Travel Stories

Caping,Calving,and Carving

We managed to escape from the clutches of Cochrane in the afternoon, the usual internal debate of whether to stay for one more beer or to go taking place like it always does on the way out of town. The week ahead looked promising, the maps showing a good trail the whole way, no roads, and no major obstacles that we’d have to navigate around. We were excited to have a third along. We had met Ross a week earlier while hiking through Cerrro Castillo National Park, he was the very first gringo (along with his hiking buddy Thatcher) that we had met backpacking on his own in over 610 days of hiking. He had decided to join us for the section and we were stoked to have someone else to talk to, even if for only a week. As we left town it quickly became clear that in the Chilean government’s race to show the rest of the world how advanced it is, they have built yet another new road where only trail had existed before. Reluctantly, and without much choice in the matter, we followed it hoping that maybe it wasn’t yet complete, that we would still have the majority of a week to hike in nature. Twenty kilometres or so later, directly across from the San Lorenzo glacier and icefall, the largest peak, and one of the most spectacular in Patagonia, the military stopped their placement of dynamite and turned off the engines as we walked by. The road had ended, leaving the valley virgin for now. We realized that we may be the last gringos to have the privilege to walk through the valley before the new Carrertera Austral destroys it. Seems that the other new Carrertera Austral was not good enough, and that they need a second one to… well I don’t really know why, neither did anyone building it. The building goes on none-the-less. Upset, and cursing the advancement project, we made our way further up the valley. Soon, the sounds of bulldozers and drilling were far below and we began to realize exactly how lucky we were to be there before the destruction. It was impossible to move more than a hundred steps before having to stop and appreciate what was around. On this trip, change has been the one constant, often within the course of a day as we move east to west or from elevation to the depths of the valleys below we move from glaciers to jungles. The change that we were experiencing as we moved south through the Lorenzo Valley was a more important one. Now looking around to the peaks above us, seemingly every single one was covered in the blue ice of glaciers. Have we really come this far? It is hard to believe that we have walked from the equator to the line that means everything to the south is glaciated; it was a good feeling, one that makes us feel close to the end, a good motivator if you will. Throughout that week with Ross along for the ride, as we trudged our way through knee-deep flooded trails, through overflowing rivers, through mud, and overgrown prickers on the trails, ice and water continued to assert its grip on the land around us until by the end of the week not a single peak was without a crevassed mass of ice carving the top of it.

