Firstly let me apologise for the many typo’s and errors in spelling and or grammar. Whilst I am usually somewhat of a perfectionist in regards to correspondence etc I am typing this on a bluetooth keyboard often late at night or on a moving bus so I just want to get the blogs out there for you all to read. Secondly, if you have only just joined the blog and read Time to Tango before arriving at this entry, I beseech you to scroll down, if not to the beginning at least to two entries back to get some context as to where we are now. Finally if you are enjoying the read then please like, follow and share.
Okay now as you will recall yesterday was somewhat of a long day. We were beyond tired and sore upon returning to Ecocamp. I managed a quick shower before dinner so that i could rub voltaren in some of the more tender spots on my feet and legs. Thank heavens those darn blisters had retreated! Anyway down at the dining tent we were to choose our option for the following day. Remember, I was eager to do the hardest hike in the park from the beginning – the Mirador los Torres. 22 kilometre round trip, ascending and descending along the way and ascending rapidly in the last 2 kilometres.
After the bus back from the French Valley I informed Adriane that if I could not physically undertake the trip to the Mirador I would not feel bad as the French Valley hike was without a doubt a challenging achievement. I was aching, I was tired – frankly I was exhausted. Husband and I discussed the possibility of taking the easy option. We catch a bus, take a gentle stroll through some native vegetation and along a lake or something and then view the towers from the comfort of a barbeque spot on blue lake. What then was I thinking when I sat down to dinner and encouraged Ginger to take the hike? I would be slower than her so she need not worry about holding anyone back! Honestly am I insane? Husband was happy to follow me whatever the choice as it was my plotting and scheming that had brought us to this god forsaken place! I could barely get out of my seat – how could I possibly back up for 22 kilometres on steep terrain in the conditions we had encountered over the last few days? The only thing I can say is that I had in mind that if I awoke on the morrow unable to move I would not and indeed could not go on and the decision would be made for me.
As it happens I awoke a little worse for wear but not too bad all things being considered. Perhaps the stairs in Valparaiso had prepared me better than I had thought. I left husband to sleep in and went off to yoga for some stretching. It was here that I discovered a rather sharp pain above my right knee whenever I tried to bend it. This is not the knee that I had had surgery on to realign the kneecap last year. I know you are thinking thats it – shows over you can all go home. But again some hidden level of insanity drove me on. After breakfast Diego provided me with a knee brace just in case and I put strapping tape everywhere that I thought might need some extra help. The twisted ankle had not caused too much trouble, the blisters were a fading memory but the knees were keen to show who was boss. I am not an old woman so I can only assume the knees obtained much of their deterioration during my youth when dancing all night every night was an important part of life – I should clarify that this was not professional dancing but social dancing to some of the best bands around and at discos where nutbush city limits was a good stretch for the knees. Oh well – they were not going to get the better of me today. We were off!
Out came the pacer poles — my hiking poles of choice – and off came the layers of warmth. Would you believe the sun was out! I cant pretend it was genuinely hot but the wind had died off, the horizontal sleet was nowhere to be seen and we could not have picked a better day for walking the track along the steep ravine that lead into our destination. We had a relatively easy walk out of camp and down the hill past the only true hotel in the park. We were glad to be staying where we were- it had character and charm.
Anyway over a bridge or two and then the ascent began. Our favourite guides had chosen the barbeque option with the glass of wine overlooking the towers and the blue lake so we had a new guide named Sarah who was from the States. There is no doubt Sarah was very safety conscious and extremely knowledgable – we were just not sure that she quite got our sense of humour. That was really neither here nor there really as walking up hill in Patagonia did not lend itself to great conversation on our part yet Sarah was clearly able to chatter on and provide us with many interesting stories about the land and its history and she proved to be a great hiking companion for this particular day. Of particular note was the story about the Patagonian bushranger after whom the valley was named Ascencior or something. I was also given the lead role due to the fact that I was clearly the slowest. This provided me with a level of guilt but also a level of motivation to keep up the pace so as not to annoy others. Ginger informed me quite early on that I was actually setting quite a demanding pace (at least in my terms demanding). The Germans decided somewhere around this time to go it alone and sped off in front. I would totally have done the same if I was used to this type of terrain and did not want to linger all day. The nice couple from Victoria, Shane and Tricia and Ginger happily followed along behind. All at times gasping for or complaining about butt muscles or tother! Husband preferred to go at speed and rest whilst we caught up – it all worked well so far.
I guess it seemed like hours before we reached the top and the views all around were spectacular. But reaching the top in these parts is not what it seems – no – you follow the narrow trail around the edge of a fairly steep drop maybe 400 to 500 metres and then you descend before ascending again and descending again. You can see people off in the distance with huge backpacks on and you wonder how on earth you can possibly do this. Something I had not actually mentioned to anyone at this time was that I was also absolutely terrified of the height and frightened I would fall off if someone passed me on the wrong side. Particularly after feeling like I was going to take flight the day before. Thankfully it was the only day we had been there where it wasnt windy. In fact we had come to believe that it was always windy and it would be only a brief period in time where we might not be subjected to such terror so I had this fear of wind always in the back of my mind.
