Rock Piles & Washboards

February 26th, 2013

Rock Piles & Washboards

Before I move on, I wanted to fill in February 25th, because it really was a very spectacular day.

We spent the night in the Hotel Las Torres to treat ourselves. The room was actually pretty crappy and the bed not very comfortable. Casimiro has a more comfortable bed. The endless steam of hot water was nice and the food was good.

The caballos left at 9:15 am for the trek up to Chileno and from there we hiked up to the towers. The day was mixed clouds that looked like it could go either way. We prayed to any deity that we could think of that the sun would come out. Enough with the rain already.

We made our coffee, had some breakfast and met our guide, Gonzalo, at the hotel. There were a total of 8 of us on the tour; a Swiss couple, two dudes for Punta Arenas, a couple from Santa Barbara and us. The guy from Santa Barbara was afraid of the horses and had never ridden before. They gave him a gentle-looking horse that anyone could ride.

We headed up the trail. It was a pretty steep climb up, with some pretty tricky places for the horses and a steep cliff off to your right. I’m glad the horses were clearly very experienced trail horses. Crossing the river was exciting, as the fast moving water came up almost to your feet in the stir-ups.

Chileno looked like a nice refugio and I was a bit sorry we hadn’t stayed there the night before. However, I think the hike up there after a long hike from Cuernos would have been a bit too much.

Gonzalo started out at a very fast pace. I think he wanted to see what everyone’s capabilities were on the trip. The dude from Santa Barbara had an Achilles heel problem and it became clear right away he was not going to make it. A small kerfuffle ensued because Gonzalo was not allowed to leave anyone. They managed to work it out and off we went without him.

The trail was pretty easy up to the base of the moraine, where it got quite steep. Gonzalo kept promising we were going to take the secret trail to get the best view of the Towers.

The weather was holding, but the tops of the Towers were clouded in. We kept climbing. It was pretty steep and hard effort for Susanne, but she settled down to a pace she could maintain. We got to the cut-off for the secret trail. It was a pretty good boulder field to cross. I was worried about both Susanne’s happiness and safety crossing the rocks. I asked Gonzalo how far it was across the boulders. “2 minutes.” I almost said no, we’d just go up to the lagoon. I probably should have. It was a big challenge for Susanne and this other woman Cheryl. I hung back with them to make sure they were ok. Annoyingly, Gonzalo sprinted off with everyone else. After a 20 minutes scramble we got to a creek bed that was much easier walking. Gonzalo asked Susanne how she liked the climb across the rocks. She said “I didn’t love it.” I wanted to warn him that he was about to receive a dose of the not so pleasant Spanish if he wasn’t a better guide.

Susanne's bane: the steep boulder field
Susanne’s bane: the steep boulder field

We headed up to creek and end up at a fantastic view point. Everyone else had left their lunches below. We brought ours. It was 2 pm; I was hungry. We ate our lunch at one of the most fantastic lunch spots on the planet and nicely the Torres started to clear out and give us some dramatic views. Everyone else ate theirs at the crappy spot where we came off the rock pile. I would be a better guide than Gonzalo.

Cheryl spotted some orange up near the base of the glacier below the central Torres. It was too far off to see exactly what it was. Could have been a lost backpack from a climber or could have been a lost climber. No way to know. In Chile, they don’t come and save you if you off yourself while climbing. You are on your own. I don’t think I’ll be climbing the Torres in this lifetime.

For you geology nerd types, it is a really amazing place. You are basically sitting inside the magma chamber looking at a cross section of the top. You can literally see the top of the pluton cutting into the sedimentary rocks. Awesome.

While everyone else ate their lunch, I took Susanne and Cheryl back across the rock pile so they wouldn’t feel the time pressure. We made it back to the trail. Susanne was happy to be back on solid footing, but it was a tiring endeavor. I sprinted on ahead to go get a view of the Torres from the classic spot at the edge of the glacial lake. Susanne said she was just going to wait.

I snapped a few shots and then started heading back. Up above, Susanne called out. She had made the last trek to get the view. Yeah!

