I got up at seven o’clock in the morning; I gathered my luggage and went out in front of the hotel to wait for Maria. She arrived by a taxi five minutes later. We went to the exit of the town and we discussed the hitch-hiking strategy. We tried to wave before the exit but fifteen minutes later I insisted that we should walk a little bit further so that we could infiltrate the local traffic. The weather was nice and about twenty minutes later a woman who was working at the airport (just like Fernando) picked us up about twenty kilometers until the road fork. There we’ve been waiting for about twenty minutes. During that time we mainly have been thinking over how to export the Patagonian stones for sale or at least how to arrange them on the road so that the cars would stop. Most of the traffic was going to the airport but finally a pick-up stopped and took us until the next road fork. There a truck with cows has stopped and its driver was expecting something. On our behalf we began waiting for our next driver. A few cars gave signs to us that they were traveling in a close direction. Then another truck appeared and the cattle were transported into it. After a very long waiting finally a taxi stopped and took us until El Chalten – about 180 kilometers away.

At Chalten the weather was bad – the mountain was covered by clouds, the wind was blowing and raindrops were flying in the air at random directions. We ate a little and turned our steps above. A few hundred meters later I pulled out the unnecessary stuff from my luggage; I put them at two water-proof sacks and hid them at the bushes. The pathway was not difficult and in spite of the heavy rucksacks we advanced quickly. Somewhere in the middle of the road we stopped because Maria wanted to make herself some mate. From that point on Maria would be called Masha as I decided approximately on that spot on the pathway. So Masha had been living at Moscow until she was 13. Then her mother won a green card and they emigrated at the United States. First they lived at New York and now she was living at San Francisco and she was a sort of music agent no matter that she has graduated in Biology. In the evening we reached the camping site below Cerro Torre and we pitched the tent (mine). It seemed big enough to fit us both in. During the night the weather was rainy and at moments the wind was even scary but the forest around us was taking away from its force. The only problem we had was the sand that was flying in our tent.

When my alarm rang out at five and something in the morning it was still raining outside so we went on sleeping until eleven and something. Then Masha got up and went out. I heard her talking to someone on the outside. That was Koen – a boy of 21 years from Holland who was hitch-hiking around Argentina.

Once again Masha began to prepare herself mate. She was constantly zipping and unzipping the tent and as a result the zip got out of order. I started to feel mild irritation by her inattentive attitude to it.

In the afternoon we decided to go to the panoramic point above the lake, no matter that all we could see from there in that cloudy weather was the glacier descending from the mountain. As compensation the walk was fun because the wind was simply indescribable. In spite of all the experience I had with wind I had to admit that here it was stronger by one level. There were moments when it was difficult to walk and other moments when it was even dangerous because the wind was strong enough to knock you down if you didn’t pay attention. And we bent ahead blown by the gusts and we were screaming. At one point I had the insane idea that we may first pass on the other side and try walking on the glacier, which required that we first passed somehow without special equipment on a steel rope above the river. Then we were supposed to thread on a few very steep screes and find out exactly how to get on the glacier. When we came back to the camping site the rain grew stronger and we were already wet enough to give up on the idea. In any case the idea was extremely bad since walking on glacier without crampons in such a windy weather could be extremely dangerous – the crevasses were deep enough in order for you not to be able to get out… ever.

In the next morning I could not hear rain and at 5:20 I went out to check if there would be sunrise. Cerro Torre was rising in all its glory and it was free of clouds. I woke Koen up and set off for the lake in order to take photographs. Naturally the sunrise was worth each one of the rainy minutes I had spent at the tent. The only thing I regretted was that Masha was oversleeping that beautiful moment.

An hour later I went back to get some sleep, at about lunch time we decided to gather our belongings and go to the camping site below Fitz Roy. For the moment the weather was good but it looked like it would get worse. All the time I was going forward so that I would sing to myself while listening to music. Kuun and Masha were talking at the back.

When we met Koen on the first day he had only a small tent that was not water-proof at all and for that reason he thought of looking for a dry spot below some rock. By some miracle one of the tents at the camping site turned out to be abandoned and he took shelter in it. Now he was dragging it towards the next camping site – a three-seated heavy tent just for one person.

