December 8, 2008

Wilderness with Teeth

This past week I joined the Cerro Castillo Citizen´s Expedition for a 5-day traverse set to integrate into Sendero de Chile, a national project linking trails its 8,500km stretch.

day I
We set off on a new path only known to Escuela de Guias. A steep, sandy traverse threatens to pitch me into the void. Somehow I dig in my toenails, like a cat on a tightrope, and make it across. Footprints of huemul, Chile´s endagered Andean deer, are everywhere.

The toll: two hikers with debilitating food poisoning from the previous night (the lox?), one guide slips pack first into the river, a few guides and guests wrangle with a full tripod setup (the topographer didn´t interpret work in terrain literally).

day II
¨Aqui me quedo,¨ says the Topographer, and we´ve only hiked for 2 hours. It´s impossible to get him to resist the tendency to flop on his back, and harder to get him back on his feet, as he scrambles like an overturned beetle.

We reach an alpine meadow bordering a snowy pass. Wildflowers peep through the tundra, water trickles underfoot. No one heeds the Topographer. We arrive at camp 7 hours later.

day III
A day for foot repair. A stray dog at the camp receives ham bones, lentils and oatmeal, he must have been starving. We day hike to Glaciar el Peñon but it´s receded so far it´s no longer a day trip.

day IV
The dog turns back at the pass. Every man, woman and mongrel for his/herself. When someone breaks out the horse jerky, I even try it. Stringy. Hard to forget.

We nose up toward the creased blue glacier sitting under Cerro Castillo´s cathedral spires. It releases a curtain of meltwater over cliffs, bubbling into the stream at our feet.

¨The Castle,¨ as it´s named, must be Chilean Patagonia´s most iconic peak, though it is seldom approached and only climbed by experts. We debate Sendero de Chile´s vision for lodgings, including one right in this priviledged spot.

day V
Over the course of the hike we´ve only run into three other hikers, all carrying the guide I´m updating. They have alternately told me that it´s exactly on the money and that the directions are completely unclear.

There´s work to do, if not in writing than in perceiving, including on my own behalf. Outside Torres del Paine, Patagonian trails are another beast: scarcely marked, pocked with rivers without bridges and passes without footprints. For now, Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo has only three park rangers to cover its 200,000 hectares.

In this torrential wilderness, any reception of infrastructure, with all of its blessings and curses, will be bittersweet. Yet memories of a wilder Cerro Castillo (like horse jerky) will be hard to forget.


Jenny Daly said...

Hello, my name is Jenny, I was one of the 3 hikers also on the trail.
Let me start by saying, it is a beautiful place, it really is. We were a bit shocked at first by the group of about 20 ahead of us on the trail. It is supposed to be very isolated and not busy there. But this group was actually fun to have around, and helpfull too, which is why we let them go over the pass and through the snow ahead of us, so we wouldn´t get lost or stuck.

As for the trail in the L.P., Carolyns trip left us on our day 3 and she got to miss the worst hiking I have ever done, a 750 m or so descend over a scree and loose rock slope that had me in tears because it was soo steep. The other hiker (apart from my boyfriend, who has climbed mountains and has no problem with scree slopes, but has to admit that that part was the second hardest hiking trail he has done, especially because it is so long and never can be done in 30 to 45 minutes, like the book says) was an Australian girl who got lost and the day took her 12 hours and she also had a horrible day.

I will write Carolyn in person and inform where I think the book is not all correct at the moment. But mostly it should include that day 3 is dangerous and horrible, but the rest is truely beautiful.

We are having a great time in Bariloche now and trying to stay away from those biting flies there have here too. Good luck with the writing, and I will e-mail more details later. Take care, Jenny & Jeroen from Holland.

WildBlueYonder said...

It's really good to hear from you guys! Send me your email, I have a fantastic photo of you two on Pen~on Pass. Good luck with the tabanos~