shroud; we were resigned to our bad luck.  At least the morning was calmer and warmer than the previous days as we started on the trail to Los Cóndores.

What’s this?  It looks like a rainbow…starting faintly, barely discernible, and growing in intensity as we followed the trail, curving left and rising up the mountainside behind the visitor center. The trail split and we took the left track to the overlook.

At Los Cóndores, the condors were forgotten as we took in this amazing full rainbow, a consolation gift in place of the mountain ranges.

It may sound strange, but we were so energized that we couldn’t sit still here to contemplate the rainbow – what’s at the second overlook?  We backtracked to the split and took the right fork, climbing still higher to a massive boulder balcony called Las Águilas (the Eagles).  Turning our backs to the town, we absorbed the colors of Lago Viedma.   

On my next visit to Las Glaciares National Park (and there will be a next time) I want to take the ferry to Glaciar Viedma where it flows from the Patagonian ice field into the lake.  And maybe I’ll have better luck with Fitz Roy!

At this point we lingered to eat and enjoy our little pinpoint on the planet, Lago Viedma over one shoulder and a rainbow over the other.  These photos conjure the feelings of awe and appreciation as we sat and reflected upon our good fortune .  Not everyone has the physical ability to go where we go, but many who do are too fearful of….something…and don’t try. Please, don’t wait – just make it happen and GO!  Glaciers and condors are not forever and neither are you!

Cathy leading the way back, Cerro Torre teasing from behind the curtain one last time

We retraced the path back to the visitor center and stood in the rock garden to watch as condors casually wheeled and soared overhead in the brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds. 

We left El Chaltén in the rearview mirror on a good note. On the drive back to El Calafate:

Río La Leona, milky blue water from glacier silt, flows from Lago Viedma to Lago Argentino.  (Also on that “next time” itinerary is staying at one of the estancias along this river.)

Lago Argentino

Guanaco carcass on a barbed wire fence

In El Calafate we stopped at a town park to eat our remaining bread and cheese, then enjoyed an hour of souvenir/gift shopping, sightseeing, locating a working cash machine and sampling sweet pastries from a bakery.  Cathy discovered a local artisan who made pendants from guanaco bone, images carved through like a silhouette. We each chose different ones: 
Cathy = hiker with a hiking stick
Carol = penguin
me = open hand
Rick = condor.   
[Full disclosure, Carol and I also bought hiker pendants, they were so cool.] Skillful workmanship and unique souvenirs!

After retreating to our place at Cabanas El Amanecer for showers and fresh clothes, we had dinner at La Tablita, located on the edge of town.  It’s a fancy restaurant, and we walked in without reservations, but with the luck of naiveté we were quickly seated and staring at an intimidating menu.  Their signature dish is roasting enormous racks of Patagonian lamb on spits tilted around a mound of glowing coals, located in full view of the dining room.  The food was expensive and the service was slow, and I wouldn’t recommend La Tablita unless you have lots of money, time and a desire for bragging rights.  However, my roasted vegetables and gnocchi bolognese was really, really superb.

Our evening toast with an Argentinian Malbec – another day on God’s beautiful earth!

“Don’t wait until everything is just right.  It will never be perfect.  There will always be challenges, obstacles and less than perfect conditions.  So what.  Get started now.  With each step you take, you will grow stronger and stronger, more and more skilled, more and more self-confident and more and more successful.” ~Mark Victor Hansen

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Patagonia 2017: Laguna de los Tres (A Story In Which A Hiker Is Misplaced) - Día Tres

Patagonia 2017: Laguna De los Tres - Día Tres – 2/10/17 – 20 km

The wind didn't blow itself out during the night; it strengthened to gale force such that normal people would have stayed inside for that second cup of coffee.  But not hikers!  We’re in Patagonia!  Fitz Roy is out there…somewhere.

Today’s plan was another of the most popular hikes in Los Glaciares:  Laguna de los Tres.  "Los Tres" refers to the three peaks that can be seen from the lakeshore: Fitz Roy, Poincenot, and Saint-Exupéry.  [spoiler alert: cloud cover reigned so we didn’t see the big guys.]

Out our front door to the end of our street, then we ascended an odd steel ramp/walkway and headed to the north end of town, where Avenida San Martín turns to gravel and then to dirt.  Like yesterday, we passed a gigantic wooden trail map and a tent staffed by a ranger pointing out the posted rules. 

The hike began with a steep two-mile climb, the wind blowing as fiercely as I have ever experienced, with frequent gusts that shook me off my feet if I wasn’t prepared.  One blast knocked my camera out of my hand so one selfie was my limit. Yikes, this may not be as much fun as I’d hoped.  And the clouds were shrouding the peaks once again.  Reconsider that coffee?? Brunch?? Nope, keep on hiking.

