It was a day of gale force winds. This blustery morning could pull the horns off an ox. I lay on the bottom bunk in my bed of a six-bed dorm room feeling paralyzed by the howling gusts over the last several hours. Am I going to make this 10-hour roundtrip Fitz Roy hike today?
It’s nearly 7 am and we have to make it back in time for our 6 pm bus ride back into El Calafaté. The clanking of debris against the two-story hostel continues, and I’m convincing myself that it’s a bad idea to go on this hike as the muscle fatigue reminds me.
My alarm begins buzzing. Screw it. I already climbed three mountains in four days. I can let this one slide. The alarm buzzes again. Ugh, I don’t want to go. It sounds violent out there!
I hear my brother from above calling my name asking if we’re still going to go on this hike. We see a couple of other backpackers silently making their way out, so I tell my brother it’s his call.
He responds, “We should go.”
Argh! It’s not the answer I wanted to hear, but it’s our last hike in Argentina. I put emotions aside in the “whining” reserve box and get dressed. We briefly stop at a little market to pick up some food for our trip, and I scarf down a salami sandwich with a coffee before we begin our journey. It’s not necessarily the greatest food pairing, but neither was the temperamental weather to my hike.
I’m feeling a little cranky as we make our way to the head trail that begins at Avenida San Martin. We have about an hour of steep slope until we reach the Del Salto stream valley.
We’re walking along the outer edge of a mountain trail staring into the open valley. I’m often wondering if I’m going to get blown over or lose my balance during moments pushed by the frequent and yet fickle wind.
The trail eventually takes us deeper into the woods through Antartic beech and eventually to a well-marked viewpoint after about another hour into our hike. Okay, okay. I now get what all the fuss is. It’s surreal in every way!
We find ourselves passing a small stream from Del Salta where we refill our water bottles from the river. It’s one of the few places in the world we could still safely do this.
We’re making excellent time seeing the great landscapes of Lagunas Madre e Hija, passing other hikers often, and are now at Poincenot campground and about 45 minutes ahead of schedule. There weren’t too many campers around. I think they probably camped overnight making this trek a two-part journey and finishing the rest of the hike today.
We’re getting closer, and I’m surprisingly feeling energized giving partial credit to my “Wanderlust” playlist with artist selections like Odezsa, Flume, and Rudimental to get me through this.
The last 400 meters has warning signs letting hikers know how difficult and steep the last ascent was to get to Laguna de Los Tres Glacier. Blue Sky Black Death! We just hiked nearly 3 1/2 hours to get here, so this a point of no return as far as I’m concerned.
I confidently have my “Do or Die!” enthusiasm before the incline starts to seep deep into my muscles. Mother-effer this is tough. I’m preserving my oxygen controlling my breathing patterns to keep me going at a slow pace. My heart is in overdrive beating hard against my chest, and I’m perspiring more than ever. I’m using what support I can hold onto using the sporadically placed ropes or gripping rocks to pull my body weight through each climbing step.
I see others who couldn’t make it and taking short breaks along the way and finally decide to join some. I tell my brother to keep going without me, and I’ll catch up. He can tolerate the burns a bit more than I can.
I continue with the last part of my journey receiving encouragement from other hikers on their way down telling me I’m almost there.
I finally make it to the bottom of a loose granite hill. I can see people lined at the top, so I know I’m almost there. With each step, it’s like stepping into quicksand. You take one step up, and it slides you back down a bit. In other words, this hill is a b*tch! I see others passing me and fancying their walking sticks. Damn it! I want to fancy a pair of those.
Alas! After over 3,300 meters total, I am greeted by the luminous presence of an emerald lake against the granite peaks of Mount Fitz Roy. I’m mentally adding this to my top ten of most spectacular displays of nature I’ve witnessed thus far.
I find my brother (having trailed 30 minutes behind him), and we find a flat boulder to eat our sandwich that we picked up from the local market earlier that morning. There were maybe 20-30 others at the lagoon, but compared to how open it felt, it didn’t feel crowded. From the distance above, we see a crazy Australian (whom we later met) who took his clothes off and jumped into the lagoon. Crazy Aussies!
I didn’t realize how sore my muscles were until I tried to get up from the boulder at lunch, but we had another 4-hour descent to catch our 6 pm bus. We trace back through trails we saw earlier that day and on my last several hundred meters my feet were dragging, but when I put my “Wanderlust” playlist back on it gave me that extra boost of mental Red Bull. My brother waits for me at the bottom and I run toward him in slow motion listening to “Chariots of Fire” in my head as I ran through a makeshift version of a finish line. I victoriously hiked four mountains in five days, one of the most strenuous series of activities I’ve ever done and that in itself feels like a huge accomplishment.
And, while I bitched and moaned about the wind… if it weren’t for the strong winds, we would have never seen such great portraits of the Patagonian mountains. If it weren’t for second and third and fourth winds, I would never have made to the emerald lagoon shared by the otherworldly shaped, Mount Fitz Roy.