Wayward Travels

Monday, June 26, 2006

"Escogimos mal"

It´s not so much a case of being lost. I mean, we knew exactly where we were. It´s just that we had no idea where we were supposed to be.
I am talking about our attempt at hiking to Glaciar Martial outside Ushuaia. It all began just swell: a taxi ride up a mountain road, a chair lift up part of the mountain (my first time, not so easy for us acrophobes), and then a simple 1.5 hour hike to the glacier. Plenty of signs warned us to not walk on the glacier without a guide due to fissures and crevaces and all that. Good advice, to be sure. Well we tromped through snow and ice up the valley along to the river and drank in the view ahead of us--sun-kissed snowy peaks soared on all sides, clawing at the wisps of clouds that floated by. The characteristic U-shape of the valley was a clue that a glacier had to be somewhere nearby (at least in the past hundred thousand years), but it was wildly unclear which way the glacier was. We saw two main options--a steep snowy and rocky ascent to our left and a steep snowy and rocky ascent to our right. We didn´t take the left way, but I wouldn´t exactly saw we made the "right" choice (oh the foreshadowing!). So we trekked up the right face of the valley, heading towards a saddle that loomed high above and oh-not-so-far-away. We scrambled up icy, snow-covered scree (defined as "Loose rock debris covering a slope" or "A slope of loose rock debris at the base of a steep incline or cliff"), and post-holed through Patagonian snow of unknown depth. The hiking was at best tricky, but became tiring and eventually turned risky. You see, the final ascent asked us (so we thought) to traverse a snowy, rocky slope with a 60-degree face (Reader: stop. think about how steep this is. continue.) before crawling up the side of the saddle. This traverse was to be executed about a hundred feet above the nearest floor of the the valley and without, of course, any mountaineering gear whatsoever. We began to slowly scamper across until my fear of heights collided with the realization of exactly how stupid and dangerous this was (more stupid than dangerous, actually) and I froze on this snowy slope. There was no going further; retreat was the only option. Emily and I decided to descend directly to the valley floor along the steep face while Sarah retraced her traversed and decided to re-attempt the ascent on other "path" where a Czech fellow named Stepan was walking along (we had briefly encountered this character at a mid-hike lunch rest). Now, those of you that know even a little about physics will appreciate the fact that (a) the coeffecient of friction between me and snow is small, (b) the vertical vector component of gravity on a 60-degree incline is large, and (c) gravity goes down. Climbing down this very tall snowy face was a terrifying task, and the best comfort I could find was the fact that if I were to slip, at least I´d be headed in the right direction--down. In the end, I managed to devise a method which involved using my hands and feet as though I was wearing crampons (which I was not) to kick holds into the snow and descend a sort of snow ladder. The funny thing was that up and down seemed to lose meaning as I swung and kicked my way down, bit by bit. All I had was the snow in front of me and the knowledge that looking in any other direction would send me spinning. You can exhale now, for I made it down safely. Sarah and Stepan succeeded at cresting the saddle. With regard to our choice of the snowy traverse verses the "path," Sarah informed Emily and me that "escogimos mal" (we chose poorly), but both she and Stepan assured us that the view was absolutely unbelievable. Great.
Stepan said he´d send photos. Then, on the face that Emily and I had so carefully descended, Stepan sat on his nalgitas (bum) and slid the whole way down, acquiring an impressive speed and using his feet as brakes. Yep, we felt stupid. I got over it and slid on my nalgitas for several parts of the rest of the frightening descend. In the end, we never found Glaciar Martial, nor am I even sure where exactly we should have gone to find it.
To really round out our little adventure, we walked our snowy, cold, wet selves into the "Casa de Té" at the base of the chairlift, a small little teahouse that served "chocolates, café, y cosas ricas." We appreciated the many flowered decorating each wall and corner of the place as Celine Dion graced our ears. The cosas ricas were nonetheless delicious (including mermelada made from the el calafate shrub).
We made it home with enough time to thaw, dry, and eat before going to the airport to wait there for four hours for our characteristically tardy flight. Without sleep last night, we made it to Buenos Aires today in the early AM, and I have busied myself roaming about the city´s neighborhood of Palermo. But this is a different story, and will have to wait until later.


Anonymous KR said...

Wow - you are having quite an adventure. How different than sitting in Maple Manor on the couch, watching the morning news and reading a friend's blog!! :) I absolutely cannot wait to see your pictures. Thanks for painting such great images with your words, though :) I have laughed, gasped, and shivered in sympathy!! :) Keep enjoying and be safe!

PS - your apartment looks fab! All's in place ;-)

10:15 AM  

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