In this past month and a half, walking through glacially-carved lands, there have been several ups and downs. Near the beginning of it, Deia and I were looking at another sight, one that in our heads we knew should be mind-blowing, one that we knew would have moved us to tears if we had been dropped in that spot 21 months ago. It didn’t move us to tears, in fact, aside from just knowing that it was really beautiful, there was really very little impact that place had on either of us. We talked about it, wondering if we had simply seen too much, developed a tolerance against the feelings that make hiking so special. After what has now been 21 months of solid walking, solid awe at what we have been experiencing, we were beginning to think that we could be awed no more. For me that though was a bit scary, would I ever feel like I need to hike again? Would time away make it that inspiring to see a peak again? These are not thoughts someone who wants to make a career of hiking can have, it is notokay. We talked a lot about how we are both done, ready to finish, wanting to be in other places, with friends, with family, ready to close this chapter. It’s not that we don’t love the hike, not that we are fed up, not that we weren’t extremely excited for the promise of what was ahead, just that we were ready, spent, tired of struggling every day, and missing home a lot. We have been in Patagonia, the combined region of Southern Chile and Argentina, for more than three months now. We have been impressed with the pristine natural beauty that has been around us all the while, and until this past section, it was hard to apreciate how far we have really come, that we have arrived in a land that we have been walking towards for so long now. Patagonia had been amazing, still, it hadn’t yet captured our hearts. The desire to finish began to outweigh the drive to go on. It became harder to get up everyday and the feeling that this was more of a job than an experience was strong and becoming unbearable.It is often easy, as we are walking, to think back to hikes we have done earlier on. The detail of what we can remember about each and every day over the last two years is pretty incredible. I remember that tree that we ate lunch by, what I ate by it even. If you have been hiking, you know what I mean, time goes slower, memories are linear. If it has a before and after to go with the memory the human brain retains with an incredible accuracy. I wonder though, in five, ten, or even twenty years, how vivid these memories will be, how long will I actually be able to picture myself back on the same rock, looking at the same ridge, and know that a certain jagged difference makes that spot unique to all others on earth. I am sure that several details will fade, they already have from some hikes that I have done earlier in my life. What I know is that several moments that have passed since that view, since feeling so entirely done, are moments that will stay with me for a lifetime. It has always been amazing to me how quickly emotions, feelings, attitudes can change while hiking. How the littlest thing, the smallest turn of events can get you going again and make it fun. What we have seen in the last month and a half was no small thing, no small change.We left Mancillo late in the day, really without knowing how far it would be until we would get our first views. It had been built up in my head for so long, there was no way that it could really be that spectacular. Chances were that we wouldn’t get clear views anyways, we had heard that it is always shrouded in cloud, that it is rarely without its blanket hiding it from the world. I wasn’t expecting much. We climbed steadily as the sun inched its way closer to the horizon and the shadows grew longer all around. Soon the forest of lenga and ñire was lit just right, that magic light the hour or so before the sun goes away for the evening. The weather was great, maybe we would get a view yet, just maybe we’d be able to see this thing after hearing about it for so incredibly long. I climbed slowly on the dirt track as it wound through the forest, my eyes scanning the ground and following the tiny lizards scurrying about my feet and passing the time by kicking a stone ahead then again and again until it fell to the side of the trail and I was forced to find a new one to play with. Had we actually reached this place that we had read about and listened to tourists talk about for so long now? Was I really about to see something I first heard of in a climbing documentary so long ago and was blown away by even then? I was excited just to be near such a respected mountain despite the doubts of actually being able to see it. I looked up for a second, partially to see where I was headed, partially to see how far it was to the pass. Immediately, I looked back down, as what I had just seen failed to register. Nah, I said to myself, that is impossible. Double-take. Instantaneously, I was on my knees, floored, gasping for breath. Tears flooded my eyes, that thing, wha- wha- what the hell is that? Mt. Fitzroy stands 10,262 feet high, not that big right? Well, when you consider that the sheer granite wall, the longest wall in the world rises 6,401 feet straight up out of the ground, it is huge, the biggest, the gnarliest, and to see it outside of the pictures, right there in front of me was flooring. I turned around to see Deia meandering up the trail behind me, passing the time much as I had without the knowledge of what was ahead of her. She looked up at me, and I think she knew, after all I was on my knees and clearly had been struck down by the force of something mighty. She took a few more steps, and I watched her face change from idle to shocked in a mere second. Laughter filled the air, giggling out loud, we raced towards a clearer view. Out of every mountain I have seen, never has it been this hard to believe that what I was looking at was real. Fitzroy looks like a fairytale, it is a dream. As long as I live I will never forget that first sight of it.” It is often easy, as we are walking, to think back to hikes we have done earlier on. The detail of what we can remember about each and every day over the last two years is pretty incredible. I remember that tree that we ate lunch by, what I ate by it even. If you have been hiking, you know what I mean, time goes slower, memories are linear. If it has a before and after to go with the memory the human brain retains with an incredible accuracy. I wonder though, in five, ten, or even twenty years, how vivid these memories will be, how long will I actually be able to picture myself back on the same rock, looking at the same ridge, and know that a certain jagged difference makes that spot unique to all others on earth. I am sure that several details will fade, they already have from some hikes that I have done earlier in my life. What I know is that several moments that have passed since that view, since feeling so entirely done, are moments that will stay with me for a lifetime. It has always been amazing to me how quickly emotions, feelings, attitudes can change while hiking. How the littlest thing, the smallest turn of events can get you going again and make it fun. What we have seen in the last month and a half was no small thing, no small change.

We left Mancillo late in the day, really without knowing how far it would be until we would get our first views. It had been built up in my head for so long, there was no way that it could really be that spectacular. Chances were that we wouldn’t get clear views anyways, we had heard that it is always shrouded in cloud, that it is rarely without its blanket hiding it from the world. I wasn’t expecting much. We climbed steadily as the sun inched its way closer to the horizon and the shadows grew longer all around. Soon the forest of lenga and ñire was lit just right, that magic light the hour or so before the sun goes away for the evening. The weather was great, maybe we would get a view yet, just maybe we’d be able to see this thing after hearing about it for so incredibly long. I climbed slowly on the dirt track as it wound through the forest, my eyes scanning the ground and following the tiny lizards scurrying about my feet and passing the time by kicking a stone ahead then again and again until it fell to the side of the trail and I was forced to find a new one to play with. Had we actually reached this place that we had read about and listened to tourists talk about for so long now? Was I really about to see something I first heard of in a climbing documentary so long ago and was blown away by even then? I was excited just to be near such a respected mountain despite the doubts of actually being able to see it. I looked up for a second, partially to see where I was headed, partially to see how far it was to the pass. Immediately, I looked back down, as what I had just seen failed to register. Nah, I said to myself, that is impossible. Double-take. Instantaneously, I was on my knees, floored, gasping for breath. Tears flooded my eyes, that thing, wha- wha- what the hell is that? Mt. Fitzroy stands 10,262 feet high, not that big right? Well, when you consider that the sheer granite wall, the longest wall in the world rises 6,401 feet straight up out of the ground, it is huge, the biggest, the gnarliest, and to see it outside of the pictures, right there in front of me was flooring. I turned around to see Deia meandering up the trail behind me, passing the time much as I had without the knowledge of what was ahead of her. She looked up at me, and I think she knew, after all I was on my knees and clearly had been struck down by the force of something mighty. She took a few more steps, and I watched her face change from idle to shocked in a mere second. Laughter filled the air, giggling out loud, we raced towards a clearer view. Out of every mountain I have seen, never has it been this hard to believe that what I was looking at was real. Fitzroy looks like a fairytale, it is a dream. As long as I live I will never forget that first sight of it.

