February 19, 2004

Argentina flagToday we could actually sleep in, which was nice for a change. The chimangos started screeching at each other around 7 am, but we ignored them and slept until around 8:30 am. We got up to blue sky without a cloud to be seen. We had already decided to hike today, so our destination was decided—El Dedal (“The Thimble”).

We bought our hot water and cooked up our oatmeal and hot chocolate for breakfast. Then we got ready for our hike: we didn’t have a daypack, so carrying spare clothes and lunch was a bit complicated. But we had a sort of black suitcase that could fold up into a shoulder bag, so that worked out all right.

The park rules said we had to register for our hike, and be on the trail by 10 am. So we showed up at the information centre to register, and the park ranger at the desk gave us instructions on how to find the trail. These directions were nothing like the directions in our guidebook, but we assumed his information was more accurate and followed it. Initially the trail followed the Arroyo Cascada trail, but we followed the road from its trailhead instead, having misunderstood the instructions. Once we realized our mistake we backtracked and started up the Arroyo Cascada trail, which soon turned into the road that was the correct one for the instructions.

After about half an hour we came to the trail junction and headed up the El Dedal trail. It climbed steadily, taking us through dense thickets of bamboo mixed with alerces and other species of tree. We were lucky that it was shady, so the temperature wasn’t too hot. The colihue bamboo was home to the Chucao, a small bird with a loud call that looks a lot like a European Robin. It doesn’t seem to be afraid of people, either, as we could stand on the trail and have one hop up to within a couple of metres of us.

We pressed on up the trail, which went up the ridge with no turns. All of a sudden, we found a horse in front of us! The trail was too narrow for us to pass him, and he seemed to be as nervous of us as we were of him. So he decided to be our trail guide, and led off up the hill. The view of the horse’s rear end wasn’t too exciting, but the smell of the gases that continuously leaked out it definitely wasn’t the experience we had been expecting.

The horse led us up the trail for about 30 minutes before something spooked him and he charged past us down the trail. This was satisfactory to both us and the horse. We continued up the trail, which climbed continually through the lenga forest, until we came to the top of a ridge. This led up to another ridge, and we repeated this scenario several times until finally we reached a series of rocky outcrops that led us north towards El Dedal. It was a bit tricky scrambling over them, and we couldn’t really see anything that looked like a thimble. But finally we scrambled up a steep slope to a saddle, where the trail didn’t go along any more, with a black rocky lump on top. This must have been El Dedal, as there was a sign in the saddle that said “Descensio”.

We sat in the lee of the black rocky lump and ate our lunch, since by this time it was after 1:30 pm, while watching the condors swoop past.

We decided not to chance following the “Descensio” trail, which headed down the other side of the saddle, although we suspected it was the route described in our guidebook. Instead we opted to go back the way we had come. However it turned out to be rather difficult to follow the trail back over the outcrops, because the painted marks on the rocks were all facing away from us now. It took over an hour of careful backtracking before we found the trail going down the ridge. At one point we were talking to each other about the potential routes down when somebody said “hello” to us. It turned out that he was from Winnipeg, so we chatted with him for a while before continuing.

From here on the trail was obvious, and it was clear sailing going down. We met the horse again near the bottom of the El Dedal trail, and he led us down to its junction with the Arroyo Cascada trail, where there was plenty of room for us to pass him. We knew there was only about 30 minutes of hiking down to the administration centre from there.

From the map and description in our guidebook it appeared that our hike had included 1100 metres of elevation gain. It had been a long time since we did a hike with so much climbing, and we were surprised not to be more tired.

Back in the town site we noticed several kids were collecting pehuén (Araucaria or monkey-puzzle tree) nuts, so we asked the ranger at the desk in the administration building what to do with them. She knew a bit of English, so she explained that you boil them for half an hour, then remove the skin and either toast them or eat them raw.

Back at the campground we both had showers, just in time since rush hour at the shower block started right after we finished. We also stopped in at the little campground store and bought some buns for our dinner, and treated ourselves to ice cream bars. We bought our hot water and had our dinner, which was on the whole pretty good because of the buns we had bought. After cleaning up we walked over to the supermercado to buy pehuén nuts, one bag for one peso. On the way back we walked up to take some pictures of the row of pehuen trees and their cones. We heard a bird scrabbling in the branches, which turned out to be a Black-throated Huet-huet.

We were both a bit tired from the hike, so we went to bed as soon as it got dark, around 10 pm.

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