The halcyon sunrise begins to peak as eight trekkers share their first steps into the brisk morning of Terra Mayor Valley.
I felt something unique with this group. On this day, we were going to be the only ones in the world to be at the summit of Glaciar Ojo del Albino (The Eye of the Albino Glacier). Nobody could replace this one-of-a-kind experience unless they were there with us on that given day. The next twelve hours were about to be challenged with heaps of mud, steep inclines through crumbling rocks, hiking alongside rivers, and massive amounts of ice. I am thrilled.
After a brief orientation at a private lodge between Sorondo’s Mountain and Alvear Mountain, in the middle of The Andes, we traverse through the Autumn-colored peatlands in our 12″ high rainboots beginning at 250 meters above sea level. Each of us is carefully watching our step learning by the mistakes of others who misstep into a sloping mudhole. There were a couple of lost boots along the way but nothing that couldn’t be fished out after a good laugh.
After about one kilometer, we finally reach a more stable ground and change into our hiking shoes leaving our rain boots behind. There’s no stopping us now as we move into a new terrain filled with dirt trails and a pearly-blue beaver dam. Now I understood why I saw so many fallen trees. I initially just assumed they were rotted or struck by lightening, but, no, they gnawed to an apple core by the beavers. Resourceful little fuckers.
As we go deeper into the enchanted forest (and all while secretly hoping I’d fulfill some whimsical fantasy by discovering a little gnome), we begin trailing along Esmeralda River and muddier paths. I strategically hopscotch around the mud holes and successfully avoid falling flat on my ass.
After about two hours into the hike, we finally make our first stop to Laguna Esmeralda, a homonymous blue-green lagoon coupled the glassy translucent mountains that reflected from it. That moment was nothing less than a cynosure elixir. I take a deep breath, sigh, and become intoxicated by the beauty. How could I be so lucky? This lagoon was mine and only shared with twelve others. Nature’s magic trick.
I wanted to stay longer, but we still had a very long trek ahead of us. As we gain elevation, the environment changes around us. It’s getting cooler, and the Coppertone boulders, mineral gravel, and pockets of snow replace the mushy alpine trails.
We get one last glimpse of Laguna Esmeralda, and then it disappears.
The trail ahead continues up to a 30-45 degree incline. I’m feeling the burn in my thighs and focusing on my breathing exercise. In through my nose, out through my mouth. Again, I repeat the words in my head and continue to preserve my oxygen until we get passed this stretch.
We take a break by a small stream of water caused by a melting glacier and snow and notice a little hole near a rock. My brother goes to check it out, and we discover a cave hidden underneath the snow. We grab our flashlights and take a peak. I’m a little nervous hoping there aren’t any weird creatures like I saw in the movie, The Descent, but quickly let the nervousness settle. I even make peace with this cool discovery and fill up my water bottle with the glacier water.
We’re finally at the last stretch. All we need to do is climb this twenty-foot cliff, use whatever energy we have on reserve to get over the last 1/4 mile 60-degree incline, and we’re there.
We are greeted by the Albino’s Eye; a milky virgin body of water with continental icebergs. The glacier is flat with many dark indigo caverns.
The glacier can be extremely slick to walk on with our shoes, so we quickly put on our ice clamps exploring sharp peaks of the subterranean caverns that seemed so small in the distance but so wide where you’re paired next to them.
My ebullience compares to a child’s first time riding a bike; fearless, victorious, and I’m elated.
Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve reached my very first summit.