It's just a noisy hall where there's a ...

Trip Start Oct 29, 2011
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Trip End Jun 01, 2012


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Flag of Argentina  , Santa Cruz,
Wednesday, January 25, 2012

...nightly brawl and all that jazz

So off back to Argentina (again !!) . We headed across the border and onto El Calafate. After this we headed onto Perito Merino where we were with a local guide. So I got to find out much more. First all of who Perito Merino was. The word Perito means an expert. He was an expert in trying to sort out the issue of the border between Chile and Argentina. The idea (and it makes sense) is for the border to be on the watershed in the mountains. The best way to decide on where this line goes it to pretty much do a join the dots across the high points. The land that drains water into the Pacific is on the Chilean side. The land that drains water into the Atlantic is on the Argentinian side. Sounds pretty straight forward, except no-one had surveyed the entire area up on the icefield to determine where this boundary should be placed. Moreno was appointed Perito (a technical specialist or expert) in 1902, in which capacity he disproved Chilean claims to the continental divide. Moreno proved that many Patagonian lakes draining to the Pacific Ocean were in fact part of the Atlantic Ocean basin, but had been moraine-dammed during the quaternary glaciations, changing their outlets to the west. So basically the arguments and near-wars between Argentina and Chile all come down to where the watershed should be – who knew geography could be so important !!

It was actually really good to come back 2 weeks later and see how much more the glacier had advanced onto the peninsular and how it was building up. Our guide reckoned that at the current rate it should rupture (when it all falls off – the last one was in 2008) in the next month – 3 months. So Helen and Jan – Me and the beaver are just going to sit and wait for it to take place – carefully taking our measurements with the fridge. In case you are remotely interested I found this video from when it went in 2006 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BDHayMS33MA&feature=related)

When we returned we then headed out for some food in my favourite empanada and pizza restaurant in El Chalten that Helen and I frequently visited (Eduardo and I had already decided this one over one those free beers the night before). And yet another saga !! Because they have different money in Argentina – the Argentine Peso. This caused a lot of problems for some members of the group. It was late so all the cambio's (money changers) had shut. Quite why people just couldn’t use a cashpoint (now one of my specialist subjects) was beyond me. So that evening people were trying to pay in dollars, euro’s, Chilean peso’s, monopoly money, tiddlywinks -  in fact anything but the country’s own currency !!. So the next morning we were due to leave nice and early so we could get to El Chalten (3 hours away) and still have time for a decent sized walk. Except we couldn’t do that because we needed to go to a cambio (which didn’t open until 10) and find a DHL postbox (don’t even ask !). So we all headed off into town – where the cambio had an extortionate exchange rate and there was no DHL postbox. So we then were late and only had time for a shorter walk. At which some people complained about – and it was the same people who held us up in the first place !!!

On the way to El Chalten we stopped off at La Leona roadhouse which is very famous (of course ! La Leona – know it well!). It is located on the bit of land between Lake Argentino and Lake Viedma and is located on the site that 17 years previously in 1877 good old Francisco Moreno was attacked and badly injured by a female puma (Leona means puma in Patagonian slang).  Anyway its a roadhouse in the middle of nowhere, but in 1905 they had three famous 'gringos’ (foreigners) visit and stay for a while (they rode on bikes while ‘Raindrops keep falling on my head’ played in the background). It was Butch Cassidy, Sundance Kid and his wife Ethel Place, who hid here after robbing the Bank of London and Tarapaca in Rio Gallegos. It was also used by many famous and intrepid climbers as a base camp for equipment storage (this is before El Chalten existed) before starting deadly mountain climbings to Cerro Terro and Fitzroy. So I guess it was only fitting that we popped in for a toilet stop.

So back to El Chalten and we were joined by an Argentine guide called Diego (looked like the bloke out of Orson). We were going to be doing two long day treks to see the highlights – Cerro Torre and Mt Fitzroy. And finally I got to see them, without the clouds. We were so lucky because we had three amazing days of weather – pretty much unheard of Patagonia.

The first morning Mary and I got up at 6 to see the sunrise. Myself, Mary and John were all sharing a room. Well to be honest – I’d woken up, popped to the toilet and then was heading back to bed but Mary decided I needed to get up and go with her – but it was worth it and we could be all smug as we’d seen it (and the hilarious snoring dog). We also discovered the wonderful sculptures from bits of rubbish that were dotted around the town.

So before I go onto to the actual proper trekking I must explain what is taking place in some of the photos. You see I’d had an email from Jess (ooh I feel like Sarah Greene on Blue Peter right now – always did wonder why she married Mike Smith – she could have done so much better – think I secretly hoped her and Philip would get together ). ‘Yes boys and girls we’ve received a letter from Jessica who is 19 ˝ and from Ruislip. Jessica has commented on the lack of Jazz Hands present in the photos on the blog. Well Jessica we here at Blue Peter (i.e. Biddy Baxter – I used to have a dog called Biddy – was never too sure if she was named after the Blue Peter editor) have noticed this too and have decided to do something about it – so just for you Jessica .... (for goodness sake Fi,please make sure she looks at this).