A little bit after we pitched the tent it started raining again, just mildly. After we had fed our faces with lentils and rice Masha and Kuun decided to take a walk and I went with them. We turned our steps to mirador Piedros Blancas – a place from which we could see the glacier of the same name and the little lake below it.

The forest was beautiful in an almost mystical way and somewhere out there we saw a big woodpecker with brightly red head.

The mentioned small lake was settled in a bare gully that was covered with enormous stone boulders. That was a result of a big explosion that had happened 60 years ago and was caused by the accumulated tension at the glacier. At the moment the latter one was descending high from the rocks above the lake. When we reached the mirador I made the appropriate photographs no matter that the weather was not suitable at all. After that somehow we got the idea of going faster to the lake. We were separated from it by a very steep and deep slope, a not very big but cold river and the above-mentioned gully that was full of stone boulders. When I saw how much we were supposed to pass in order to reach the river (respectively to climb back later) my enthusiasm faded away. However Masha and Koen were seriously keen on it and I had no other choice but to go with them.

The first ten meters of the declination were easy but at the down part sharp scree was revealed and it seemed kind of dangerous. Nevertheless, after a short inspection we found a suitable place and carefully went down to the river.

Now we were supposed to find a spot from which to cross it. We went upwards – at places it was narrower but it was very swift-flowing. At other places it was wider and suspiciously deep. However we could not see any ford. Koen managed to find some point from which he crossed half the river with the sacrifice of wet shoes. Masha and I kept on looking for a place as we were arguing if we should do that at all – it was already growing dusky. Finally I chose a place; I took off my shoes, my socks and trousers and waded through the ice cold water that was flowing from the melting glacier situated a kilometer above. I knew it would be no problem for Masha because she was used to bathing in cold water ever since she was a little girl. But she was being nervous because she could not roll up her trouser legs any further than the knee. The water’s level was a little bit higher than the height of my knee. Nevertheless she managed to cross the river without getting wet. Somehow Koen crossed it completely by getting a little bit wetter.

Then I looked at my watch – it was 10:10 that meant at least half an hour after sunset. Then the weather is cloudy and rainy during the whole day and you lose track of time. Now we started arguing whether we should continue until the lake or go back to the camping site on the other side of the river. I insisted that we followed the second option because I thought that the lake was at least 30 minutes away which meant climbing on stony ground. However, both of them were inflexible therefore we went on. Some of the boulders were truly enormous and there were big holes that were wide open between them. Somewhere among and beneath them the river that was flowing from the lake was making its way down.

Koen was walking and Masha was following me when I heard her screaming. For a hundredth of a second I thought she had fallen but after that I rationalized the accompanying sound of something tiny that was rolling down the rocks. It was just her camera. It slipped out of the inside pocket of her jacket when she bent over. Now it was in the water of a narrow hole between two big rocks.

During all the days Masha’s mood was changing even more often than the Patagonian weather and now it had gotten even worse. She wanted to take her camera out but she was afraid of thrusting her hand into the crack. I began to take off my jacket and my polar so that I could thrust my hand into it and she kept on shouting that I was supposed to thrust it just like that, which was impossible because it would sink. That had happened a long time ago. The crack was extremely uncomfortable and the water inside was ice cold but after some rummaging and illumination with the headlamp I managed to take the camera out. Just ten minutes later we were already by the lake and Masha was radiant with happiness that we have succeeded. We took a photograph and went back. I was the only person who was carrying some luggage and I also had a headlamp. When it grew darker I gave it to Masha. It was not completely dark yet and I could jump on the white stone boulders even without light. Walking on such a stony ground has always been easy for me. But it was not so for Masha. She was walking slowly behind me and was choosing her way timidly. Whenever she was going down from stone to stone she used her hands. At one point we reached a very big boulder and Koen and I went down. However she got scared no matter that I was persuading her it was easy (as it was) and she went to search for another route. She came back five minutes later, still angry, scared and unwilling to cross from that point. In the end I managed to convince her she could go down as well.

