|Our Really Big Adventure|
Camping in Torres del Paine
This is small, those are far
Above the treeline stretched a steep scree slope, unstable, unending and frankly uninviting. Beyond that, partially snow covered slabs ran to the base of the massive granite cliffs. I doubted we would find ourselves at the base of a nice looking cliff. Aesthetically beautiful, certainly, but far too intimidating to qualify as nice.
Caelen, Anthea, Nick and Sarah dismissed my reservations out of hand. I lacked perspective, apparently. The cliffs were much nearer than I claimed, and much smaller. I wasnt entirely convinced, but there was only one way to find out.
We bashed our way through the trees and onto the scree. Moving into a gully on our right we began the long slog upwards. I fixed my attention on a large boulder about half way up the gully and on one side, promising myself a break when I reached it. It was the size of a truck, stranded alone in a sea of small rocks. I couldnt imagine the force that had moved that boulder and deposited it there.
By the time we reached the boulder, it was lunchtime and we were ready for a rest. We dug out our picnics and our sun cream and enjoyed the sun. A plastic mountaineering-booted bouldering session inevitably followed.
We resisted the temptation to stay there all afternoon, and continued up the slope. Eventually we reached the slabs that led to the base of the cliffs. Climbing these slabs would not be difficult, but definitely too treacherous to do without placing protection and using ropes. It was already 2.30pm, and moving roped would slow our progress enormously. Clearly we werent going to reach the cliffs today.
Our descent was speedy but hair-raising. The rock underfoot was loose and the risk of twisting an ankle or worse was uppermost in my head. We reached a gully of scree and dirt that ran all the way down to the woods and set off down it, setting off rock slides with every step. It wasnt comfortable, but it was quick, and at the bottom of the gully we emerged through a marsh onto the trail. Through a combination of luck and a vague sense of direction, we were only ten minutes from camp and a nice hot cup of tea.
Base Camp Bitches
The next day saw a sharp reduction in our numbers. Caelen and Geoff had gone climbing, eight had already left to trek out in various directions, and Badger, Nick and Liz were planning to do the same after breakfast. Badger had planned a delicacy for the other two camp porridge. He added just the right amount of oats to the perfect quantity of river water. In the absence of sugar, some dulce de leche (sticky caramel spread) and a couple of pieces of chocolate were stirred into the mix and the finished product proudly spooned onto waiting dishes. Despite the care and attention that had been lavished on her meal, Liz was unimpressed. Oh man, this looks like stuff you feed to pigs! she exclaimed with distaste.
The previous evenings wood collection was more than adequate to keep the fire going until lunchtime or so, the tea bags were close to hand and my water bottle was nicely full. I didnt move far that morning. In fact, no one moved far that morning. Badger, Nick and Liz appeared to be in no hurry to leave for Campo Italiano. Will we go soon? one would suggest. Nah, lets have another brew. Morning became early afternoon, and we began to doubt whether they would leave that day at all. Or the next. Eventually, contrary to all indications, they actually shouldered their packs and headed off down the trail. The four of us left looked at each other, shrugged and fired up another brew.
Were tough, we are
As I picked up my pack for the walk down, I was disgusted to find that it seemed to be just as heavy as it had been coming up. Wed been eating solidly for three days surely we should have put some dent in the load? Wed better eat a lot tonight because I sure as hell didnt want to carry this much again the next day.
One of the real pleasures of coming down from a stiff climb is the smug encouragement you can give to those on the way up. And today there were lots of people coming up. With ice axes, crampons and helmets dangling from our enormous packs, we looked very tough. These people were not to know that the ice axes had been used for nothing more than digging holes, and of the four of us, only Caelen had used his helmet. Nor had they seen us struggling exhausted up the hill three days previously. They saw us now, on the descent, rested, with enormous packs and hardcore equipment, looking like fit people.
We arrived in Campo Italiano in the early afternoon, set up camp and headed off to relax by the river. With the sun shining and the river gushing by, it was a glorious spot. Perfect conditions for lazing by the river, reading a book, snoozing on a large sun warmed boulder or maybe even for a shower.
Glacial streams - theres a clue in the name they tend to be, well, glacial. And this one was no exception. The first splashes of water took my breath away, but strangely the next sensation was warmth. So far so good, now I was wet enough to soap up. The next splashes were even colder, and the tentative mini-spattering that had got me wettish wouldnt be enough to rinse off the soap. Id need to be more thorough, more ruthless. Worst of all was the head. The icy water dunking made my whole skull contract in pain, and it took several attempts to get out all the shampoo.
Afterwards, though, I felt wonderful. Clean, fresh, warm and invigorated. Ready for a nice doze by the river on that comfy looking boulder.
Stinky climbers would like to get in your nice clean
It didnt make sense for the four of us to hitch together, so we split into pairs, Caelen and I ahead, Dai and Phil behind. We trudged along the dusty unsealed road along the lakeside. There were few landmarks to judge our progress, and the winding of the road around the various little inlets made it impossible to judge the distance to points ahead of us. Few vehicles passed us, and those that did all seemed to be attached to the expensive Hotel Explora. The drivers made apologetic gestures, but we couldnt help feeling they were glad that company policy forbade them giving lifts to smelly, dirty climbers.
A few kilometres along the road, wed resigned ourselves to the walk. Wed stopped for a break, the lads had caught up and we were all sprawled along the roadside. The sound of an engine approaching penetrated our torpor, and we jumped up without much hope. A pickup truck rounded a corner, and much to our surprise, stopped at the sight of our outstretched thumbs. For a moment, we thought wed really struck gold if we could get in the back of the truck then maybe all four of us could go. But no, they only had room for two, and took off with Phil and Dai waving triumphantly at us from the passenger seats as we trudged wearily along the road.
The Best Shower in the World, Ever
Celebrations are all well and good, but first we had other fish to fry. The campsite had hot, full volume showers, and we urgently needed to stand under them for several hours. Our glacial dip notwithstanding, we were dirty, dusty and smelly, and a hot shower seemed like unimaginable luxury.
We emerged, unrecognisably clean, to laze about on the grass and watch the proceedings. Others had chosen not to resist the tempting beers on their return to camp, and a rather uncoordinated bouldering session was in progress on the back of the truck. Watching Stephan come tumbling off the wall after trying nothing more complicated than holding on, I concluded that for me it should be beer or bouldering, not both.
So resolutely I wandered away to the bar. A corral had been set up in the lake, where the beer and soft drinks could be chilled without risk of the cans floating away. Well, with reduced risk anyway a couple of chilly recovery missions were required, but all the absconders were retrieved.
As the sun set over the mountains, we sat on the lakeshore
by the fire. For the first time in days we were clean and we had beer.
We were tired, our muscles hurt and our trousers hung a little loosely
from our hips after four days of camp food. Life doesnt get much