We started our week with a little jaunt up and around the Fitz Roy range and along glaciers. This jaunt was an arduous, nine hour trek up over tripping boulders, through grasping trees and along sucking snow-covered mud. I have found out that I have four-hour knees, for that was when my knees reminded me that I am an old broad with six knee surgeries and "What was I thinking!" I definitely have a daft side to my character.
The trek was in four parts: an up and down hike to a base-camp for mountaineers, a frighteningly steep and treacherous climb to Laguna de los Tres and the base of the Fitz Roy range, a winding, yet relatively flat walk across a valley, and finally a knee-grinding, back-stiffening descent into the city of El Chalten. No matter how difficult this trek was, it was made incredible by the phenomenal weather (seeing as we had relentless wind and rain the day before) and the magnificence of the beauty surrounding us.
We stumbled over the crest of our mountain and beheld yet another glacier-fed, turquoise lake. The Laguna de Los Tres leaks into the Laguna Sucia, next to and down below. You could hear the Glaciar Rio Blanco creaking and cracking and groaning as water escapes from underneath. All of this was eclipsed by the visually dominating Fitz Roy and Poincenot spires embracing the glacier.
We carefully made our way back down (with a few new bumps and bruises to prove that I can slip and fall very well) and indulged in a much-needed lunch. Having accomplished the worst of the trek, we looked forward to the several kilometer walk across the sunny valley.
The valley hike was a great reprieve and we found ourselves stopping often and reflecting on how special this place is and how fortunate we are to be there.
Upon our descent and being within sight of El Chalten, we decided to take a very short detour up to a perch of stone so that I could get the above overview picture of El Chalten. No sooner than we broached the top of the boulders when this immense bird flew within 15 feet of our faces (it was just 3 feet or so above the rocks). We were stunned to be looking at an Andean Condor with a wingspan of over 6 feet. It was absolutely majestic in its flight and deserves its reputation for being a great flier. We were so close, that we could see its crested white head and count its feathered "fingertips". Few animals we have seen thus far on our journey caused our hearts to jump and our pulse to race like this condor.
Ironically enough, the owners of the above truck and camper came trundling down the road and we waved them to a stop. Lo and behold, Larry and Marylyn hale from Irvine and they shipped their "Casa de Poppet" to Valparaiso, Chile. "They" include the two of them and their adorable little dog, Poppet, that is quite the traveler. They plan on spending a year driving around South America and we quickly found much in common. Besides being virtually neighbors in California, Larry is from Manchester, England (where my mother was from) and Marylyn's middle name is "Louise". Needless to say, we became fast friends and the next night, Larry and Marylyn stayed alongside of us at Camp Relincho ("Relincho" is the sound a horse makes, or a neigh).
We both headed down to El Calafate (still within the Parque Nacional Los Glaciares) for our visit to the Perito Moreno Glacier, one of the world's few advancing glaciers. This glacier feeds into the Lago Argentino, Argentina's largest single body of water. Between 1917 and as recent as March, 2003, the 60m (180 feet) high glacier has advanced, damming the Brazo Rico (Rico Arm) of Lago Argentino, causing the water to rise. The melting ice below causes a breach under this span and as a result, collapses the glacial arm in an explosion of water. The dangerous calving and collapsing of this glacier has caused 38 deaths in the 20 years they allowed people to walk down the lake level to observe the magnificent glacier. As you can expect, they no longer permit that close access.
(Just to forewarn you, somewhere in this mass of pictures, my primary camera became unruly and hence, I had to use my secondary and rather unpredictable secondary camera. The photo quality may differ between pictures and the photo size will differ).
We spent a couple of hours taking in the awesome beauty of this spectacle and we made good use of the many pathways created for viewing the glacier from several points. Because we arrived in the latter part of the day, most of the tourist buses had vacated and as you can see, we had the glacier to ourselves.
We would just stand there, letting the slight breeze whisper past our ears and this to be interrupted by the frequent grumbling and creaking and rumbling and cracking of the glacier as it inches along on its advancement path. We witnessed several calvings; however, with the immense size and the sheer walls of the glacier, it was impossible to tell where the glacier would spasm and when it did, its evicted ice would plummet into the water in the blink of an eye. All that would be left was a sheet of crumbled powdered ice on top of the water (you can see it in the pictures) and a rather large wave oscillating outward to collide with the shoreline below our perch. Quite the barrage on our senses.
Check this video out...if it works...the sounds are the breeze and the creaking of the glacier... video
In a daze, we left the glacier and headed back down the road a few kilometers to our camp for the night. Because we were visiting Patagonia after their "high" season, we were finding many facilities closed, or in the case of this camp, open, but with no amenities. Fortunately, we had our own "amenities" and to top it off, we were camping with Larry and Marylyn. As it turned out, another camper was nearby, this containing yet two more from the United States, Jaochim (originally from Germany) and Salty, both haling from Oregon. They were fortunate enough to be good friends with a man that lives in the US and rents Westfalias (a Volkswagon camper) out of Buenos Aires. Apparently, the last renters had to leave the vehicle in another city so Jaochim and Salty "reluctantly" volunteered to whisk down to Argentina and take three weeks to bring the vehicle back to Buenos Aires. I think we would all like friends like that!
We only stayed one night near the glacier because we had planned on launching our attack on the Argentine/Chilean border from El Calafate. The six of us went about our business in the small, touristy town and regrouped in front of the fire-pit where, you guessed it, Gerson was presiding over his grill. We introduced the others to the Brazilian way of enjoying a bar-b-que and there were no complaints.
We left for the border and met up with Larry and Marylyn on the Chilean side. We had already agreed to meet at a particular campsite in the Parque Nacional Torres del Paine (Torres del Pie-knee) and we wobbled in a couple of hours later.
Just a side note for those that actually read the pages (and not just look at the pictures), we have received some information on replacing our tires. The very helpful woman at Goodyear located our size of tires through Firestone (we believe she meant Bridgestone as they are the same manufacturer and Firestone does not have our size tire, as Bridgestone does). Anyway, when we asked the price, we were stunned (but not surprised) to find out there seems to have been a combination of a "desperate" (as we are desperate) and a "they are Americans" tax placed on the tires. Why would we think such an awful thing? Well, the cost of the tires installed are over $300 US EACH! Or, over $1,200 for the four tires.
As our luck would prove to have rejoined us (we think it got lost back in Chile), we found a spare (a very used spare) that fit our rim and would be the necessary back-up if we should entertain another flat tire. So, with this stroke of good fortune and the rather embellished price of the tires, we decided to call a few other resources and probably wait until we arrive in Punta Arenas, a duty-tax free port in Southern Chile.