Day 42, 11FEB2017
The Mountain That Made Us Feel Ancient.
Ancient to our bones, each and every muscle and ligament was worked today, and most of all our mental capacity was stressed as we overcame what we thought at several times was going to be just too much. But the three of us, Alex, Josh and I were dedicated and made a great band of hikers.
Today started relatively early, by 0900 Josh and I had already eaten breakfast and were wandering downtown in search of pharmacy so I could buy a knee brace, and a kiosko (think 7-11) so we could add pesos to our SUBE card (bus card).
Buses in Bariloche allegedly run every 20 minutes. What we learned upon arrival however was there was a recent bus drivers’ strike and now the buses run so infrequently and erratically it’s impossible to set your schedule based upon it. Josh and I needed to meet Alex at km marker 8 at 1000, we arrived at our bus top at 0925 and waited until 0955 for a bus packed like sardines to arrive. We thought perhaps we’d have to grab a taxi at this point, but no, we did as the locals and skipped paying the fare instead boarded the bus by cramming ourselves in the back. You couldn’t move an inch in this bus it was so packed. Each half km the bus stopped to pick up and let off, however no matter how many times we stopped we always picked up more people than we dropped off, I couldn’t believe the bus was able to move we were driving so low to the ground due to the weight. Kids were being suffocated from the cramming, and the bus driver in his impatience would drive off as people were jumping off or on the bus. We finally arrived at marker 8 at 1020 and set off towards the next bus stop we needed to take.
This bus stop was supposed to pick us up and drop us off at the base of Cerro Catedral. We waited until 1110 and decided the bus was never coming and began walking attempting to hitch hike, we had 11 km to walk to the base of the mountain… walking was not an option.
Luckily, at 1120 the bus drove past us on the highway and stopped to pick us up. We climbed on and were met by several fellow hikers, although the preponderance of hikers carried overnight backpacker backpacks with tents and sleeping bags.
Once dropped off at the base of the hike we sorted ourselves: extra sun screen applied, bags arranged for comfort, pre-hike photos taken. Then we were off.
The beginning of the hike is slight, not steep, and surrounded on all sides by shoulder height shrub. One quality that characterized this segment of the hike, which lasted about one and a half hours, was dust. There was dust, dust, dust. The dust was so fine that it wafted up from the hiker in front of you and you began eating it as much as you were breathing it.
After an increase in altitude, a few precarious climbs over rocks where the path had been run out by water and storms, we made it to the forest.
This segment of the hike was transporting. For an hour under dense greenery the temperature dropped, the ground softened, wild flowers poked into the spots where sun shone through the leaves overhead, the sound of birdsong wafted through the air, and water falls over large stones kept a constant gushing noise in the background.
We filled up our water bottles at these falls and then stopped at a refuge for lunch. The hikers refuge was a log cabin built into the side of a slanted rock outcropping, but Josh brought his hammock today so we set that up instead and ate under the trees.
Sandwiches, chips and a couple of cereal bars later we were off for the last “hour” of the trek. This hour was torture. If the bike ride yesterday hadn’t made me feel exceptionally out of shape, this segment of the hike most certainly did, and then some.
We quickly ascended from the smooth gradual rise of the previous two and half hours of hike, and were suddenly spit out into the blazing sun surrounded by gigantic rock mountains – their peaks seeming to crumble and tear away into tiny red and orange rocks. In the sun, the prickly shrubbery was our only escape from the heat, which added to the altitude, dry air, and steep incline, only compounded my fear that I may not make it up this hike!
But forty minutes later after climbing over rocks and lizards we made it to the summit!!
The summit was actually just a confluence of several other trails meeting around a 1700m high lake fed by snow melt. The lake and the cool temperatures created by the wind running off it was a great escape from the tumult of the recent hike. Suddenly, sprawled out on a huge sunbathing rock, the hike became a distant memory.
We sat and enjoyed the serenity for forty minutes, and then reconvened our hike back down to the base.
Instead of 3.5 hours, the return was just under three hours. We stopped to watch a hawk circling above us, and to take a few photos, but in all the return was one of joy and quick feet. We all wanted that congratulatory beer that awaited us as base camp.
After the Patagonia Amber brew, we caught the erratic bus back to Bariloche and bid Alex adieu.
Josh and I were in much want of a shower: dirt had made its way through my boots, through my socks, and caped my toes even! With our bodies already aching, we decided the best thing to do was to return back down the hill to Manush for fries piled with cheese, onions, ham, and salsa. I ordered a Patagonian staple: fresh trout with roasted veggies in a lemon butter sauce, and Josh ordered the Mexican burger to round out our congratulations.
Tonight we are going to sleep exceptionally well.