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Sunday, March 20

Patagonia: 4 days of trekking and a much needed L'Chaim

On Sunday (3/13) Ethan and I left on a 4 day trek through the Patagonia wilderness. However less harrowing than our last adventure we still encountered many obstacles, impressive views, and a small army of Israelis.

Our route consisted of a 37 mile loop that encircled Cerro Huemel in the southern portion of Los Glaciares National Park. A spectacular way to experience much of what this area of Patagonia has to offer: Grassy rolling fields, wind, forests, wind, mountains, glaciers, wind, lakes, an enormous icefield, and windswept passes. If wind hasn't become a theme here than please let me enlighten you, it was WINDY. Well, most of the time anyway.
Our route
Where the green grass grows
Day 1 (5 hours - 10.5 miles) - We departed El Chalten around noon and headed towards our camping destination for the evening, Laguna Toro. The 10.5 mile stretch of mostly easy grassy and forested landscape seemed to 'breeze' by. With our packs being at their heaviest (around 40lbs) we still managed to complete the day in 5 hours. Along the way we met a trio composed of Swiss, Belgian, and Holland nationalities. We were also able to gain a new perspective of Cerro Solo.
Cerro Solo and company
Day 2 (6.5 hours - 7 miles) - I began the day with a scratchy throat. All the previous excitement, mediocre sleep, smattering of hostel germs dragged me into a state of sickness. As unfortunate as this was, I was happy to be hacking it in the wilderness rather than wasting away in a stuffy hostel. Plus, just think of all the tissues (ie toilet paper) I saved by being able to rocket out that excess fluid...

Within a mile from our campsite we prepared for our 2nd tyrolean traverse of the trip. This time over a gushing glacial river cut deep into a rock gorge. 
The disclaimer
Elated to suspend ourselves from the high wire, we prepared our rigging for the occasion. 

Enter Israelis. A group of Israelis who were camped out at Toro last night arrived at the traverse soon after us. Unknown at the time, we would be crossing-paths for the entire rest of our trek. The company out on the trek would be very welcomed as our endeavor wasn't as popular as one might expect. Frankly put, we were the only seven completing the trek within the same itinerary. 

Fred (for lack of my familiarity with Hebrew names and an overall propensity to forget even the easiest of them...) approached me, "Will you help us across?" I respond emphatically, "absolutely." 

Ethan crosses and I prepare the bags to be hulled across (This time there is a rope to get the pulley back and forth!). After, we assist the Israelis in getting hooked up and familiar with the rigging. Three cross the traverse while two others decide to wade their way through the river at a mellower point below the gorge. Upon safely crossing, our newly befriended Israeli brothers rewarded our efforts with a handful of chocolate covered peanuts (bueno!).
A collage of the traverse in play
Capturing the moments

The trail ahead, being just as advertised, lacked consistent markings. In general, we knew where we were heading, referencing the map occasionally. The trick was knowing the easiest way...We definitely didn't know this, with or without said map. The result? Struggle. Trying to avoid extended scree sections and class 5 rock, proved difficult. However, as they say, with great sacrifice comes great reward. The views on top Paso Del Viento (literally- Windy Pass) were incredible!

One of the many glaciers along the trek

Atop Paso Del Viento
In the foreground is massive icefield - one of the largest in the world

Our original intention was to walk out onto the icefield to gain the full experience...Ambitious as it were, we ditched this idea (along with the our trailrunning intentions). I guess I would attribute this change in itinerary mostly due to feeling terrible (sickness), and then probably due to the weight of our packs. Heavy travel over difficult terrain is arduous which is why I generally like to travel light. Unfortunately, that meant that we weren't going to need any of this glacier travel gear that is weighing us down...Oy

Preparing the evening's meal at the Paso Del Viento Refugio
Battening down the hatches
Good night Patagonia
I'll be the first to confirm that the winds in Patagonia are no joke. Luckily, Justin and Jenna spared their tent for the cause so we weren't the least threatened by the wind's wrath...Our neighboring Israelis didn't fair quite so well. Sometime throughout the night they had to perform an emergency measure to save one of their tents from full collapse.  The ol' trekking pole structural reinforcement maneuver.

