Friday, January 14, 2011

My Dogs Are Barking - The Tale of the Supertrek (Part 2 of 2)

Continued from Part 1.

The wall of the Piedras Blancas Glacier.
Thankfully, we denied Bern's request to "check it out"
since it was another two hours walking (each way!)
With some envy I watched as the girls turned away from the Fitz Roy and back to town.  To a hearty meal.  To a cold beer.  To the end of the “day” hike.  But, with my pride intact, I caught up with Ted and Bern whose new pace left me only slightly out of breath.*  The initial portion of the Fitz Roy hike was nice.  Nice and flat.  We crossed creeks on rustic wooden bridges, walked through more forest dappled in (very) late afternoon light, and had excellent views of the massive glacier wall.

The manageable grade of the initial portion of the Fitz Roy walk, however, soon came to end.  And the gentle dirt path that we had followed for the previous 7 hours (yes, 7 hours) turned upwards in a mean and nasty way.  Before us were thousands of rough-hewn, slick and muddy rock steps.  This was most definitely not the “tourist trail.”  Except for the fact that there was a fairly steady stream of older and less-fit (in appearance at least) hikers descending from the summit!  I wrongly concluded that based on the appearance and number of people passing us that the hike up could not be that bad.

Within the first 50 steps my left foot and leg began to hurt.  Failing to complete even the first 1% of the hike without having some pain was a bad sign.  Also within this very short distance Ted and Bern had pulled ahead, such that their amicable (and distracting) chattering was inaudible, leaving me with only my own inner dialogue.  And the steps went on, and on, and on.  For about an hour the conversation in my head went something like this:

DSM: Step
DSM: Step
DSM: it’s probably not that much further, look at these old people happily bounding down
DSM: Step.  C’mon Dave, you have to make sure that you foot clears the front of the step.  It really hurts when you smash your toe into the rock because you couldn’t lift your leg high enough. 
DSM: Step
DSM: crap, I hate my life
DSM: but look at this scenery, it's spectacular
DSM: crap, should I just turn around
DSM: Step
DSM: It is too soon to ask these people how much further?
DSM: Step
DSM: Hiking is the dumbest thing ever.  They should put in a chairlift.  I never want to hike again.
DSM: Step

And so it went minute after endless minute.

After an hour of the worst stair-climbing experience of my life we reached the “top”.  I say “top” because we actually reached the bottom of the beginning of the actual climb of the Fitz Roy.  Our summit was in fact, the base camp for those who (insanely) push on to attempt to climb the actual rock spire of the Fitz Roy.  I figure we will do it next time we pass through El Chalten.

Wait until you see what exactly these guys are climbing
From this vantage point we could see much of the hiking we had done that day – including Lagos Madre y Hija whose warm rock beach massaged me hours earlier.  We had climbed a lot.
Lago Madre & Hija from above
The view however, was awesome.  Breathtakingly awesome.  Though there is a distinct possibility the hour-long rock scramble to the top left me breathless.

The Fitz Roy gleaming in the sun.
Those climbers in the earlier photo had walked around the lake and were heading up that giant snow field. 

At the top there are two lakes, the frozen lake (which is white) and the blue lake (which is blue).  We drank in the view (because we had finished all of our water), ate whatever of the snacks we had left (I contemplated eating the entire apple, core and all), and took some photos. 

Berm, Dave, and Ted - "summitted" the Fitz Roy with a Supertrek.
Ted & Dave.
Ted: This is an incredible view.
Dave (in the Great White Onesie): Thinking how much the walk down is going to suck.

A short walk took us to a better view of the Blue Lake.  Mostly, I was just glad that we had yet begun the descent and subsequent 2-3 hour walk back home.  It was not going to be pretty.

The Blue lake.

Inevitably, we began the long slog home.  With each passing step the pain in both of my feet, and my knees, and my legs got worse and worse.  Each step left me with this impossible choice: do I fight through the pain in my thighs and ease my foot into the next step, or do I simply let my foot fall, and endure the pain when it crashed into the ground.  Needless to say, these were not my most graceful moments.

The walk back, however, did have some more spectacular views (or as I thought of them, brief respites from the torture that was each step).

View of the Fitz Roy as we heading back to town.
One hour done.  Two hours to go.

The Fitz Roy in the day's last light.
Two hours done.  One more to go.

There is not much to say about the walk home, except it was horrible.  Without Jesse to complain to, and needing to maintain some semblance of manliness (and, of course, we couldn’t talk about sports) I soldiered on, thinking for sure I had multiple stress factures in both of my feet and wondering just where I would convalense for a few weeks to recover.  Actually, my first thought was Mendoza, where I pictured myself laying on a comfy couch or daybed and having Jesse bring me delicious wine and huge steaks for weeks on end.  These daydreams ended abruptly each time I dropped my foot onto the hard ground.  Such a shame.

Two hours later, and multiple rest stops, adding additional socks for foot padding, and thinking regularly (OK, non-stop, except for the Mendoza daydream) about the hearty stew, cold beers, and long bath that were awaiting me back in town, we finally made it to the trail head.

We (or I) may not have been the pretty sight, but boy was I glad to be back.  Or least only 1 KM away from the bar! 

My face for the camera.
In reality

It was worth fighting through the pain for one more smile.

"Successful" Supertrekkers - whatever that means. 
As I stumbled into the Cervezaria, the beers tasted so sweet, and the locro was delicious.  Having re-fueled, I steeled myself for the walk home, and after peeling off all the layers, including the great white onesie, sat in the tub and let the hot shower rain on me for more than 30 minutes.  Best shower of life.  Thankfully, our hotel was super clean, but I think I would have sat in almost any tub, the warm water felt so good.

The next day, most shockingly, I didn’t feel that bad.  That, however, did not stop me from arranging a number of alternative medical treatments, including a full body massage from a man called Luis (which was excellent) and some targeted accupunture from our friend Bern.

Thanks Bern!

I was walking normally again in just a few short days.

If you go to El Chalten, and you should, think about doing the Cerro Torre trek and Fitz Roy Trek on separate days.  It will certainly make the visit more enjoyable.  If you have three days a nice way to break up the longer hikes (4-5 hours) is a the Mirador de los Condors y Aguilas which starts at the Park Ranger office and heads away from the peaks, giving excellent panoramic views.  Its windy!

The Fitz Roy, and just a few days earlier, we had walked to the base of it

Food & Drink
The Chocolateria.  Go there.  Good coffee.  Great chocolate brownie.  Even better apple tart.  One of the few coffee shops with a picture perfect view of the mountains – try to sit at the large table upstairs.

The combination of the apple tart and the view from the 2nd floor window cannot be beat.
La Tapera – this was our best meal in El Chalten.  All the dishes were delicious, and the restaurant itself is very cute with a large fireplace in the center.  Highly recommended.

La Cerveceria – decent home-brewed beers.  The locro was very good.  One of the few places in Argentina whose hot sauce was in fact hot.

We stayed at Paradiso Hotel, it was very clean, had a superb shower and bath, but the owner/manager Henry was not particularly friendly.

* Note to those I ski with – I now understand what it’s like when we are skiing together and as soon as the slowest person reaches the group I cheerfully question, “ready to go?”.

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