What came next was by no means elegant. We ferried ourselves between the hotel and horse stable area and the hostel, which are 800 meters apart. We reserved the horses at the hotel, then had to go to the hostel to pay, then back to the stable to find out if they would bring the horses to our camp for loading, which they wouldn’t… Then we spent a couple hours walking our six giant bags of gear and food to the stable, where, upon completion of the effort, the authentically dressed gauchos told us it would be an hour before we could depart.
Meanwhile the gauchos attempted to load a very freaked out horse with two 4’x 8’ sheets of plywood, one on each side, which made the horse rear and fall over. The gauchos calmed the horse, which had successfully ejected the load and proceeded to hang out, cavort and do everything but load our luggage on to any one of the hundred or so not-freaked horses. Two hours later, Dave and I caved to our hunger pangs and went to grab a bite at the hotel. When we returned, our bags had finally departed. We strapped on loaded trekking packs and embarked for Campamento Chileno.
We ascended through gravelly switchbacks surrounded by slopes of brush and scree from crumbing, and wildly slanted, strata, which was cut by rushing streams of glacial blue water. Along the water we saw Ivo, a climber we met yesterday at the first outpost, Laguna Amarga.
“Are you going to Campamento Japanese?” he asked. We told him we were and we continued on with him in step. Not too long after we reached Campamento Chileno and parted with Ivo since we had to check on the bags that the gauchos should have dropped off. We were stoked! Our bags were where they should have been and it had only taken us a little over an hour to cover the purported two hour distance.
Dave taped a couple of hot spots on his foot and we were back to the trail. From there our environment changed to forests of Magellanic trees. What struck Dave and I first about the forest was the level of destruction. There were branches and splintered trunks all over. Evidence of the infamous Patagonian winds, no doubt.
At Campamento Las Torres, the final camp before we reached our destination, we found Ivo on the steps of a small shack, hanging out with a ranger. “Come relax,” he said, “take a break.” We had covered what was prescribed to have been 4 hours of trekking in a little over two, with heavy packs. Hills had me gasping for air and the pressure of the pack on my hips was mashing the muscles and tendons in the area. It was indeed time for a break. Ivo introduced us to the ranger whose name was Alex and spoke only Spanish.
“Mate?” he asked. “Si,” I replied, “mi primero mate!” He passed me the customary gourd filled to the brim with yerba mate leaves with a silver straining straw. I drained the contents in two or three pulls. Research on Wiki had informed me that the thing to do next was to hand back the gourd to the server, who would fill it again with hot water and pass it to the next person. Dave took it and the gourd made its rounds quickly, coming to me five or six times over the course of half an hour. Ivo spoke in broken English and bit of Spanish of the climbing in the area while Dave and I listened and spurned him on with questions and small talk. Filled up with mate, Dave and I left and continued on toward Campamento Japanese.
The terrain changed from forest walking to talus hopping with monumental mountain faces peaking at us through mist. The rain and wind had better access to us here, but we continued on in our thin pants and base layer tops. Even though rain constantly spits on you here, you never really get soaked as it evaporates in seconds from the constant breeze and high UV sun. Following the talus, after my quads had tightened to a persistent cramp, we ducked back into forest adjacent to the rushing mountain stream we had been following, more or less, all day, and found our destination camp.
Dinner was half an old MRE, since the loads we had just carried lacked much of our kitchen equipment. Now, around 10pm, with still some light in the sky, we are settling down to sleep. We haven’t the fitness to return to Chileno for another load.