Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Patagonia 2017: Refugio Los Cuernos - Día Nueve

Patagonia 2017:  Refugio Los Cuernos - Día Nueve – 2/16/17 – 11 km

My theory stands firm that the second day of a trek is the hardest. This one was short on distance but long on discomfort.  At the end of the day (well, really at the end of the night, aka the next morning) it’s all worth it and a good story around the campfire.  But --

We slept in this morning at Las Torres, avoiding the early breakfast crush, the same menu in a more relaxed atmosphere. The drizzling raindrops sliding down the windowpanes did not invite us to step outside, but go we must.  [Go or do not go – there is no try.]  Full weather assault gear: rain pants over shorts, short sleeve shirt, long sleeve shirt, rain gloves, rain jacket, Hokies ball cap, hood up, pack cover on.  Vamanos!

Nordenskjöld Lake, normally an intense opaque aqua color, was muted. The mountains on the far side were veiled in low mist and the sky was – hmmm – pewter? Dishwater grey? Let’s just say colorless.  But while watching my footing on the wet path, I began to notice the “view” up close, low growing plants and grasses that were quite beautiful, clumps of light yellow-green, dark glossy leaves and prickly stems.

I learned a new term:  pre-Andean scrubland, low evergreen shrubs that thrive on river banks and lake edges and have adapted to save water and withstand the fierce Patagonian wind.  Most common is the Calafate shrub.  (Local lore says if you eat the berries, you are destined to return to Patagonia.) 

Chilean firetree or Notro flower

Senecio miser cushion-plant

Who knows?

Can you see the Upland goose (aka Magellan goose) on the trail?

The wet was tolerable with no wind, just a slight breeze, and we hiked steadily all morning, staying within sight of each other, taking two quick pee breaks and one standing-up snack break. There were a couple of unbridged water crossings.

Rick pausing to take in Nordenskjöld Lake

Swinging bridge crossing over a rocky bottom – what must it be like to cross when there is a river of snow melt rushing underneath?

We’re getting close to the refugio

Refugio Los Cuernos

At the last side-stream crossing, someone has pitched their tent in what looks like an awesome spot – except that it’s dangerous to be so close to the water if the flow increases during the night, and it’s not eco-friendly.

Check-in at Los Cuernos was hectic and crowded as the multitudes sought shelter from the rain.  Anyone taking a chance on getting a bunk without a reservation was out of luck.  The dining area was cheek-to-cheek with campers drying out (unsuccessfully), people arriving and people procrastinating about leaving.

First things first – a hot chocolate warm-up

No cabin with hot tub for us. Our bunks were assigned in a room for eight; two bunks were triple high. There’s no place way up there to put stuff to be easily accessible, but it looks like it’s my turn to take one for the team.  The bigger problem was really no space for anyone to spread gear out to dry.  Every possible hanging spot was utilized with minimal success. We shared the room with another group of four (mom, dad, daughter and boyfriend).  Boots and backpacks everywhere.

With some thought and planning for later, I made decisions on what to keep in my bunk to minimize the up-and-down factor and it worked out okay. 

Hello down there!

With a long wet afternoon facing us, Cathy became immersed in a large puzzle project in a corner of the dining room, with Carol and others jumping in from time to time.  Wifi was available for $7 per 30 minutes, and I tried contacting home via WhatsApp, with limited success.  Rick had wifi and a book to read.

Of course, the refugio was not intended to accommodate this mass of people for long.  Two of the three women’s toilets were clogged. As I waited my turn for the one functioning stall (who knows how long it will hold up?) I chatted with an Asian woman named June, who works in IT in San Francisco.  She was hiking with a group of 14 people who travel the world hiking in locales famous and obscure.  She counted off Kilimanjaro, Machu Picchu, Nepal, Mount Whitney in California, many places in Canada, and small national parks unfamiliar to me in other countries. 

(June and her group were also experts in refugio living, commandeering space around the wood stove at the end of the hallway and stringing up multiple clotheslines to dry their gear.)

Late in the afternoon the staff kicked us all out of the dining area to set up for dinner.  We could look forward to more elbow-to-elbow while perched on those little stools.

Noisy conversation again, plus loud music, did not improve the atmosphere for me. Dinner was soup, a slice of beef with polenta, and a fruit mousse dessert.  Many trekkers on the “W” enjoy the vibe, and I don’t mind meeting and talking with new people, but my energy was waning tonight.  A little wine will help me sleep – if I don’t fall from my nest in the rafters!

“I am sure it is a great mistake always to know enough to go in when it rains.  One may keep snug and dry by such knowledge, but one misses a world of loveliness.”  ~Adeline Knapp

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