February 22, 2004

Argentina flagIt was far too hot last night. We didn’t really need sleeping bags; many people were just sleeping in their clothes on the mattresses without one. Anyway Rosemary woke up at about 6:50 am so we both got up and went outside to photograph sunrise. (Four hours of broken sleep seemed to be plenty.) There was a bright planet—Jupiter—setting behind Filo de la Motte, and by 7:05 am the peak started to turn pink and then became more and more colourful. Sunrise on snow isn’t as spectacular as sunrise on granite, but it wasn’t bad at all.

We packed our packs, mostly, and then went in for breakfast, which was hot chocolate, bread (baked right there at the refugio), and jam. The bread was good and the jam was very good raspberry jam. Outside the film crew was preparing the paragliders for takeoff. We had decided to wait for the condors to show up, so we watched their preparations.

Judy took off on her paraglider about 9:30 am, but had some difficulty in getting lift and soon landed farther down the ridge. She and a crewmember had to carry all the gear back up to the refugio. About 10:20 am a single condor showed up and immediately flew off down the valley. But we didn’t leave yet because the paragliders were taking off again.

About 11 am we decided it was time to get on the trail, so we could get to our destination by dark. We got about 15 minutes down the ridge and could see the paragliders circling with six condors! It was an awesome sight to see. Naturally we stopped and got out the camera and lens so that we could photograph them; hopefully the pictures show more than little black dots this time.

At the refugio we had discovered that the guiding fee to take us the short way across the glacier would be something like 150 pesos each. So we had decided to walk the long way. First of all, then, we had to walk back down the ridge we had climbed yesterday. This was very dusty and hard on our knees. Then when we got near the bottom we had to look carefully for the Paso de los Nubes junction. This is not on the small switchbacks of the trail; it is at the end of one of the large switchbacks that the road makes. So near the bottom we started following the road, and we found the junction with no problem.

Initially the Paso de los Nubes (“Pass of the Clouds”) trail started out nicely. It followed the bank of the pretty Río de los Alerces up its valley. Then after a couple of hours we crossed the river (using a fallen tree) and worked our way across a swamp. From here on things became more difficult. We switchbacked our way up some sections, tramped through muddy and swampy sections, and were generally hot and tired. It was sunny and 30 degrees again, and we would have welcomed some clouds.

It was a 500-metre climb to the pass, and the trail worked its way back and forth across the mountainside. There were several places that looked like a pass, and after a fair amount of downhill we finally came to a sign that claimed to be at the pass. Definitely not the most obvious point on the Pacific-Atlantic divides.

Now we had to do the 500-metre descent from the pass to our destination on the Río Frías. Our guidebook said the trail descended steeply on this side of the pass, and it wasn’t kidding. Our legs were tired and we didn’t want to risk falling, so we plunged carefully down a very steep valley and then over a headwall of stone before finally reaching the campground.

It was now 7 pm and we had been hiking for eight hours. We had covered something like 18 km of trail including 1500 metres of elevation loss and 500 metres of elevation gain, so we were tired and hungry. The campsite was on the Río Frías below the hanging Glaciar Frías. We had been told there was a tent refugio and, sure enough, there it was. It was constructed of bamboo poles laced together and covered with blue plastic tarps, and it looked like we would have the place to ourselves. The kitchen facility was a similar setup, and seemed to be the place where the refugiero’s family stayed as well.

The kitchen was available for a small fee for campers to use, so we went in and made ourselves some soup and hot chocolate. Then we cleaned up and went down to sit by the river, which was in an open area with fuchsias and pampas grass. As it got darker we could see bats flying over, and when it got dark we went to bed. There were no sleeping mats provided, only a blue plastic tarp on the ground, but we slept soundly anyway.

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