We were already by the end of the gully when I heard another scream from behind – this time it was Koen. He had taken a wrong step and ended up lying on the ground and screaming. I got worried that he had broken something but then it turned out that it was not so serious and he could walk. Finally we went upwards by the river where we found some traces of pathway. Masha was in a good mood once again when she saw the stony pyramids. She was leading because it was already really dark and she had the light. It was already starting to rain stronger and at places the pathway was muddy and it crossed little brooklets which got on Maria’s nerves. She was complaining she would get her shoes wet and get sick. They started arguing how we would know that we have reached the camping site since we walked on the other shore. It was no problem for me because I knew that at some point we would cross the pathway for Laguna de los Tres, which lead to the camping. However, they went on being nervous.

The climax occurred when we found a road fork on the pathway – one of it was going to the left and it crossed one brooklet and the other one was pointing exactly at the direction we were coming from, just like the yellow arrow. To me there was no doubt that the camping site was somewhere near ahead and we were supposed to go to the left. However, Maria and Koen began on persisting that we have passed it by and that the pathway upwards was leading to Laguna de los Tres and the yellow arrow was pointing at the camping site. I on my behalf was convinced that the arrow was pointing at the glacier we were coming from and tried to persuade them that the opposite shore was too steep to be near the camping site. Masha was about to completely lose control and began to make things that lacked any logic at all. She didn’t want to cross some brooklet and go down to the river to look for a bridge. She didn’t want to listen to me and she was not capable of making a calm and rational decision. Koen seemed way too nervous to think straight as well. I felt completely calm and convinced in my justice therefore I decided it was high time to take control of things. And by control I meant my headlamp.

When I took it and told them to wait for me for 5-10 minutes in order to check the pathway Maria went completely crazy. She began screaming and swearing at me and I went to check where the pathway was going as I hardly paid any attention to her. After the left turn it was branching out again… one pathway was going to the flat stony river bed and the other one was going upwards. I checked the one by the river bed but the pathway got lost and I couldn’t see any bridge in the distance because of the darkness. Maria went on screaming so I thought I should come back to them without checking the other pathway. Maria already sounded desperate and could not think logically. She accused me of wasting them twenty minutes (in reality these were seven-eight minutes), she asked me to give her water bottle and camera back (the latter one was at my rucksack). Almost crying she declared she was not going anywhere with me, she would go upwards to reach Laguna de los Tres and then she would go back to the camping site. That was a thing that totally lacked logic – the mentioned lake was situated on a distance of one hour and a half, 450 meters above, on a more difficult and narrow pathway. If that was the mentioned pathway there was no point in climbing again so that she would go down here again.

The problem for me was not how to find the camping site. The problem was that I had no idea how to behave with Maria and how to calm her down. On the other hand I managed to convince Koen that we should explore the next one hundred meters of the left pathway. Maria fell in a total state of despair. She sat below a tree and declared she would sleep there. We left her in spite of her extreme unwillingness and went ahead. Just 50-60 meters we found the signs. We came back for her and somehow we persuaded her to go. Just 15 minutes later and a few shouts of “Don’t put the light into my eyes” that were addressed at me we reached the camping site and got into the tent. First I thought she would not want to sleep with me but there was no such prospect. I was in an excellent condition and went straight to sleep. She began making herself some soup in order to warm herself up. In spite of all she ended up offering it to me as well. I refused since I felt offended by her swearing.

It had been raining all the night and once again it got even colder than it had been at the previous nights. I felt that Maria was cold but nevertheless she kept the distance and didn’t want to come and warm herself with me as she did in the previous nights.

We spent the following day in timelessness. It was raining almost all the time and Maria was talking to me only when she wanted me to move somewhere in order to rummage through her rucksack. We were lying inside in silence. At 7 and something she declared she was feeling trapped and she wanted to go down to Chalten but she didn’t do that. An hour later she boiled some lentils and after she ate she offered to me as well. I replied I was not hungry and she said it was not because of the hunger but to keep me warm. Then I agreed and ate a little. I felt that she was cold even with the clothes in her sleeping bag – it was 4-5 degrees outside, it was pouring torrential rain and the air’s humidity was maximal. I asked her if she wanted some of my warmth and she agreed. As we snuggled in the bags and we pressed close against one another the wall that was standing between us during the whole came crashing down just for seconds. Maria became again Masha who smiles, indulges herself and teases me in Russian. The rain kept on falling even more torrential but on the inside it was already warm. Masha said she was feeling happy that the streams of water that the wind was shaking down from the trees fell on the tent and not over our heads. After that we began telling each other jokes until 1 or 2 o’clock after midnight. We made black humor jokes about the Israeli that were two tents away from us, we were grinning and the most important – she told me about every one of the restaurants at her neighborhood at San Francisco. After that I felt dozy and we fell asleep.

