November 15, 2008

The Things We Carried

Hike 1
near Paso Puyehue, Lakes Region, Chile
44kms, 2 days

Km 0
I was still in the truck, two hours in, when I realized my fatal error. A first for me; I hoped we could still go on. After packing the filter. After pontificating on the horrors of Nescafe. After bragging to Ben, my hiking partner, about those beans I'd gotten fresh from the roaster.

I'd forgotten the coffee.

I didn't tell Ben then. It would be bad for the collective animo (mood).

A storm had taken down tree limbs and branches, turning the easy first hours of the hike arduous with the clearing and dodging of debris. After two hours in a tunnel of thistle and bamboo-like quila, we arrived to the great meadow with views. But the day was socked in. After a long, gentle climb, dodging more debris, we came into a dark forest of tall southern beech. It loomed over us, waving surrender flags of gray-green lichen (barba de viejo). Like a dream.

I got my camera. Wait. Where was that battery I'd charged?

Km 20
Clouds broke open as we climbed the pass. Ben woozy with hunger. We'd eaten the turkey sandwiches, a Luna bar each, some nuts. What else did he expect? I had 8 squares of chocolate. I gave him a quarter of his share, lest mutiny set in.

I'd brought food for two. I hadn't realized I'd just brought food for two small women.

Ben, I confessed, I forgot the coffee.

Whatever, he responded. Already without animo. The trail sign was blown over, frozen and half buried in the snow. I kneeled to read the distance but could not.

Ours were the only footprints on the snowy pass, gateposted by volcanoes, with Argentina over our shoulder and at our feet, sinuous streams that fed the azure lakes below. We retreated to camp low in the forest.

Km 25
instant tomato soup
4 cups couscous* with sage and
one tomato
one onion half
a can of salmon
aged goat cheese

(*the bomb for trekking: light and fast, couscous just needs to boil and sit for 5 minutes, pack in ziplock with spices/salt)

Unlike the coffee, all the dinner ingredients came from one of Chile's supermarket chains.

Upon scraping his plate, Ben retreated to warm his wet feet in the sad, square sleeping bag he'd taken on loan from his girlfriend, another urbanite. It was the kind that usually has a plaid felt lining, very Boy Scout, not very Expeditionary.

I felt for him. Though a great hiker, he had no gear, and Chile was hardly the place to accumulate it. His girlfriend had also loaned him a pack holding 5000 cubic meters, packable as a noodle, with no frame and hardly any cushioning. Instead he had borrowed a small pack of mine, hardly ideal, and some technical but not very roomy clothing.

Next to me in the tent, he looked like one very tired tranny. Was he snoozing or seizing? He ferociously grasped his bag, my pink/black down vest zipped snug. Santiago's city life far behind.

We had just the start I'd expected. Flawed. A bit discombobulated. Still fun. With plenty of lessons for next time.

The next morning we packed up swiftly. Coffeeless. Ben had fought off the cold without having to huddle on me. I think that was a primary concern. His spirits lifted, he cataloged exactly what he'd take on the next expedition. But the trailhead was still far.

Ben ordered an advance on his chocolate squares. The end in sight, I complied.

(photo courtesy of Ben)

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