Saturday, January 2, 2010

Torres del Paine - Day Seven

The original plan was to cover the 19 kilometer stretch from Seron to Refugio Dickson. But we were now warriors and presumed that a 19 kilometer stretch rated as six hours had to be almost entirely flat. We'd play it by ear, if we made good time, we'd stop at Dickson for lunch and then get to Los Perros so we could have an extra day incase weather turned poor on the Pass.

The weather was incredible and the vistas a more subtle shade of stunning. With the sun bouncing off of everything it was impossible not to gawk at the shadows racing over the valley or the wind whipping across the ponds and daises below.

We can't be quite sure where, because our map was so poor, but about two hours from Refugio Dickson, we paused along the path. We both had heard a bizarre noise, but didn't speak. I thought a puma had gotten ahold of a boar. I didn't even know if there were wild boar in the park, but to me that is the sound I heard and so I became defensive. My senses hightened, I scanned the thicket. Nothing. We waited in silence, exchanging bemused glances.

Then more sound, something rustling through the brush, coming towards us. It was impossible to tell whether the movement was erratic fumbling or blind rage. I raised my trekking polls towards what I thought to be the origin of the sound. Moments later, no more than twenty yards directly infront of me, what appeared to be a llama appeared tromping through the grass, bleating aimlessly, the most unusual sound.

I would later find out it was a guanaco, but at the time I only knew it resembled a llama and that llamas were generally ill-tempered, they spit. Who knew what a wild llama, bellowing in this unnatural way, would do..

But it was not concerned with us at all. We stood there frozen as it lept, bleated, lept and strode, paused and bleated, then galloped across our path and down the valley.

Kaitlin and I laughed, wide-eyed and flush.

We destroyed the trail. We were champs. We covered the 19 kilometers in around four hours, but we weren't counting. We took off our shoes at Refugio Dickson and watched as two gauchos drove a train of horses carrying empty supply contains back to their stable.

We had seen these men leading day hikers on horseback up to see the Torres. I had scoffed at them then - they really played the part! And now I was feeling a bit ashamed. On the backside of the park there was no one to perform for. These guys were bounding through the forest leading ten beasts down loose and mucky slopes. They controlled them with calculated yells and cracks of the whip.

I felt like we were back in San Telmo on Museum Night, when the local youth poured in from the streets to dance to folk music. It felt real.

We had rested at Dickson for quite some time as more circuit goers began to arrive. Waheed from Portland, Jerry and Bethany from Seattle. They marveled at our pace and heads inflated. We strutted into the forest, self-assured.

Over the next four hours we would be humbled greatly. Weakened by our dependence on the map and our unfamiliarity with the terrain - weakened further by a weather system that moved in. We should have made it to camp by now. The sky was grey, we were rising in elevation, it was colder and starting to turn wet. We passed the bridge on the map, we should have been there already.

There were two bridges on the map and we crossed five. There was no way to tell just how far we were from Campamento Los Perros. We hadn't seen a single soul. The terrain turned to rock. Sleet was now coming at us sideways. We had every layer on and were starting to soak through with cold.

We kept pushing though and after two more mounds of rubble, I saw two figures in the distance. These lunatics were leaving Los Perros on their way to Dickson in the middle of what, for me, was armageddon. But I was grateful for their lunacy. They told us we were indeed on the right course, that camp wasn't much further, don't worry.

We stumbled into camp, what could have been an outpost on Mars or Tibet or post-apocalyptic anywhere. Everything was wet. People scuttled from their tents to this green smoking hut.

We set up everything, settled with the park ranger, bought two chocolate bars, and made our way to the hut. We were in the bar scene in Star Wars, minus the funky space music. The room was full of all sorts of people - none of them clean. We made our way to the wood stove and choked ourselves with chocolate. Nearly every other cooking shelter in the park had been a cramped three walled structure - this was luxury!

We stayed there till our bones smelled like smoke - chatting with those that would tackle the Pass the next day and those who had already made it. Sharing information and hopeful expressions about the weather. Grateful to sit and be warm, but exhausted from the hardest day of the trip - we collapsed in our bags with the promise of an early morning and hope for good weather.

1 comment:

  1. "Over the next four hours we would be humbled greatly."

    well put.

    that was a long, hard day. so glad we were able to share our stories with you in the smokehouse/hut that night.