Day 17 (14th December)
The day began in the same normal fashion; moaning, groaning and goading, with Benj being the subject of all three for being the first awake and passing on his suffering with the intention of hurting his dear friends. However, what me and Benj experienced today cannot be compared to any other of the trip, or even my life. It was incredible… and windy.
After stocking up on supplies for lunch with the last remaining cash we possessed (we refused to withdraw more due to the extortionate withdrawal charges), the two of us abandoned El once more and headed to the shorter but much steeper trek up to the Loma del Pliegue Tumbado peak overlooking the Fitz Roy mountain range, reaching heights of 1000 km above Chalten. It was always going to be a tough one but I didnt think for one second it was going to be extreme and challenging as it turned out to be.
The park ranger had described the walk as up hill all the way, and although the first few km were true to his word, the route was no problem for me and Benj, as we now like to think we are experienced and skilled climbers. We’re not bad, but the vast and beautiful scenery we were leaving behind us acted as the motivation pushing us up the hill in order to better our views and achieve that perfect picture we so desired.
The initial climb took us through lushess meadows and dense forestry, something that had seemed very hard to come by throughout Patagonia and especially the hotter and more desertous lands of Argentina. Not only did this make for a very satisfying hike towards the peak, it added an extra layer to the huge tapestry of the scenery we encountered later on. We should have therefore known that this ‘easy’ walk was going to come to an abrupt end, as it did a few km from the top, where the end of the forest marked the beginning of the blustery conditions and rocky landscape of the mountain peak that made our lives so adventurous but treaturous.
As the wind began to gain momentum, we were forced to do the opposite, battling to stay on our feet as we crawled up the ever increasing incline. The huge, sharp boulders made it feel like the most extreme obstacle course ever attempted, even bettering the mission that was my primary school sports day course which included an egg and a spoon! Despite the effort, and calories required, we soldiered on, defeating any opponent in our way, including the very unreliable hood which had been horrifically attached to my jacket.
What appeared to be a bunker made out of rocks was the end target for me and Benj, and after taking numerous pebbles to the eyes, we joined the small group of hikers already taking refuge behind the makeshift wall. It was surprisingly effective, and created a very new type of photography which involved quickly leaping up and above the bunker whilst taking the photo, followed by a powerful dive to get back out of the gusts. It may not have been particularly comfortable, but the scenery was more than worth it, however I knew it could get better.
Ahead of us was a giant mountain peak that towered over us, and after the group began climbing it I instantly felt the desire to follow, despite Benj being reluctant to do the same. The wind may have been capable of great things, but my mind could do the same and began dragging me up the peak despite my body wanting to the complete oppistite by following the wind back down the mountain.
The climb seemed endless, using up every littler bit of leg muscle I had, and due to the short supply of that, I began solely relying on determination and instagram pictures to pull me up. As I got higher, the cross winds got stronger and began flexing their muscles to the point I was clinging on to the biggest rocks I could find. Every time the wind dropped, my small window of opportunity opened where I could run as fast as I could to the next significant boulder. The stream of small pebbles that were shot down the hill by the winds peppered my hands and face, but once half way had come and gone there was no going back. As I stared in ore of the climbers at the top, my limp and feeble body somehow continued to move in something resembling an upwards direction, despite my insistence of swaying back and forth and crashing over the path several times. It wasn’t an optional route for me.
As the ever growing panoramic views expanded by the second, I gained ground by the minute, struggling up in a painfully slowly manner. I was eventually within a few metres, however I had never felt so far away after well and truly hitting the solid brick wall in between me and the sacred peak. In fear of my conscience, I refused to give up and dragged my body up the last few rocks and finally saw the beautiful sight that was other human beings. They pulled me into their huddle and congratulated me on making it, clearly surprised that someone with my physique hadn’t been blown off the side of the mountain, never to be seen again, but I had made it. And holy fuck it was worth it. And if ever that curse was really worth it, it would be when attempting to describe my very indescribable emotions.
The 360 degree view on show was physically scintillating, offering the pinnacle of geographical scenery available anywhere on the planet. The monstrous mountain ranges that still managed to look down on you from the skies like an insignificant ant, to the now tiny hills and forestry of the Chalten valley, and the glistening frozen glacier of Laguna Torre to the bright and expansive lake Viedma that the glacier supplies, all surrounded by the dry, desertous horizons of Argentina. Incredible.
After soaking in the views, and taking multiple photos and videos (a huge challenge in itself by the way), all that was left to do was climb back down the mountain and catch up with Benj. This was trickier than I thought, as due to my extreme lack of weight, I was uncontrollably forced to run back down, something that really didnt feel save with thousands of sharp and extremely scary looking rocks. At one point i’m pretty sure I was flying.
Despite this, I survived with only one near miss, and finally reached the safe zone of the forrest where Benj was waiting, accompanied by a huge stitch and a demanding stomach. Only a typical ham and cheese sandwich could solve that.
The extreme day certainly took its tole on the usually bright pairing of me and Benj, and so after a quick pizza we flopped onto our beds, never to be woke again. Until 8 the next morning when our bus was due.
Today’s shoutout is for the last few days as a whole, and goes to the wonderful town of El Chalten. For a place no bigger than the small Cotswold village I live in, it has absolutely everything you could possibly need to enjoy an action packed, intrepid and drunken adventure that we three lads so desperately desire, homing the most incredible scenery known to man, whilst providing numerous eateries and bars that would satisfy even the very fattest of alcoholics. I say again… Incredible.