While Fitzroy was certainly special, it was by no means all that we have seen this month that is worth mentioning. The Southern Patagonian Icecap is the third largest continental concentration of ice in the world, Antarctica and Greenland the only ones bigger. It covers a distance of more than 210 miles north to south and covers an area of more than 10,493 square miles. Pouring off of the giant blanket of ice are glaciers, the biggest glaciers in South America. For a long time before we had actually seen the Ice Cap, I was literally dreaming of standing above a sea of ice, looking out for miles over a white forbidden land. I got my wish.

We left the road and began up the Electrico valley. Less people than I expected to see in one of Patagonia’s two main parks. It was an easy stroll taking two hours or less to reach the refúgio. It would be a steep climb from there so we stopped to grab some food and rest at a bit. It was a reminder of how special of a place we were in when in the camp we met John Braggs, a celebrated American climber with many first ascents on his resume. We left the camp and began steeply up. It was but an hour when we found ourselves at the foot of Fitzroy and overlooking the Marconi Glacier flowing off of the Ice sheet. We continued ascending. Soon we were at a small lake at the base of the Fitz, icebergs filled the frigid waters, more importantly we were beginning to crest the horizon of the ice sheet. We continued ascending, now using both hands and feet, as we climbed over loose scree, very loose scree, scree so loose that often the entire area around us would move and begin sliding down the mountain as we skirted to the left or right to avoid being cascaded down the steep face. It had been our goal to see the ice sheet at sunset, with seven hours of daylight, we surely had enough time. Now with only two hours left until we would have to turn around, our arrival on the Cerro Electrico ridge was certainly in doubt. We got to a low col and continued the steady climb upwards, scrambling all the while along a knife edge ridge, until finally we turned around and the vastness spread out before us. To explain what it was like to sit in those mountains, to explain the impossibility of the peaks that surrounded us would be a challenge at best. I think that maybe for the first time I sat there on that edge watching Deia scramble up the knife edge ridge behind me and perhaps for the first time I really understood what I was looking at, how much it really means to be looking at the Ice Cap. I remember a similar moment that I had on the Appalachian Trail, the moment when I actually let myself believe that I may finish what I set out to accomplish so long before. The concept of not doing this anymore is something that really just doesn’t compute in my head. After so many months, so much struggle, it has just become life, I will certainly miss what I have been doing, and yes I am ready to move on, but in that moment looking out over the ice field, there is The list goes on and on, constantly this section has wowed us, constantly we are moved, overcome with emotion, and appreciative to be in a place so spectacular, still so pristine, so wild. Patagonia is such a special place unlike any other on earth.The granite spires rising from what seems to be every peak, the glaciers so impossible to comprehend the mass of. Sitting now with just over 340 miles (crow) to go, it still has not even begun to sink in that we are going to be finishing this quest in just under five weeks (assuming all goes well). For so long this has been our struggle, our goal, our everything.What next? As you might imagine we have been talking a lot about the next step, the next move. At this point, we haven’t come up with any concrete plans.There are a lot of people we want to visit, a lot of catching up we want to do. We will be leading a trip or two this summer, so, if you or anyone you know wants to go backpacking with us, email us at thediscoveryguides@gmail.com In addition we look forward to speaking at various hiker gatherings, schools, tradeshows, etc. For now we will remain focused on the task at hand. We will be crossing into Tierra Del Fuego in just under two weeks. We are filled with hope of seeing penguins, still keeping our fingers crossed for a puma in daylight, and very much looking forward to reaching the lighthouse at Cabo San Pio, the southern-most point of Tierra Del Fuego. no feeling that could make what we have been doing more worth it and nothing more symbolic of how far we have really come.

The list goes on and on, constantly this section has wowed us, constantly we are moved, overcome with emotion, and appreciative to be in a place so spectacular, still so pristine, so wild. Patagonia is such a special place unlike any other on earth. The granite spires rising from what seems to be every peak, the glaciers so impossible to comprehend the mass of. Sitting now with just over 340 miles (crow) to go, it still has not even begun to sink in that we are going to be finishing this quest in just under five weeks (assuming all goes well). For so long this has been our struggle, our goal, our everything. What next? As you might imagine we have been talking a lot about the next step, the next move. At this point, we haven’t come up with any concrete plans. There are a lot of people we want to visit, a lot of catching up we want to do. We will be leading a trip or two this summer, so, if you or anyone you know wants to go backpacking with us, email us at thediscoveryguides@gmail.com In addition we look forward to speaking at various hiker gatherings, schools, tradeshows, etc. For now we will remain focused on the task at hand. We will be crossing into Tierra Del Fuego in just under two weeks. We are filled with hope of seeing penguins, still keeping our fingers crossed for a puma in daylight, and very much looking forward to reaching the lighthouse at Cabo San Pio, the southern-most point of Tierra Del Fuego. The next time we write, we will be done with this chapter, a concept that although I still cannot comprehend, I think I am ready for.

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Gregg Treinish