The body was holding up but it was hurting. I had been told that after our stop at the refugio it was a relatively easy walk until the last kilometre where it was a near vertical ascent. This “easy” walk was known as Patagonian flats – but dont let the word “flats” fool you. It was certainly a busier track than the French Valley but it was by no means an easy stroll. I think the Chileans must have a great sense of humour to translate this part of the hike into the words Patagonian flats. It was up and down (but mostly up I think) through streams, across narrow bridges over rocks and beautiful forested areas with tree roots and finally out into a definite windy part at the foot of the mirador where some comedian had decided to place camp ground! Husband kept asking me if I was okay and I know now he was secretly hoping I would turn back. He had a blister forming on his heel due to the fact that his hiking boots had sat in the cupboard for some months back home rather than go out on hikes and get broken in! I think the compeed he put on at one of our stops had given him some reprieve so he too soldiered on valiantly being there to protect me.
So now we could see the mirador (that’s spanish for lookout by the way) well, we could see where it was supposed to be and it felt close. The only problem was that it was a near vertical hike mixed in with a climb to reach it. No dont go home yet – the show still isnt over! I soldiered on with a bloody cough tablet song singing in my head! Up up up. Did I mention it was up? Yes over rocks the odd stream and more rocks. Sarah suggested we may be getting a little too considerate letting everyone pass and that some of them could just wait if that did not say “Con permissio”. Well we were finally out on the bare face of the mountain when I first muttered the words “I think I’m done”. A little of that Patagonian encouragement from Sarah “but you are so close” so I kept moving – then Sarah also said that people need to stop when they know they should. So a few more metres clambering up the rocks and I knew if I went any further I may be staying up there forever as my knees would not allow me to come back down this rather verticle hike! I also knew that the 10 kilometres or so back were going to be pretty darn tough anyway and even though there were horses at the refugio, I had been thrown and dragged as a child and was terrified of horse riding. The fact that we had at one stage kept a Welsh Mountain pony that our kids rode had never encouraged me to lose that fear.
So husband immediately agreed to accompany me down the mountain and we were to wait for the team back at the refugio. We sat for a short while and Timotie the French photographer who had accompanied us on day one with Diego and Adriana arrived. He had been hoping to catch us up the top. He was a little sad for us because we were so close but seemed to understand the dilemma as he bid farewell and descended at great pace. I have to say I was glad I did not take one step further because every step down from this point was excruciating. But with hiking poles to lean on, the odd tree to grab for support and the man of my dreams to catch me I was destined to make it back. The alternative was to stay on the mountain and freeze to death – no roads, no air ambulance and no RACQ rescue chopper. The alternative was a tad bleak!
It seemed hours later we arrived at the refugio and I took my boots off and lifted each leg with my hands onto the bench seat to allow them to rest – we still had at least two and half to three hours to go with an extreme downhill at the end. I had no longer put my boots back on when our team arrived from a successful visit to the mirador. Shane had very kindly taken one of my little camera’s for the climb and Ginger confirmed that it was very hard and I was right to turn back when I did. So off we went again! Back up the narrow path following the very steep ravine then down then up then the big down. I was slow. I was slower than moss growing on a garden path. I was careful and I was in pain. But I was laughing. I think i was also going insane – oh no thats right I must have been insane already to have selected this option rather than the barbeque. Strangely I was not even remotely disappointed. Had I not done the French Valley the day before I still dont think I could have done the last 100metres or so as it was so steep. I actually felt quite proud of myself.
Sarah very kindly arranged for the bus to pick us up at the Hotel at the bottom of the descent. By this point I was near crippled. It was very much like I was walking on all fours with my hiking poles extensions of my arms. Dear husband was concerned that I looked so bedraggled and offered more than once to carry my little day pack. I declined on the basis that it was extra weight to hold me down should the wind pick up an want to carry me off to Antartica like Mary Poppins!
Well even the Germans informed me that they are used mountain hikes and this was a hard one. We went to the bar after dinner as it was to be our last night in camp and all of our friends were to be there, including the bus team who had been out at the refugios. Sarah got out her violin and one of the managers played his guitar. I was constantly commended for the effort I had put in especially when people realised I had had knee surgery less than a year ago. I was equally commended for knowing my limits and turning back when I did. Husband was commended for his harmonica playing and the red wine tasted very fine!
I may always be remembered as the one who almost made the Mirador but thats okay with me. I have another badge of honour not dissimilar from Mount Sinai many years ago. A friend and i were to climb it and sleep on top to watch the sunrise – desafortunatemente it was a desert heat wave and Barb got heat stroke and started vomiting half way up so we went back down and slept at the bottom – an equally unique experience I can assure you but I will save that for another day.