Tuesday, January 8, 2008

the patagonia trip: Settling In

I slept okay last night, though there were some bouts where I laid awake listening to the stream nearby and the roar of the wind high in the peaks. The two sounds would merge periodically so I wasn’t sure if I was hearing a full-on Patagonian gale or a benign rush of water.

 We woke around 8:30am to find some light hail and cool temps. Since much of our camping equipment was still down at Campamento Chileno, we had few breakfast options. In fact, regardless of our lack of cooking equipment we were also somewhat paralyzed to eat the food we had so painstakingly humped up here. Every bite we ate would bring us closer to having to leave. In the end we let ourselves to some cereal with powdered milk. 

 Soon after we began our hike back to camp Chileno for our first of the day’s slated two loads. Even with our packs empty, the going was tough. We could certainly feel our activities of yesterday. Other hikers even passed us, driving home the point that we were ragged, but we later caught up and overcame them at a short scrambly section, which made us feel better. 

 For the last section of the hike we were starved and our spirits sunk to a lump in our throats when we found the kitchen to be closed at camp Chileno. Then, having settled on purchasing a Fanta orange soda, the light eyed local behind the counter couldn’t make change for our only Chilean bill. We swallowed the lumps in our throats, filled our packs from our horse carried gear cache and began our way back to base camp in the standard spitting rain and wind.

 Once back at Campamento Japanese, we were truly thrashed, but new faces distracted us from our aches. They were a German duo who had just returned from a bivouac at the base of the north tower. The guy, a tall thin man who spoke excellent English, who was genuinely friendly and eager to talk, told us of the vicious winds and snow storm they endured. He told us how Steve Sneider left him and his partner--a jolly girl with hearing-aids, smiles and antics of eating mustard straight from the bottle--the rest of his food supplies before he returned to Puerto Natales for a work opportunity. Dave and I joined them in the climber’s shanty for further conversation and to make ourselves lunch. 
 Again we were paralyzed, trying to decide on what food we should break in to. We settled on a meager share of pasta and a couple slices of salami. Actually, it’s Dave I think who is the more reticent to eat our food. I’m going to have to get him over this hump or I’m going to starve. 

Then we went back to the tent for a siesta that was crucial for letting our muscles regain some balance.  An hour later we were skipping back for one last load, feeling much better than in the morning.

Back at camp Chileno we signed up for dinner, packed our last load and washed up in the bathroom.

When the food was served, we enjoyed every crumb of the bread and every smear of butter they served us.  Then came a chicken noodle soup and then chicken breast with boiled potatoes and green beans and corn.  Dessert was some sort of trifle.

 During the meal we spoke with some English guys who became fascinated with the prospect of climbing in Paine. When we finished our trifles we stoically told the Englishmen that we had to carry our last load up to base camp and left. The last leg was painful, but not terrible with bellies full. We returned just as it was getting dark at 10:30. Tomorrow we’ll organize camp, rest and await Christian. Moments of down time will be good, especially since the following morning could be an alpine start!

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