An early start this morning put me on the trail toward Fitz Roy earlier than the “crowds” I’d meet along my trek later this afternoon. The crisp cool air and painted blue sky with just a hint of fluffy clouds made for a perfect morning. I packed my day pack with some bread, trail mix, chocolate and water. The first hour or so i climbed a slight ascent over a well marked trail passing through forest, meadows and along a ridge offering vistas down the alley toward Lago Desierto.
Today would be the first prolonged hike or trek since my tangle with the Bolivian railroad tracks in November. My knee seems fully recovered, but the nagging left ankle still sends me pain messages just reminding me that I bit the gravel a couple months back. Ankle sprains take forever to heal. But with my light hiking boots tied tight and a good night’s rest I am ready to go beyond the usual walk around town and endure the eight-hour roundtrip journey.
At the first “mirador” of Fitz Roy I climbed a nearby rock, sat down and simply gazed at the massive granite slab and the nearby glacier that literally was frozen in time. I felt good, the ankle giving me no problems and the trail quiet and absent of people. I continued walking through forest and then descended down into a valley where I passed several small lakes and trekked along a river. I thought back at many of my several trips to REI when gearing up for my journey. I never envisioned carrying a water filter but somewhere in my kit are water purification tablets — because you never know. By I remember watching a young couple receive a demonstration for the latest in portable water purification technology and wondered where they were headed. But at the beginning of the trail this morning a sign slightly obscured with overgrown and weathered by the rough winters this place experiences. The sign simply stated “agua potable”. The rushing stream I stopped to watch while crossing a small footbridge called to me. I had to try. So I scooped up a handful and tossed in my face. The next scoop went in my mouth. Extremely cold, fresh and rich in minerals. No filtration or purification tablets required. Pristine.
I trekked through wetlands with high pampa grass. The narrow path sometimes was a muddy mess. But hopping and skipping along the rocks made for a good test of balance on my still recuperating ankle. So far so good. Surprisingly the weather held out. There were no rains, no grey skies and barely a hint of wind. The lack of wind was the real treat. This trail is famous for its windy ridges and powerful cold gusts down the valley. But nothing. Dare I say? The perfect day to hike? Luck was with me now.
All along I was heading toward Fitz Roy. it’s grandeur stood proudly above and in front of me. When I’d pick my head up from the trail and the beautiful lakes and river I passed I’d get another glimpse. After another hour it disappeared behind a ridge and knoll. By the time I got to the bottom of what would turn out to be a steep and rocky climb to Laguna de los Tres I was famished. I spread some peanut butter on my bread, nibbled on trail mix and powered down a good dose of water. Here I ran into my first fellow trekkers – an international group who were just finishing their snack by the time I arrived.
Soon I began the near seventy degree vertical ascent. The dirt trail by now turned into loose and sharp rocks. I craned my neck and saw tiny dots of other trekkers up the hill. I continued. My ankle doing alright but slightly fatigued. And by now I was feeling a bit in my knee. After 30 minutes of marching straight up the hill I looked up again. I’d barely gone a third of the way. I continued. Fifteen minutes later I thought about how the trek down would be. I knew that going up would be no problem but I was worried about the strain and stress on my knee coming down the hill. I sat. Thought. Geez. I’ve seen amazing scenery, trekked through pristine alpine meadows, drank the freshest water from glacial streams and put my healing joints to a damn good test. So I turned around. On the way down I encountered a couple panting and tired climbing up. “How much further,” the girl asked wiping sweat from her upper lip. I turned around and pointed to a tiny red dot. “See that girl in red,?” I motioned up the hill. “That’s about two thirds,” The view up the mountain looked dauntingly steep. And large and sometimes loose rocks made the “trail.” They continued up. And I made my way down.
By the time I was back at my hostel nearly eight hours after my early morning departure, and as the skinny, long brown-haired girl handed me the key to my room she let out a slew of Spanish that took me a minute to digest and understand, In fact, I was sure I didn’t understand. But it sounded like she said that the wind blew my motorcycle over. But I looked out the window and saw the bike with its cover securely held on. “Huh?” I asked. “Si, es verdad!” Apparently the winds that didn’t hassle me on the mountain and during the trek today were barreling through the tiny town. So strong that they blew my nearly 500 pound motorcycle over. The girl’s boyfriend who shared duties at the hostel had a difficult time picking up the bike. She told me tourists just passed him as he struggled to right the bike. Finally someone stopped to help.
Imagine the wind power required to topple a 500lb machine? If you can imagine this force then you might be able to begin to understnad the winds I must contend with riding through Patagonia. I inspected the damage. The bike fell on the same side that it fell when I dropped it in early December in Salta. The weld that I had done in Cafayate broke and the bracket pushed the Jesse Bag against the gas tank making it impossible to open the gas cap enough to fill up. Shit. I guess my luck ran out.