Friday, April 27, 2007

Ascent to the bottom of Lanin

Lanin is a dormant 3500 metre volcano that can only be climbed by the very brave, experienced or rich. Its a two day ascent and the rangers check that you have the oodles of essential expensive knick-knacks before you start. For us mortals, a hike to the base of Lanin is the closest you get to all out ice-picks-raised-above-your-head-on-top-of-the-world glory. We prised ourselves from toasty sleeping bags in the cold, cold dark one morning to go and meet the sleeping beast.

Waiting for our bus at the terminal, we were treated to a display of 'how to start the bus when it's incredibly cold' Argentinian style. The first method, jumper leads, was familiar to us, as was the third (and successful) method of four men push it backwards through he carpark and clutch starting it. The second method was the one that really caught our attention. It involved dipping a large stick in petrol, lighting the stick and then holding said stick underneath the engine, I assume to warm up the various bits and pieces that get stubborn below freezing. I've never seen such a large flame next to fuel lines and oil filters, but for some reason, there was no explosion.

Lanin through the fog

Our bus, freed of its jump starting duties, was now available to take us on the surreal two hour ride into the Lanin National Park. The thick frost that had settled on the low bushes, combined with the thick fog that obscured all but the scenery very close to our bus, sucked all colour from the landscape. It felt as if we were driving through an unfinished painting, with parts of the background missing and the colour yet to be filled in. Inside the park, the clouds that were sitting, literally, on top of the lake had a voluminous quality that you can't see when they're a couple of kilometres up in the air. They actually looked like some sort of mistake, like they should splash into the lake as soon as someone realises they stuffed up and hung them too low.

Strange signs mark the start of the path...

We found the start of the walk and set off. We were previously advised by the Parques Nacional officer that the walk would take 4 hours up and 4 hours back. The bus had dropped us off about an hour late, and that had cut our window of walking time down to 7 hours. A race against time was now being run. The walk was beautiful, for the most part we followed and criss-crossed a stream fed by the melting snow of Lanin. The trail took us through some spectacular orange forest and across crunchy brown ice-mud. The uphill part kicked in with a vengeance, right at the end of the hike. Angie was feeling the effects of gravity more severely than I, and I pushed ahead up the steep, enclosed path. I saw a minor avalanche on the opposite side of the canyon on my way up, and was thankful that this side of the valley seemed more stable.

The uphill was intense, I was cursing whoever it was that decided the path should climb like this. The trees got shorter, and the soon snow started to appear on the ground. Not long after that, the trees stopped completely, the ground was white and I was standing at the bottom of a 3500 metre beast. Never have I walked uphill for so long and with such effort to reach the bottom of something. I ran around in the snow, taking photos and enjoying the novelty of sinking shin deep into the ground wherever I trod. Angie then appeared over the downhill crest and got a first real taste of proper snow. We'd managed to get up there in about three hours, so we had some time to spare before descent. Lunch was avocado and bread with peanuts and biscuits, all washed down with melted snow.

The top/bottom

The downward clamber was mercifully easier, and we made it down with an hour to spare. The only incident along the way involved a steep slope, and exposed tree root and the small of Angie's back. When all three combined, the result was a a very sore and newly cautious Angie, now sporting a big purple bruise...

That's the peak of Lanin behind us, about 2 km up.

Most important discovery of the day: A steaming pile of fresh kittens in the stables next to the rangers hut.

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