Wednesday, January 20, 2016

San Martin de Los Andes south to El Chalten, the center of Argentinean Patagonia

San Martin de Los Andes south to El Chalten, the center of Argentinean Patagonia

I started by purchasing groceries for the trip in San Martin. 

The extraordinary picture above captures the rarely, if every, documented escape attempt of the Argentinean carrot.  Some would say this was due to the fact The Beast is way too big for the “Supermercao” parking lot, all 4  wheels on the shopping cart are gimbaled, and to the bumpy sidewalks….but look closely friends,  the carrot has managed to poked through the bag, wiggle under all the other items in the cart, (no doubt encouraged by the squash) and almost  get through the steel bars of the cart !!!!    I submit this was no accident nor coincidence !!!!! 

I can’t believe my luck !!  I meet this person with the most amazing smile, a ukulele, and several CDs of Salsa music.  We can’t talk so we spend the next 4 hours bouncing up and down in our seats to the Salsa music.  I think how Carolyn would love this.

Note the fantastic views of the Lake District through the window.  This is the northern most part of Patagonia.  It is similar to the Pacific Northwest in the United States where I live. but way less people.

Below is my new friend from Brazil I met on the road to El Bolson.  He had a job lined up there in a camp ground and I was able to give his bike a ride in the back of The Beast.  We tried and failed to exchange emails, but I did give him my travel card…. SO PLEASE IF YOU READ PLEASE SEND ME AN email !!!   You are such a great person I want to stay in touch !!!  I will try to go through El Bolson on my way North so please look for the Beast in town someplace.

So I arrive at the campground in Bolson … I drive in and am surrounded by French people in Motor Homes….  I am thinking you must be French to stay there when I met these two with their newly outfitted van who speak English (they are not French but speak it.)   It turns out there are about 12 or so vehicles all traveling together in an organized group arranged by a German outfit….. but you must either speech German or French.   Amazingly none have 4 wheel drive !!!! 

They all seems very prepared and seem to have spent months and maybe years planning their trip… the opposite of my  “well what shall we do today” …  serendipity / spontaneous approach.  I do wish I could be with them when going through Latin America.

They look happy because they are happy together.  They gave me great intel on camping further south.

Here are some of the group.  What a great bunch of people.  They all seem young, especially the 3 crazy ladies on the left.  When I get old I want to be like them J

Got tired of driving so took a nap in the back of The Beast, then woke up and had a nice pie & coffee and this cool little restaurant outside of Bariloche Argentine, with pictures of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid on the wall.  I think the structure might date back to that time (mid 1800's)

After the beautiful lake district the landscape turned to scrub brush and low hills.  If it weren’t for the weird animals running across the road…Guanacos … camel like things and Ostrich like birds…. you might think you were in Eastern Washington (East of Seattle on the dry side of the local mountain range)

Where the road was paved you had to be totally on your game looking out for truck crushing pot holes.  Most of the time I would just drive down the middle of the road and swerve into my lane only when faced with large oncoming trucks.  I would keep the cruise control on 80 K.

Where the road was not paved I could either drive at 40 kilometers per hour over the washboard… or about 4 k/h (walking speed).  I am soooooo tired of driving on crappy dirt roads with jaw jarring washboard…   2 days of boring driving…  no trees… no mountains.... and I broke my CD player.

I saw some really awful accidents.  One time a car passed me and gave The Beast a friendly waive as often happens.  20 minutes later I saw the same car upside down way off the highway with cars and people all around helping and ambulances screaming from town. 

One of the most iconic mountain ranges in the world is the Fitzroy range.  Chalten is the village at the base of the mountain range.  I have seen this skyline in many movies,  and read about it in many magazine articles.  It’s the one place in all of South America I really wanted to see.   Driving The Beast and seeing it slowly appear over the horizon was rather exciting for me like a … like dam this is really happing !!! 

I rolled into Chalten and dropped of  “Olie” my new German friend and his bike.   When we met, Olie was trying the impossible:  pushing his bike 50 kilometers to Chalten against a 50 kilometer per hour head wind (impossible to ride).   When he is not riding his bike on crazy trips, he is working in a German chocolate factory.   Panos, Olie and I had a great diner together.

I just loved Chalten.   Hiking, rock climbing, talking to other travelers.