Day 3 (6 hours - 8.5 miles) - After a fitful night of sleep (thanks wind), we emerged from the tent to discover we're right were we started the night before. With much relief we cook some breakfast, ready our bags, and hit the trail. Today's obstacle is Huemel pass. We were fortunate enough to be endeavoring on a much more emblazoned trail replete with all the wind and more from the day before...My guesstimate had the wind clocked at about 35-45 mph upon our crossing of the pass. 
Selfie video in Huemel wind tunnel
Hold on tight!
The other side? Peaceful.
Icebergs departing their mother glacier on their final journey to liquid H2O
Day 4 (5.5 hours, 11 miles) - Dawn begins to crack. I don the camera and head for the nearest hill. The climate and our lax schedule hasn't afforded us a prime sunrise quite like this mornings. The clouds were expansive and filled with every shade of orange, red, and yellow. The light changes with every moment that passes, endlessly morphing the sky scape. Additionally, this is one of the calmest periods of time we have experienced since leaving El Chalten 4 days prior. Ahhh. Peace...
Sunrise in front
Sunrise in back
Amusing cloud formations
Without much ado, our Israeli-American group readies our gear and step off. It has been great traveling with these chaps. They add comedic relief, good conversation, and Nutella (oh heck yea!) to the collective experience. I learned that every Israeli citizen, once completing secondary school, has to complete an obligatory 3 years of military service in the Israeli army. Once finished most of these will then travel the world for a year with their savings from the army. Hence our five backpacking amigos.
Making our way, as a pack
Composing the perfect photo
The trail on the remaining miles was much similar to the first day; flat and easy going. The one obstacle was our third Tyrolean traverse. The setup was, again, slightly different from the last two. This time we had a pulley leash that allowed us to draw the pulley back to the side we were crossing from. The pitch to the cable was flatter than the one two days prior. 

So we begin, one by one. This time trying to finagle the packs along with the traverser as it was prohibitive to send the packs by themselves given the setup. Five Israelis, one American and five packs successfully cross without much tribulation. 

It is at this point that I decided to relearn a lesson hard learned from the first traverse near Cerro Solo; never, ever, EVER cross with a heavy backpack on your shoulders. Ugh! My observation was that everyone was able to kick themselves 3/4 of the way across and then pull somewhat effortlessly to the other side. Me? Naw! I kick off, reach halfway and...stop. Ok, I guess I'll start pulling. Much to my chagrin it wasn't gravity that stopped me but rather it was the LEASH! Half way again back to the start, I began rescinding, arduously. Upon reaching the tangled mess, I struggle to keep my body at least parallel to the cable (fighting the weight of my backpack). After a minute or two of fighting my way out of this 'paperbag' I regretfully placed myself within, I continue pulling myself to the other side. At this point my arms are pumped and nearly useless due to the struggle with the leash and fight to keep my bag from overturning me. Once within a few arms length from the other side I am extended a trekking pole to bring me safely to shore. Sigh. Lesson learned. Again.
And on. We arrived to the glacier tour boat launch site just as a swarm of tourists were departing from their cruise boat. Our timing couldn't have been better. We managed to hire one of the van drivers to transport us the ~4 miles (as the crow flies) back to Chalten. Nice chap. He was thankful for the generous tip we gave him and the pictures of the glacier we shared, our gratitude was equal if not greater. The journey was finished!

In the end, we probably should have carried more food. We calculated our caloric intake to lie somewhere around the average of 1,500 Calories per day. According to Becca's math we should have been closer to double that. Oops! Our appetites reflect the latter. We stopped by 'La Waffleria' to recharge our stores. Two large Omelets and two plates of chocolate soaked waffles (mine with bananas, Ethan's with vanilla ice cream...Ice cream was a better choice...) later and we are...still HUNGRY!

Caloric restorationLater on we tackled lunch three/dinner one and a jug of wine with the Israelis. L'Chaim!
L'Chaim! (to life) - 'V' for Viento
We are now fine tuning our multi-pitch rope skills to embark on our final adventure for the trip. More on that soon...


  1. OMG! So happy for all of you!!!

  2. What a grand adventure...three cheers!

  3. Thanks for sharing guys! Sounds like an epic adventure, stay safe!

    1. Alive and well. Thanks for following along!