Patagonia

Two Saturdays ago, Rose and I took off from LAX and flew from there to Houston, to Buenos Aires, and on to El Calafate, a small town near the southern end of Argentina.  Not quite Tierra del Fuego, but close.

The region’s famous brilliance was on display before we even touched down at the airport and it didn’t cease to impress for the remainder of the week.  In a word, the scenery was spectacular.  Around Calafate, low plains strech for miles in between hills and mountains whose rings, curves, and waves are testaments to millennia of shoulder rubbing with the region’s glaciers.  The sky was forever, and Lago Argentina, which runs alongside El Calafate, was a hue of blue that I didn’t think was possible in a freshwater lake.

We arrived in the afternoon and made our way into town, found a hostel, and, after a much needed nap and shower, poked around a very touristy strip of restaurants and shops for the evening.  As the night went on, and not without the help of a bottle of a nice Argentinian red, my tongue gradually started to unravel and allow some decent Spanish to escape.  By the time we crashed at the hostel, I was feeling pretty content to have finally made it to our destination, and I was anxious to start our trip to the Perrito Moreno glacier the following morning.

I wore my boots the next morning.  We were going to a national park.  I expected to find a trail, maybe go for a little hike.  What I got was a bus full of elderly Germans, a boat ride, and a snack bar.  But I didn’t mind, because what we saw was one of the most impressive natural phenomena I imagine I’ll ever see.   As you can see in my picture album here, and the video I put together below, the glacier is stunning.  It’s size alone is enough to make it worth the snack bar, but what I found more mesmerizing were its vibrant colors, treacherous angles, and truly majestic peaks.  Despite the overflow of tourists in the area, Rose and I did manage to have a couple of quiet moments on the walking path that’s been built near the glacier.  Listening to the ice creak and bend, and then come crashing down to the lake below, was both peaceful and incredibly exhilarating.  We caught one of the bigger crashes on video.

The next morning we packed our backpacks, left our other suitcases at the hostel, and took a bus north to another small town called El Chalten, where we were supposed to start a three day backpacking trek into the mountains near Mount Fitz Roy.  As we approached the town, we caught what would end up being our clearest view of Fitz Roy’s peak, an impressive stone-faced tower that didn’t fully emerge from the cloud cover for the rest of our stay.

As the video shows, our hike began under partially cloudy but pleasant skies.  Our packs were heavy and the trail was initially pretty steep but–note the recurring theme–our surroundings were consistently beautiful.  We wound our way through meadows and tree groves, drank from crystal clear streams, and as it started to rain, watched rainbows paint the front of the lower peaks.

By the time we set up camp closer to Fitz Roy’s peak, the rain and wind were pretty consistent, and the temperature had dropped substantially.  We set up camp, boiled some water (again from the stream) to cook some rice, and settled in for the night, uncertain of what kind of weather we’d have to deal with the next day.  As you can see in the video, we woke up to some of the most intense wind I’ve ever felt.  The biggest gusts caused the tent to bend all the way down to our faces.  I was half-expecting to be picked up and floated over to the next campsite.  Eventually we mustered the courage to venture outside and start packing up.  By the time we got out on the trail, the wind had found some rain to throw around, and we were in for two solid hours of wet hiking.  Despite the conditions, day two’s trail was just as beautiful as the first.  After about three hours, we made it to a split in the trail where our initial plan called for us to cut back toward the mountain and camp for a second night.  The wind was still howling and the hue of gray in the clouds wasn’t getting any lighter, so we cut to the left and, with the clouds in pursuit, steadily made our way back to El Chalten.

Despite having to cut the trek short, backpacking in Patagonia wasn’t something I really saw myself doing, even for a day.  And had Rose not done all the planning, and a little prodding, I still probably wouldn’t have gone.  So I’m thrilled to have gotten my first taste of backpacking, and next time I’ll bring a kite.

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~ by nickcain on February 22, 2009.

2 Responses to “Patagonia”

  1. Wow, these videos are great, Nick! it is so fun to see you guys doing stuff and talking and seeing your expressions. And the views were so beautiful.
    I am mostly looking at the pictures and videos because the font is very small and my old eyes can’t make it out very well.

  2. A story well told. You remind me of Shackleton in your photo, a true explorer. Keep loving life, its beautiful.

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