Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Walking up a mountain...

Warning: Lots of words ahead, feel free just to look at the pictures.

The weather came back the day after our mountain exploration, but the day after that it seemed to be holding off- just. With our friend Pablo (from London) we decided to walk to a refugio in the mountains (on a scale from cave to Hilton, a refugio is one step up from a hut). Over ten kilometres we climbed 700 metres, and taking it easy meant we took around four and a half hours to get to the top. We set out just after lunch and entered a chameleon landscape that morphed into something new every five minutes. It began as a red dirt wasteland, with heavily sculpted canals muscling their way through the earth. Those soon gave way to an eerie stonescape, populated by the skeletal forms of thousands of dead trees and dominated by a looming, dark, jagged hill. A stream of grey rocks, frozen mid-flow, ran from the top of the hill down through the white and sliver trees. The monochromatic setting was broken up in places by green shrubs that enclosed the trunks, leaving only the spindly branches to reach out, giving the impression that they were trying frantically to escape the new plantlife. The whole scene had a post-apocalyptic air; it felt like we were standing in the middle of the remnants of a disaster.

As we walked on, the environment opened up and we had lake views across to the mountains we had climbed a couple of days before. The yellow scrub stayed low and sparse, but the largest of the twisted trunks remained spread out. The track began to climb slightly, and wet rocks covered in fuzzy green moss stood guard along the track. We rounded a corner and in the distance, through more of those distorted torsos and beyond the mountains we were traversing, giant, vertical columns of rock stood straight up into the grey sky. Orcs were expected to pounce at any moment.

Swords at the ready

A little further on, the scenery became much more Zen, as we entered a bamboo forest, the kind normally frequented by panda bears and water wheels. This environment soon intermingled with a kind of Japanese garden plant theme, complete with precarious wooden bridges and gentle waterfalls. Plenty of babbling brooks too. Much less intimidating. It was also at this point that we saw two of the four animals that we came across during the whole two days. A pair of the punk rockers of the avian universe, woodpeckers, banged their mohawked heads up and down some trees about 5 metres above our heads. (if you're wondering what the other two animals we saw were, one was a sparrow, and the other was the refugio kitty, Tormenta, which is Spanish for storm).

Pretty soon the trees got all European on us, and a carpet of brown leaves covered the bare forest floor. This was Robin Hood's turf, and Little John would not have looked out of place on any of the tree trunk bridges that spanned the increasing number of rapids. The log cabin built into the side of a huge stone and enormous wooden cross really drove home the olde-English vibe.

Angie and Pablo on yet another perilous bridge

Then the climb really began. As we got higher, the plant life changed again, this time into stunted and squat shrubs. We were in the middle of a forest of bonsais, getting closer and closer the snow line. When the enormous mini-trees momentarily parted, we had the chance to look out across the valley we were climbing up the side of. What we saw was a fire-red oil-painting of tree tops firmly carpeting the bottom of the valley, and halting abruptly where the snow had now begun to sit in patches. 'HUGE' was the first word that came to mind when we found rock to raise ourselves above the leafy roof. 'Prehistoric' was another one, and the longer we stood still in awe of the whole landscape, the word 'cold' seemed more and more suitable. Then 'wet' and 'windy' came to the fore, as rain began to fall, and a gale whipped right through us.

A final, brutal, uphill trudge began. Packs very heavy now, knees getting extremely wobbly. A final dodgy crossing of rapids and the refugio came into view. The cold was momentarily forgotten when trying to take in just what we were seeing. A crown of mountains, patchy with snow, encircle a hilltop lake, and on the edge of it all sat the little stone cubic form of Refugio Frey. Then, swooooooshh- there's that word 'cold' chattering out of my lips again, plus my arms felt really strange and....tingly. Did I mention I was still in a t-shirt? I dragged my pack and myself inside the refugio and glorious electric bar heaters began the job of thawing out the blood that had frozen next to the surface of my bare arms.

1700 metres

Angie tumbled in soon after, followed by a very disheveled Pablo. Apparently the cold had infected the core of his mind, and still not quite thawed, he states he is considering pitching his tent in the arctic conditions beyond. I tell him he is mad, but he explains that he bought the tent, carried it up this mountain and there is now a principle at stake. Principle or no principle, the idea is revolting, and he soon comes around. He slightly tempted soon after when he learns there is a girl out there who has already put up her tent and will sleep out there tonight. 'If she can do it why can't I' is what I see written on his face, but common sense prevails. We eat pizza for dinner and crash early in the 18 bed dorm (no space between mattresses at all-very cosy when full I'm sure).

View from the bedroom window

See the refugio on the left-hand side? It doesn't have a phone. Sorry I couldn't call for your birthday, Dad!

Day 2

Breakfast on day 2

It is raining. It is windy. I think we are in the middle of a very thick cloud. It looks like we are inside a giant fluorescent tube. It is far less then suitable for us to be in nature. But we have to go somewhere. Rather than pushing on six hours through the sub-zero elements to the next refugio, we decide to descend the mountain and eat apple strudel in the carpark at the bottom. We layered up, and ventured out looking like waterproof marshmallows. At that point the snow started. Another milestone for Angie, as she had never been snowed on before. But it was more like we were being snowed at, as ice flakes weren't really falling, they were moving sideways trough the air at tremendous speeds, really slicing into any exposed skin or eyeballs. Next time I will take sunglasses and gloves...

The descent was much wetter, but much quicker than the climb yesterday. Powered on by the freshest water I've ever drunk (collected from the very first rapid after that mountaintop lake), it takes two and half hours to cover the ten kilometres, and the strudel at the bottom was most deserved. A short bus ride later, we back in Bariloche, where there is running hot water and no snow. I think I still may prefer it up there in the clouds though.


Jay said...

You guys took some great shots!

stephen and ash said...

looks wet. couldn't have been worse than the weather at blues 'n' roots in byron bay though. 5 consecutive days of piss-pouring rain. awesome music though, finally got some gumboots which saved everything.

Heather said...

Gudday, great photos..! though it seems like the weather has taken a turn for the worst.. AC

Vanessa Clenton said...

Your words and photos are magic, to say the least. It's amazing how the visual and physical experience enriches your dialogue. Keep it coming! It's so entertaining especially for those of us who don't have freedom like yourselves.LOLxxx