In the morning the weather was better but it was still drizzling slightly. Masha didn’t want to wait anymore, she had gotten used to the thought she would not see Fitz Roy at sunrise. Koen wanted to go back too. I myself had food for at least one more day so I decided I would stay.

When Masha gathered her belongings the tent appeared to me as large as a football field and just as empty. But there was no other way because when you travel you have to get used to the constant meetings and separations. The Argentinian couple that was accompanying us ever since the first camping site had decided they would stay until the next morning. They were coming at every six years to admire the charming sunrise but this year they would have no such luck. There were just seven tents at the camping site and the people who were making trips of one day at destination Chalten – Laguna de los Tres became less as well. The weather was getting even colder. I spent the day writing and having a lie-in. Time and time again I was going out to stretch my legs. I could feel Masha’s absence through the night as well – it was considerably colder in the tent. In the morning when the sunrise occurred it was silent outside. When I peeked out I found out the reason behind the silence – it was not raining as usual, it was snowing. Greetings for the first snow! Right on time because what kind of Christmas would it be without snow. Christmas was getting closer; there were only two days left, or one. It depended on how you counted them. By that moment I stuck to my decision to continue on Ruta 40 but it would not be bad to wait until the holiday was over. When the Argentinians left they left me some food – biscuits, two tomatoes, three oranges and bread. So I could stay one more day.

At about lunchtime the clouds cleared away, nothing was raining or snowing so I went for Laguna de los Tres. If not by sunrise I wanted to see it during the day. That way I could see if it was worth it to climb at sunrise if there was such on the following day. The pathway was steep and it overcame a displacement of 450 meters. At its upper part there was still not melted snow from the previous days. The snow was deep between 5 and 25 centimeters by the lake itself. The lagoon was still partially ice-bound. Pointsenot and Fitz Roy were rising in a powerful manner above it. Every now and then I could see them among the clouds. After I went down I continued until the ill-fated lake and glacier in order to take some pictures and see the pathway through the day. During the day the situation seemed almost comic. The place where we were having a fight turned out to be not more than 50 meters away from the bridge in a bee-line. It was simply not visible from that point. The stones by the lake were dangerous even at daylight so when I went back and met some girl I decided to wait for her because it began to drizzle.

When I came back to the camping site the tents had sprung like mushrooms. A group of Israeli people informed me that the weather report for the following day would be good and they would get up at four in the morning in order to climb up by sunrise. I ate and I went to explore one more place – laguna Capri – at about 50 minutes away. Then I returned and went to sleep. Once more the night was very cold. I got up at four o’clock and something but no matter that it was not raining Fitz Roy was partially covered by clouds and there was no point in hammering away for one hour and a half above. The lights of the Israeli headlamps were already twinkling on the slope.

A little bit before sunrise I got up one more time and went to take photographs. In spite of the clouds for about ten minutes there was something like sunrise and later I went back to sleep. At 10 and a half I got up and started collecting my belongings. It was 24th of December – a good time for a good eating at some hostel. As I was gathering my staff some people came to ask me if I had a food I didn’t need. They had forgotten their food when they were leaving Chalten. I had about 800 grams of rice that I was wondering what to do with, a cake and a package of dried… plums, I guess. For those things and for my little saltern that I had been carrying ever since I left Bulgaria those people (they were Swedish) gave me 40 pesos no matter that I didn’t want anything for the rice. That was one heck of a deal.

As I was going down the pathway the wind was blowing severely (just like the whole morning before that) and it was scattering rare snow shrouds in the air. Two hours later I was already at the streets of Chalten in search of the cheap hostel the Israeli had told me about.

Bookmark and Share