Argentine Patagonia - Paradise on the Rocks and Dog Days

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December 6th 2015
Published: December 6th 2015
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Why endure the tourist town of El Calafate? Anyone journeying in Argentine patagonia will inevitably ask, as I did while my spirits dropped a little with my bank balance. A bizzare localised accounting phenomenon (any ideas, Sarah, Alex?) seemingly acts as a black hole for tourist dollars, and even the ATM´s some how appear to relieve you of more money than they reluctantly give out.

It eventuated that the wonders of the Perito Moreno Glacier provided more than adequate compensation. Being, yes, partly its scale - at 30 km long, 5 km wide and 160 m high. Being one of the Earths most accessible and dynamic ice fields, with speeds of up to 2 metres a day not exactly ´glacial´. Being among the very few glaciers that are not receding but stable in mass (helped considerably by 300+ day per year of snow).

As it happened, a crack like distant gunfire was my introduction to the glacier. Before it was seen, yet another ice splinter lost its gravity battle and rudely shattered the azure of the lake below. A splurge allowed me and a privileged handful into the centre of the ice field, where crisp crampon bites traversed crevasses of all shades of Blue (from powder to my newly invented ´beyond-electric´ blue). A boat ride ends one of my best ever walks, as blue ice ´waves´like crazy hair are seen overhung by sunbeams, blizzard and a rainbow. Drinks are served - Scotch on the Rocks of course!

A week later, I peak from my tent cocoon for the ´forecast´- yes! blue sky outlines the back face of Cerro Fitzroy, which plunges to the milky blue of the Rio Electrico. It had taken 6 days of patience for this ´ventana´ or window of good weather in the climbing mecca of El Chalten, and would we enjoy it!.

Joined by Rafael of Wollongong, our plan was to sidle around the imposing bulk of 3,400 m Cerro Fitzroy, to an oft-seen but uncommonly visited glacier, before rejoining the more ´legal´tourist route back to El Chalten. The trail to the glacial moraine was tough but adequately marked and picturesque. The main challenge proved when Raf and I discovered we had a 4-legged companion. A well-kept Border Collie appeared to regard himself a seasoned hiker and natural member of our party, and was not dissuaded by arguments that he was in fact a dog, and was not allowed in the national park. Perhaps he should turn back before he lost his way home?

Our arguments soon weakened as we fell for his charm and agreeable company. However, boulders grew as the terminal moraine approached, and a small whine indicated our companion had found the rock scrambling too much. No drama, we would surely be rejoined by our new friend on the way down. On our return, however, his pleas for our company had ceased. It was pure chance that had us find him trapped, having fallen down a hole!

In a debacle doubtless hilarious to any onlookers, Raf lowered himself into the hole and pushed our terrified friend up to me. On our way again, we had no choice but to deliver our doggie companion back to town, The problem now being his shattered confidence at rock scrambling, necessitating carriage over tricky bits and much coaxing. However, when we eventually hit the main trail and had to explain to the park Ranger what we were doing with a dog in the national park, I swear our canine friend managed a distinctly smug look.

Back in town, some planning was needed, as my next move would involve 2 boat trips and a 22km hike over a mountain pass (with all luggage, gulp!) including an international border crossing. This would hopefully have me arrive at Chile's Villa O Higgins, a small village at the end of a 'road to nowhere'... stay tuned


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