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