On the second day it's snowing above treeline. Pituto the dog steps tentatively into this new frontier of sharp scree and thick mists. His caution is hardly surprising. Few landholders get above the treeline, never mind a ragged mutt saved from starving on a city corner on the Escobars' last outing to civilization.
We traverse a cirque counter-clockwise to the glacier, picking through the boulders. Clouds slip around us, giving flirty glimpses of high snowfields, a silver lagoon and the ribbon of a river below us. The valley (not to be named here) of dense forest bears not one human mark, no trail or clearing. It is as virgin as when it was born (though you could argue that, while glaciers recede, the world continues to be born).
Pituto shivers. Tara slips my fleece socks over her hands--she's forgotten her gloves and the air is ice. I ask Lolo the names of things. Disappointment Peak. Laguna de los Visiones. They seem apt.
I pause. "Who named these, Lolo?"
He smiles. Of course. Who else?
By the campfire the night before, he had described his childhood in poverty, the years they lost all their livestock in freak blizzards, when he had scabies and no medicine, when they survived on little more than bread and maté. There were times, he said, when he hated this place, when all he wanted was to escape it.
But somehow he survived those times and changed gears. His steep-sloped ranch was ill-suited to pasturing. Now with the handful of guests that come yearly, Lolo has managed a modest income from guiding others around his mountain refuge.
It occurs to me what a rarity we've found, here above Chile's southern forests. A whole world unto itself, one man's for now, named and gently nurtured. One man's wilderness.
But it's also grey as an old hound, worn and damp. We approach the glowing blue underbelly to see water shoot out, gushing like an open hydrant. While it is the end of summer and melting is expected, the dripping wetness and the fast flow seem alarming.
Lolo's glacier has receded seven meters since he first saw it. It worries him. Each time he tells someone this, he studies their face. As if he could find some answer there.
It snows harder and we lunch under the eave of a rock on hard bread, salami and a thermos of coffee. Pituto stays warm hunting peanuts in the rubble. When the mist folds in close around us I ask if he's had these conditions before (the question really: can you find your way out?)
Not to worry, he says. And I believe him.