This is the village of Chalten.  You can see in the picture beyond the town and over a bridge, is the 6 pitch rock face that Panos, Fred, and I climbed.  As we climbed we could look over our shoulders to see the towering peaks of the Fitz Roy range.   

BTY - all my summer cloths are now stored in a bag under the bed.

Here we are having “mate” (grass like tea) with,  (right to left): Panos who I met and climbed with last summer in the Italian alps, two girls we met in town, and Fred from Utah.

They tell me this is a fantastic view of the peaks, but to me it kind of looked like a dirty lake with a dying glacier at it’s end.   This is the problem with Patagonia, the weather is windy, cloudy, and cold.  My friend Panos (and many many other climbers before him) spent 5 + weeks in Chalten, just waiting for the weather to clear for just a few days to allow for a climb….   No luck…. Very frustrating for him and all the other climbers in town.  This is not unusual.

This is in the small cabin that Panos was sharing with some Bulgarian climbers.  These guys, and Panos too, were world class alpinist.  I mean the best of the best… They all had new ropes and gear from their sponsoring companies.  Panos attempted K2 (without oxygen),  Gregor and friend summited Fitzroy (Everest they wouldn’t consider as it’s relatively easy, expensive, and a tourist trap for amateur box checkers).

Rock climbing behind the town of Chalten.   The 6 picth climb was super easy and really fun, but one really needs a 70 meter rope… The 60 meter roap we used made the last 3 feet of the repels “interesting”.

Really nice crack on the last pitch.

I was thrilled when I was asked to join the real alpinist on the hike to their base camp.   Below is the hill we started up.. it turned cloudy as we approached the base of the hill, then as we started up the steep “root pulling hill”, it started to rain hard, after we climbed 2000 feet it started to snow,  and snowed heavily for the next 1000 feet.  Picture this:  in a blizzard that prevented seeing farther that about 20 feet,  soaking wet through to our underwear, cold even though we are working hard going straight up with full packs.   I am extremely tired trying to keep up with these guys.  

Not to dramatize the situation too much, but when we finally arrived at the camp  Brian was shivering uncontrollable.  His hands were only marginally useful, and the new foot of snow had to be packed down by stomping around before the tent could be put up.  If I had not had put the pack cover on at the last minute while packing, everything (sleeping bag and warm cloths) would have been soaking wet and I would have been in real trouble.  He managed to get the tent up,  then put dry cloths on, and climb in the dry sleeping bag.  It would take over an hour to get control over his shivering.   Not really worried, just really focused on what needed to be done.

Every time I woke up I pushed the snow off the tent down the sides… but now the  sides were pushing on each of my shoulders.. very cozy I thought.

After a entertaining night in the tent (don’t ask me how I peed), I awoke the next morning to this splendid view.  Notice the kitchen space dug out at the entrance for the stove.   My boots are up on the snow and framing the mountain.

Too much snow to climb any peaks we decide to climb up to the pass “PO. Del Cuadrado”  This is on the left of the picture below.

am blinded by the bright sunshine and stunned by the views all around.

Here we are on the Del Cuadrado pass looking at the famous Fitz Roy peak.  Panos is on my right and Gregory is on my left.  I was going to take my shirt off but my flab would have ruined the view and likely cause everyone to descend in an uncontrolled manner.

The same day I hike down the mountain and pitch the tent in an idealic spot in the magical Birchwood forest.  I am completely alone and way off the trail…just the sun, warm soft grass, and the birds…  wonderful !!!

The next day I hike back to town with spectacular views popping up through the trees.

Fitz Roy in one of the few moments there are no clouds.  You would think that climbers would be on the mountain in these conditions, but no… when a rope is dropped the wind is so strong the rope goes up not down.

Towards the end of the trail I notice the sign that says the trail is dangerous and should not be used.  Very wise of me to start from the other end where there are no signs.

The reason for the warning sign was that the “trail” crosses a “river” with no bridge.  But the river is really just a small stream and can be crossed by easily hopping over a few boulders.   But above the stream is a lake, and above the lake is a glacier.  The glacier decides every now and then to drop large chucks of ice into the lake, causing large waves in the lake that subsequently create large torrents of water to cascade down the “small stream”.  This would wash away any tourists who happen to be crossing the stream.…..unless of course the tourist is aware of the dangers and takes precautions to watch for such an event and cross quickly with a wary eye upstream.