We headed back down to Chileno and the caballos and rode back to the hotel. I was really glad we had done the horse/trek combo. The weather held and we got a great day. I was really proud of Susanne for pushing through some uncomfortable moments and making it the whole way. I was a bit annoyed with Gonzalo for putting his guests into a situation that they were probably not comfortable with. I think in the end, he relied on me to guide his slower clients. I should have not tipped him.

Patagonian duck
Patagonian ducks

Ok, onward.

One thing we have learned here in the Andes is that you have to take what it gives you. If it’s sunny in the evening, go for the walk. It might be pissing in the morning and you’ll never see the mountains again.

At 4:00 am the rain started in earnest. I know this because that is when it became evident that the tape job on the leak in the roof was not holding. Ugh. We threw a towel over the comforter and fell back to sleep.

We got up at 7 and the bed was a bit damp from the roof leak. Note to self – hang the bucket up every night.

We headed out around 8:30 for our drive to El Calafate to look at glacier Moreno. We never saw the Torres again. Our trip to Torres Del Paine was a good one. We never saw the Cuernos and now we feel lucky to have had such a great day in the mountains yesterday. Life is short, live it before it starts raining and you are stuck in a cabana with no reading material. Trust me on this one.

The days always seem to start and end with a bone-jarring 50 to 80 km dirt road with washboards the size of the storm waves on the west coast of Maui. And Casimiro lets us feel each and every one of them.

Susanne had downloaded some books for us to listen to on this trip, but we haven’t been able to because it is quite loud. We tried music, but that didn’t work so well either. Rattling along on a dirt road makes it hard to even talk. We literally have to shout at each other some times.

“Look at the Guanacos!”


“Look at the Guanacos!”

“I don’t think we have any cans of tomatoes! Why do you want tomatoes?”

At least the scenery is really nice.

We made our way to El Calafate, which is a major tourist hub for people on excursions of a more limited scope than ours. It is the gateway to Glacier Moreno and Mt. Fitz Roy. Both icons.

After almost 2 weeks in the van, things have gotten a bit disorganized and it was definitely getting hard to find anything to wear that didn’t have a unique smell to it. The plan in Calafate was to (a) find a laundry (b) resupply and (c) have some lunch. I pulled off the main street and parked. Thirty feet in front of us was a laundry. Yeah! We dropped off our laundry and will pick it up on our way back through town tomorrow or the next day. The grocery store was just up the block and there was nice restaurant just across the street called, of all things, “Casimiro Bigua.”  We had to go.

It wasn’t cheap, but the food was good. Susanne finally got some crab and she was happy.

We headed out of town toward Glacier Moreno. The weather was clearing and our spirits where high. We drove the windy road out to the boardwalks that let you get a really good view of the glacier. We were too late to take a boat trip, but the good news was that all the tour buses were clearing out and there were not very many people there.

View up the ice field
View up the ice field

This place gets packed. Loads and loads of tourist. Normally this would be a reason for me not to visit, but I would have to say, this is one of those places that is a “not to miss.” The glacier is awesome and the set of boardwalks allows you to get some incredible views of the glacier calving into the lake. It creaks and groans and then lets out very loud bangs as the ice cracks.  You get an amazing view up the ice field that feeds the glacier. This is one of two major glaciers in the world that is advancing. At times it will dam up the lake. Eventually the pressure of the water breaks through the ice. Go to YouTube and search on Glacier Perito Moreno and you can watch the phenomenon in action.

We stood around just taking it all in for about 1.5 hours. I think we both could have stayed longer. It was mesmerizing in a weird way. But, it was getting late and we needed to get to a camp for the night. There was supposed to be a great camp area on the other side of lake called Lago Roca.

The drive there, of course, required another mind bogglingly rough dirt road. I was tired, so I didn’t take it too easy, which made it rougher and made Susanne nervous. We got to the free camping area and it was stunning.

Nice camp at Lago Roca
Nice camp at Lago Roca

We will probably spend tomorrow here just hanging out.

Ciao for now.

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