Friday, January 18, 2008

the patagonia trip: The Columbians

Two days in a row Dave and I woke for our 2am weather check and were content to find the wind blowing and the sky cloudy so we could roll over and continue to sleep.  The Columbians, Sebastian, Patricio and Daniel, on the other hand, woke each morning and completed the 2-3 hour trek into the Silencia Valley, regardless of the weather here at camp.

The Columbians arrived in camp around the same time Dave and I returned from our break down at Hosteria Las Torres.  We were lounging in the tent when Pato, with his wiry and highly weathered features, walked up, dropped his pack and casually jumped up on the slack line strung near our tent, walked across, turned around and walked back, feet shod in mountaineering boots.  It seemed to me he was marking his territory.

Sebastian was a little less menacing in appearance than the primitive and wild Pato.  He had a friendlier face and spoke decent English, which helped him communicate good intentions, but he too had the proportions and style of movement of someone who could climb circles around Dave and I.

The third, Daniel, stood off to the side, smoked cigarettes and made wise-cracks.  He didn't look like a hard climber as the others did--in fact, it turned out that making beer at his home in Puerto Natales was his passion--but it was evident this wasn't his first time at base camp.

They were, as we were, there to climb the Monzino route on Torre Norte.  Dave and I were intimidated and I completely distrusted them.  They probably took advantage of people in remote places to feed their dirt-bag, climbing and Columbian narcotics-dealing lifestyles.

Over the next few days, Dave and I interacted with them more and more.  I would practice my Spanish with Pato, who worked as a porter and guide in Paine during the summer and as an avalanche controlman at Portillo in the winter, and he would practice his English on me, telling stories of expeditions that had come to Paine that he had assisted.

Sebastian's good nature, which I had doubted momentarily, proved to be completely genuine.  I picked his brain on the approach for the Monzino and he didn't hesitate to go over every detail.

"Tomorrow is the day," Sebastian would say with a smile, everyday after returning from a forbidding silencio valley.

"Si, manana es el dia," we would smile back.

On their last night at Japonese, we gave the Columbians a piton--as they were previously inquiring about buying some--with the hopes that they'd drive it home on a new route they were talking about in the French Valley.

Within the few days of their stay, the weather never broke and the Columbians never got to climb.  It was a shame they were leaving as we noticed the barometric pressure was the highest we'd seen it on their last night in camp.  Something was about to change, we knew it.

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