Patagonia travelogue 2009: hiking fitz roy 4

Day 7, in which we just try to find our way.

Wake. Its all business now. I track our way back to where we thought the trail split. Stay on it. Look for a proper signed junction. Find it. Except the sign has a big NO scratched near the arrow pointing in our intended direction. Nothing is going to be easy today.

We go past the junction to see if there is another junction. No, we hit the roaring Rio Electrico. We double back. Take a compass bearing. The NO trail is right after all. We walk as described in my book’s painfully terse description of the route, thru “the boulders, the regenerating nerre trees, over tributaries of the rio electrico, swinging northwest”. I can see what the errant rock markers were trying to show us yesterday; there is a bit of indirectness in this path that could be shortcutted.

We reach the edge of the valley. The trail enters a forest, ascending a hill, then down it. And then the trail. hits. a. swamp. And disappears. It takes us 30 min to pick our steps and move 30 feet. Is this actually the path, or did I, a poor man’s Legolas, lose the trail again? We backtrack– is this getting repetitive for you, because it was a basket of delights for mel and i at the time– to find a better way. There is none. We bully our way through the swamp, branches swinging in our faces, thwacking our packs, each step a muddy threat.

We reach an edge of solid ground, there is a hill, I take off my pack and climb the near sheer rock for a vantage point. I see: the imminent edge of this swamp! A river! A red roofed Hosteria! A road! The rush of adventuring and discovering and problem solving has me now in high spirits. As for Mel, well, Mel is still walking behind me, so that’s a positive. This is a sample exchange:

Crab: Mel? You still with me? You’ve been awfully quiet.
Mel: i’m okay. i just feel like I’ve been battered, beaten and–
Crab: DO YOU HEAR THAT! I HEAR RUNNING WATER! A river must be over this hill! WAZOOO!

We crawl under another yet wire fence. Another impassable river. Too far for a log. Too deep for a wade. Stymied by banal features of geography. Pathetic. My (remaining useful) eye spies a road bridge in the distance. Back under the wire. More trespassing. We finally reach the road and the bridge. 2pm. Still time to walk the 3 hrs back to town, and make our 6pm bus.

But lo– a beat-up toyota charges down the road. We flag it down by standing directly in the middle of the road. We politely tell the Argentinian couple that they will be driving us into town even if they were originally just driving thru the countryside quaintly taking photos of the autumn foliage. Thanks.

Luis and Mariella split their year between El Chaltén and Bariloche. He is a guide in this region. Navigating the unpaved Rua 23 while mariella feeds him sips of mate she refills from a thermos, Luis fills us in: our trail is notoriously poorly marked; our “swamp” is a normal trail that was flooded by the recent 30-hour rain; that in fact rain like that is typical 70% of the time in April; that the red foliage only happens during a two week window out of the whole year. In other words, he neatly summarizes our trek as, despite my grumblings here, a combination of inevitability and good fortune.

We reach El chalten in no time; eat a hearty meal at Rancho Grande. 3 hr bus back to El Calafate, smelling like god knows what. Sign posted on the bus: “Please do not remove your hiking boots. Gracias!”

Back in El Calafate. We reach our hostel for 2 nights, the America Del Sur, and it is a magical pinwheel of color, laughter, and good vibes. As soon as I walk in: “Hola! You must be [Crab]. My name is Manuela! Welcome!”. Manuela is, like all front desk women here, adorably gorgeous, and has perfected the art of standing tall, with a gentle curve in her back, tilting her chin downward, while looking at you, full eyed, using long sh shounds, and making you stutter out whatever it was that was on your mind, oh was it Marry Me?

The lobby is buzzing with typical backpacker fare. Hellos, Where are you froms, Where did you gos. Some are picking over hostel-hosted all you can asado feast. A big guy waves at me, it’s Paul from Day 4/5, who also got rained on around fitz Roy. He is full of wine, and gregarious. Those are his exact words to me.

There are some birds here. One in particular is statuesque and model pretty, and is being thoroughly chatted over, alone, in the Chill Out loft area by a highly scruffy argentinian who is the epitome of hostel charm. I cluck to myself, note my mental state, and go check my email.

We get our first showers in days. Mel is lavishing a little too much love on sleeping on a mattress. Rest at last. Trek over.

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