Monday, January 08, 2007


¨Every time you two go to the mountains, the sun comes out,¨ Alicia, the senora said to Tamara as they hung laundry together. Weve been here at their house cum hostel (with no sign - to fly under the tax radar?) for 10 days as groups of boisterous israelis come and go. And now were buddies: she asks us to watch the house and answer the phone when she leaves and greats us by name when we come back from camping.

And she´s right: we´ve bee in no rush to quickly hike all the trails here and move on. We spend a few days in town - eating curried squash soup and drinking beer - while it rains and blows, then we decide to go for a hike and the weather turns. For a couple days, the sun shines and the grey lifts. Then we come back to our warm house - and so does the late afternoon gale-force winds and invisibly small raindrops.

We spent new years eve in bed after a hot shower and brought in 2007 with a kiss. The one ´rock´party in this dirt-road town was advertised to start at 1am, but by then we were falling asleep.

We woke early and, after tea and a few facturas (pastries) from the local bakery, we were on the trail. The slight disappointment at last nite´s lack of excitement disapated on the trail, despite the heavy grey skies. We lunched on sandwiches of hard boiled eggs, tomato, cheese, carrots, and crunchy bread as the winds swirled around us on the viewpoint which presented only hazy vistas.

By the time we arrived at poincenot camp, just 3 and a half hours later after a leisurely stroll, the famed FitzRoy Mtn had come into view. Fitz roy is often visible when Torre is obscured. We walked past the crowded camping area, and set up our ten with a spectacular view of the mtn. Of course, it was a bit windier down there but I built up a windscreen of fallen logs and we went for a late afternoon walk. it was cold and gusty up the valley and the trail petered out as we followed the rocky stream bed. We had to climb hand over hand up and over a hill to regain the trail. When the superwindy and frigid boulder field stopped tamara, I continued on to laguna sucia ¨the dirty lagoon.¨ Just as i arrived, a huge chunk of glaciated ice crashed down into the murky waters. The scene was spectacularly dismal; amazing, but too raw to stay long.

We came back to the tent and cooked dinner inside the tent to escape the wind. So much for Alicia´s analysis. By dusk, we were asleep.

I awoke with an excitement and unzipped the tent to reveal Fitz Roy clear and crisp in the dawn. When the sun´s rays first hit its peak, i layered on all my clothes and ventured out. Tamara lay curled up in her sleeping bag, watching the massive mountain glow from the warmth of bed.

Still riding the thrill of the clear morning, i hiked a steep rocky trail directly up and over a high saddle. Cresting the barren hill huffing heavily, I was greeted by the stunning sight of Fitz roy close up, looming overhead. Below, the lagun de los tres shone opal-turquiose while behind me the valley fell into the flat patagonian steppes and the sprawling, low-lying, glacial-fed lake viedma.

I scrambled down to and around the lakes shore. Crossing the swift outlet stream, i peered down dizzily into the abyss into which it fell 800 ft to laguna sucia. Over and up the loose rock on the other side i climbed, glancing down the cliff to my left until a condor soared into the crater holding the laguna and right up to the cliff, landing in its nest just 60 ft above me. I noticed it didnt have any of the white feathers on its inner wings, and figured it must be an adolescent. I climbed higher, sloping towards the nest until i decided it was too steep to climb on and risk the fall to laguna sucia, nearly 1000 feet below. As i sat studying the young bird, a full-grown condor glided silently up from the lagoon on wings spanning at least 7 feet. It turned its head, spotting me, and with a slight tilt to its massive wings swooped down upon me. I stared at it, transfixed, as it got closer and closer. I could see the white fringe around its neck, its stout beak, even its flat eye. Amazing! Until I realized maybe that was her baby and i was too close. I imagined her knocking me off balance with a blow from powerful wings, sending me tumbling gruesomely to my frigid death. I had heard that condors, primarily scavengers, were known to abduct baby sheep in their huge talons. I crouched down, fortifying my position, while holding eye contact with her liquid eye. I tried to soften myself, to seem less threating, to somehow appeal to her innate ability to differentiate a predator from a curious, harmless human. She glided even closer, perhaps 10 to 15 ft of cold air between us, and i actually readied myself for the tumbling, bruising, incapacitating, and ultimately fatal fall. Just before her wings swept me off the steep face, she lowered her head, nodding to me in acceptance. Then, without sound, banked to here right, and into the valley of laguna de los tres. Breathless and thrilled, I carefully made my way down to the trail and walked back to the tent, meditating to the rhythm of my footsteps on the condor´s role as worldbridger: taking sustenance and life from what is dead, diseased, and decayed.


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