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we did {patagonia}

By Saturday, January 5, 2013 , , ,

Mount Fitz Roy

The windswept lands of Patagonia are said to have their own rhythm.  And if one can get past the images of fancy outdoor gear, the name Patagonia brings to mind jagged peaks, snow glaciers and adventure.  With some spontaneity - as spontaneous as one can be while still purchasing plane tickets in advance - we set our sights on capturing Patagonia.  We left home towards the tail-end of fall and landed in Argentina on a bright spring day.  The impossibly long day of travel was only getting us ready for two weeks of long days.  Instead of days with shrinking daylight we had left behind at home, we found ourselves in a land where the sun just barely set by 10pm.  Three plane flights, a shuttle ride and a night in the little town of El Chalten behind us, we set out to find the rhythm of Patagonia.
in town
From one day to the next, each fell into a predictable pattern.  If we had spent the night in town then that next day we gathered the last essential bits {churros with gooey caramel centers are essential} and headed out of town.  Each time we headed out we spent one more night backpacking - two, then three, then four nights.  Each time we headed out our legs burned under the weight of our packs as we made our way up the ungraded hiking trails.  The trail right out of town to Laguna Torre has a lung-busting stretch right at the beginning before mellowing out for most of the way.
hiking out
The first time we hiked out, it was under blue skies with puffy clouds.  We could see the peaks of Cerro Torre in the distance.  We were excited to begin our adventure.  We made camp at Campamento DeAgonstini just a short walk from the turquoise, glacier chunk filled Laguna Torre.  At the ridge above the lake the infamous winds felt like at any moment they might pick us up and knock us clean off our feet.  At lake level the winds weren't as angry and my eyes could finally stop tearing up.  Still, the wind whipped the water into waves that bobbed the big blue ice blocks.

Laguna Torre
We discovered that the mountains are magnets for clouds and seem to create their own weather systems.  We discovered that we were right in giving ourselves the full two weeks to capture the light on the peaks from just three locations.  And we discovered that even when the right light didn't seem to land where we hoped it would, Patagonia gave us just enough wonder to keep us happy and willing to try again and again.

To start the second trip out, we took a shuttle ride up to the trailhead.  The driver pointed us in the right direction and we were off into the beginnings of snow flurries.  After going about 200 yards without a sign pointing towards our destination - Laguna de Los Tres {and Campamento Poincenot} we got worried.  I hustled back to the fancy hostel at the trailhead, confirmed our directions and made use of their indoor plumbing.  Soon we were pulling out ponchos to have handy incase the snow/rain kicked into high gear.  It wasn't five minutes later though, the trail led us into a small gully, the weather stopped and we had to peel the layers from our sticky bodies.
the peaks the snow comes down
But the snowy weather didn't really go away.  And by the time we had reached Poincenot it was actually snowing on us.  Campamento Poincenot is at the base of a long trail that leads up to Laguna de Los Tres.  The trail felt nearly vertical at times and posted signs near the beginning warned that it could be dangerous.  That, with the continued increasingly snowy conditions had us worried, but we were determined to hike it {after quickly setting up camp} so that we would know what we would be in for at sunrise the next day.  Yet when we reached the top, after an hour of hiking, we weren't even sure if it was the top. Visibility was so bad we couldn't make out any lake or the peaks of Mount Fitz Roy.  It took us less than a minute to decide it was best just to turn right back around and try again in the morning.

We woke to a winter wonderland lit by the moon.  Part way up the big climb we stopped.  Since we couldn't see any peaks and weren't quite sure if we had found the right spot the day before it was decided it would be best to catch sunrise where we were.  The sparkly white snow and the pink skies made it seem magical.  And the promised nap after returning to camp kept me going.
winter wonder
winter wonder
That's how we did our days - sunrise, breakfast, nap, a little exploring, dinner, sunset and to bed.  We boiled fresh eggs at camp for egg salad sandwiches.  Our best camp dinner was pasta with marinara and Gouda; the worst was plain white rice {on Thanksgiving no less} since the beans we got to pair with it had been less than appetizing the night before.  Breakfast was oatmeal.  We finally got that right on our last trip with the addition of salt and sugar and even some raisins.  The naps were always much needed.  Needed to rest our tired and achy feet, legs and backs.  Needed because sunset came so late and sunrise so early and when one must be at the right spot before sunrise and getting to the right spot takes an hour hike, one must get up way way way too early.
killing time
killing time
After our morning failed attempt at Laguna de Los Tres we woke up from our nap to an American shouting through camp, "Wake up everyone! You can see Fitz Roy!"  And so you could.  The thick clouds from the early morning had broken up and puffy white ones danced in front of blue skies and the rocks above.  We made our second trek up the steep hill to discover that the reason we didn't see the lake before was that it was frozen over and covered in snow.  There would be no turquoise Laguna de Los Tres to capture reflected Mount Fitz Roy in for us on this trip.  That didn't keep us from making that heart pumping hike up the mountain a total of two more times.

We found our way over boulders and rocks to Laguna Sucia that lies below Laguna de Los Tres.  The lake is less visited and the trail to it not much of a trail.  Where hiking up to Laguna de Los Tres was tiring because of all the up, the walk to Laguna Sucia exhausted our minds.  Each step required thought and judgement - can I reach that rock, will it wobble under my feet, which way should I go?  Yet, following the river up to the lake was completely rewarding.  We watched sunrise twice here with only a few birds as company {given, one of those times the sun didn't make an appearance}.
Patagonia only decided to give in after kicking our backsides just one more time - the beginning of our last trip out.  The previously protected campground near Laguna Torre was pummeled by sand-filled winds when we set up camp there the second time.  We barricaded our tent with rocks and fallen branches after the sand found its way right into the tent.  The next day we moved our tent in hopes to find a more protected location.  Only to discover upon waking from a nap that our tent was outside the campground boundaries and we needed to move it again.  Another disappointing sunrise that morning in conjunction with the sandy wind had us quite discouraged.  But the ranger who requested we move our tent gave us a sliver of hope.  There'd be no more wind and no clouds tomorrow.  So we stuck it out another night.

We didn't fully believe the ranger, but the next morning there was no wind, there were no clouds.  Warm sunlight at sunrise hit Cerro Torre.  We were thrilled.
camp Cerro Torre
For the last two nights we made our way back to the base of Mount Fitz Roy and Laguna de Los Tres. And in the two sunrises we had left we got lucky - light on the peaks both times.  Lukas renamed Laguna de Los Tres - Laguna de Los Quatro since that was the number of times we had to hike up there to be rewarded with light we were looking for.
The last morning we made our way back to Sucia. What had been a pretty easy rock hop at a stream that fed into the river coming out of Laguna Sucia now held us up.  The water levels had risen and in the dark of the morning finding our way across was a challenge.  But a challenge we surmounted and the sun made its appearance on the mountains above.  That last morning at Sucia it was hard to leave.  The golden light lingered.  How can you walk away from something that had been dancing just out of reach for so long?
Laguna Sucia
Yet we had a ride reserved and had to make it back to town in time for that.  And in time to get more tasty empanadas.  Even though we hadn't wanted to get on the three hour ride smelling like four nights in the backcountry that's just what we did.  Sure, the mid-trip bucket shower probably helped a bit in that department.  The shuttle took us back to El Calafate.  We made plentiful use of the hot showers and flushing toilets that night.  The next morning we were winging our way home.

I think we did find a rhythm in Patagonia.  I think that the reward of golden light was worth the challenge, the hiking, the aching backs and knees and feet.  I think we surprised ourselves in being able to have such a grand adventure.  And we learned that maybe so many nights of backpacking might be a little too much.
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