Río de las Vueltas

At the Mirador del Fitz Roy – same as yesterday, the peaks still hiding

But there’s a tease: Glaciar Piedras Blancas

The main trail is wide and heavily used with numerous quickie side trails to viewpoints, although some truly go nowhere (potty stops?)  At one point the trail splits - left goes to Laguna Capri, right continues to Laguna de los Tres - and then comes back together again. We took the path going right, but remarked that maybe we could take the alternate on our return if there was time. Unfortunately, I didn’t remember this conversation later…

The trail passes through an extensive marshy area via long boardwalks, two planks wide, with “turnouts," frequently spaced side boards for stepping aside to let oncoming hikers pass.  Everyone played the politeness game – you next - no, you next - no, I insist – 

In the Chorrillo del Salto Valley

I spy Glaciar Piedras Blancas again

We had agreed that without drastic improvement in the cloud cover situation, we’d turn around at the Poincenot campground.  The final ascent to the lake and the peaks is very steep with loose scree and we didn’t feel it was a worthwhile risk if we truly could not see the view.  Along the way, Cathy spoke with a woman who suggested we follow another trail from Poincenot to a “best view” of Glaciar Piedras Blancas. 

At the camp, we made the call to skip the ascent.  A ranger there confirmed a different trail that goes closer to Glaciar Piedras Blancas but the distance was unclear.  We set off in that direction, but after a short while I cried uncle, feeling that I needed my energy for the return hike.  Rick and I sat down to rest while Cathy and Carol continued on for the close-up. 

My best photo of Glaciar Piedras Blancas

Once we regrouped, it was time to turn around.  We passed scores of people as we backtracked through the valley and over the marsh boardwalks.

And then… the day took a turn for the worse.  I stepped off the trail to pee, told Carol to go ahead.  When I stepped back onto the trail, within 30 yards I came to an open area of boulders and sand.  I saw the trail going left, but after just a few minutes it grew narrower and I suspected I had gotten onto one of those pesky side trails.  At about the same time I realized this, the main trail crossed.  Okay then!  I turned left onto the main trail and continued on my merry way. 

I thought my friends were ahead of me when in fact they were behind me.  I picked up my pace, thinking that I would catch them or they would be waiting at the next intersection…or the next…or the next. Meanwhile, they had waited for me literally right around the curve from where I had mistakenly bypassed the main trail.  When I didn’t join them within a few minutes, they of course began looking for me.  The more time they spent looking, the more concerned they became. 

Preoccupied now with just catching up to my friends, I asked two different groups of ascending hikers if they had seen a very small woman hiking with two friends, and they both said, yes, they are a few minutes ahead of you. I hurried all the way to the entrance – surely they would wait for me there – but they weren’t there.  I sat down and waited, not sure now what to think. 

 Several hours of worry and confusion as my friends enlisted others to help look for me.  A ranger along the trail was drawn into the search.  Was she hurt? Lost?  Both?  They began asking ascending hikers if they had seen me.  I had been sitting at the entrance only a few minutes when a couple coming down asked if I was Sharon, and my chest constricted.  My friends were desperately looking for me near the place where I should have been – several miles up the trail. 

I hiked back up less than a mile when a hiker-photographer carrying a full-size tripod stopped me – yes, I’m Sharon – and he insisted that I return to the entrance with him to wait.  The ranger was radioed and the mystery was solved.  Another hour later, my friends met me at the entrance.  None too happy with me, either. 

What is the lesson?  We’re all very experienced hikers and many times we’ve hiked in and then “see you at the trailhead” hiked out.  But this was another country and the back-home rules were not enough.  My first mistake: not backtracking when I realized I was on a side trail, no matter how short it was.  My second mistake: not remembering the discussion about taking an alternate route to Laguna Capri, meaning we would have all met up at that trail junction (or had I passed that one on my detour?) My third mistake: assuming they would keep going ahead of me and not wait.  My fourth mistake: Not sitting down to wait at the first true intersection I came to.  My fifth mistake:  Not sending word up and down the trail as they had done (so if they were indeed ahead of me, I would eventually find that out). 

SO… you bet I was buying dinner and drinks for everyone that night!  I didn’t dismiss the situation because it did create much anxiety for everyone, and I hope that a sincere individual apology to each friend helped us to move forward. After all, we have 14 more days of this adventure!  Keep those Pisco sours coming!  

“I’m not lost for I know where I am.  But, however, where I am may be lost.”  ~A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh