January 28, 2003

Chile flagEarly in the morning, about 3:30 am, the wind picked up speed and was rattling the tent. That’s a good sign, because wind goes with clear skies in this part of the world. Outside the tent, the sky wasn’t quite clear, but the Milky Way was stretched across it and below that was one of the Magellanic Clouds, probably the Large one.

Later, however, when we got up, the sky had clouded over. Since we had 6 hours of hiking, we didn’t have to rush. But since it wasn’t raining yet, we decided to get going.

The trail climbed up over a shoulder—you always start out uphill on the circuit, it seems—and turned towards the west. As we were now on a north-facing slope, there was no tree cover. Instead the ground was covered by tussocky bushes with yellow flowers. Suddenly, as we reached the top of a rise, we were hit by a rain squall. Out came the rain gear, which we struggled to get organized. Then within a couple of minutes the rain stopped and the sun came out, but not for long. Looking ahead we had a beautiful view of the upper Paine valley, with just the top of a rainbow visible.

About noon we stopped for lunch at our halfway point, Campamento Coiron. It was raining lightly so we didn’t spend much time there. There is not much point in waiting for rain to stop in the mountains, because the weather is so unpredictable. So we forged on through the rain, which came and went but never quite stopped. And soon the trail was covered in mud, which wasn’t deep enough to be a big problem but was always there.

We slogged along in low gear; it’s not very comfortable hiking for hours in full rain gear. Fortunately the trail didn’t have any serious climbing, just meandering through the bumps, until we climbed up onto a ridge and suddenly looked down onto Refugio Dickson! A full half-hour early, according to the maps and trail markers, but we weren’t complaining. Except when the trail plunged 50 metres down a muddy chute to the refugio gate, and even then we weren’t complaining much. As we walked across the grassy field to the campground the sun even came out, but only for a moment.

We quickly put up the tent while the weather was still dry. While we were cooking up some soup we noticed a fox behind the refugio, acting strangely. And then a woman came out of the back door and threw some food scraps to it. That explained the presence of the fox and its behaviour, too; it was still nervous with people around.

After the soup we napped awhile, trying to warm up a bit. Our rain jackets had done a good job, but they weren’t quite waterproof enough for the amount of rain we had walked through. Once we were a bit warmer, we cooked some dinner, then went over to the refugio for hot chocolate. Your camping fees entitle you to hot water, which the refugio kitchens always have available in thermoses. So Rosemary learned her first useful Spanish phrase: “agua caliente”.

The refugio was very busy, and we met a pair of Swiss hikers who had just come down from the Paso John Garner. They told us a collection of horror stories about wading through knee-deep mud and having to walk barefoot through an ice-cold river. We weren’t too happy to hear those stories, and hoped they were exaggerations.

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