To explain why Jess would want to see jazz hands – Jess is a singer,dancer,actress (very good one at that) who I used to teach geography. The plan was that Jess was going to teach me to tap dance (with jazz hands) as I always wanted to be in the chorus of a musical. I never wanted to be at the front as the lead – just at the back, but I dreamed (and still do) of being in either Chicago or A Chorus Line (just to do ‘One’ actually). I always wanted to be the one in the film who looked like Sharon from Eastenders, in her days when she looked like Roly. Who knows I could be that singular sensation – I could walk into a room and be uncommonly rare, very unique, peripatetic, (no idea what it means either) poetic and chic (not likely) . Anyway we never got round to it, as we were too busy guessing the year on the time tunnel in our Wednesday morning lesson – Maybe I can add it to my list of things to achieve this year, when I get back to the UK Jess you can teach me and then it will be the West End and Broadway here I come !! (yes – I know the 7 summits are probably more likely).

So the highlight of hiking in El Chalten is the peaks of Cerro Torre and Mt Fitzroy. The first day of hiking was to the Laguna Torre. This lake is situated underneath Glacier Grande, Glacier Torre and Cerro  Torre (3102m) itself. It was to be another long hike – about 22km in total (3 sandwiches). WE started out from the town and followed Rio Fitzroy up until the lake. Then (as we were just about still standing) Diego let us go up to the viewpoint on the lateral moraine called Mirador Maesti where there is a stunning view of Cerro Torre and the glaciers. Apparently Cerro Torre is one of the hardest climbs in the world and is considered to be one the climbers 7 summits (the most difficult summit to climb on each continent). I was going to pop on up, but there was the rest of the group to consider and I had no down jacket.

When we got back to El Chalten I introduced everyone to the best bit of the town – the pub !! We had the special lager and their even more special Chocolate Brownie. I am not normally a fan of the chocolate brownie but the one’s they make here are incredible – especially with ice cream. Even Eduardo, who is an experienced guide, hiker and climber reckoned that the post hike beer and brownie was the best post hard day recuperation he had ever had (you see – I might not be great at the actual walking etc but when it comes to the recuperation I know what I am talking about – top tip for the Great North Run – cup of tea and a twix, followed a bit later by a packet of skips).

The final day, and we were off to see a stunning viewpoint of Fitzroy or Mt Chalten as it’s also known. Francisco Moreno first saw the mountain on 2 March 1877. He named it Fitz Roy, in honour of Robert FitzRoy, who, as captain of the HMS Beagle (also the ship Darwin travelled on) had travelled up the Santa Cruz River in 1834 and charted large parts of the Patagonian coast. It also turns out Robert Fitzroy was a pioneering meteorologist who made accurate weather forecasting a reality.

Cerro is a Spanish word meaning hill, while Chaltén comes from a Tehuelche word meaning "smoking mountain", due to a cloud that usually forms around the mountain's peak. Fitz Roy, however, was only one of a number of peaks the Tehuelche called Chaltén. The mountain has a reputation of being "ultimate", despite its average height (although being the highest peak in the Los Glaciares park, it is less than half the size of the Himalayan giants), because the sheer granite faces present long stretches of arduous technical climbing. In addition, the weather in the area is exceptionally inclement and treacherous. The mountain climb, however, remains extremely difficult and is the preserve of very experienced climbers. Today, when a hundred people may reach the summit of Mount Everest in a single day,Monte Fitz Roy may only be successfully ascended once a year.

Another 22km and another 3 sandwiches !!. We started off walking along the Rio Blanco so could get some stunning views of the peak and the glaciers. The final stage was to climb up 420m in the hot sun to a stunning viewpoint overlooking the Laguna de Los Tres (nearly killed me but worth it). It was a very hard walk back – especially as we knew it was our last one. But we stopped off at Lake Capri for a final view of the peak, just as the cloud was rolling in. The photo was just taken with a small camera – that’s how stunning it was !!

Then the following day the weather turned and the famous Patagonian wind came in - but we were heading off.  I cannot believe how incredibly lucky we were with the weather. Patagonia really is an incredible place – it might not be that high but what it lacks in height it makes up for in just sheer wowness (yes I know it’s not a word). It was an incredible trip - an exercise in dealing with difficult people, but I had my wonderful side kick, Mary to keep me sane. She was a great companion for the trip - with a wicked sense of humour - same sarcastic nature as me. And  as for Patagonia - the Himalayas have a lot to live up to ....
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Comments

Fi Crossland on

I'm on it Sandell!

Jessica long on

RAZZLE DAZZLE! Those jazz hands are definitely West End material! Chicago eat your heart out! :)

Jim on

For the record, the glacier ruptured at 0345 on the 4th March, so nobody saw it because it was dark! But the glacier itself is probably the most awesome thing I have ever seen.

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