Braving Mount Tronador

You know that day when you supposedly catch yourself realizing, “Oh wow, I turned into my parents?” I’m not sure I’ve had that day yet, maybe glimmers of it, but I’m here to say that it is fine by me, an honor even, to be like my parents. They are hard core, adventurers, nature lovers, mindful, generous, strong people.

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They wanted to go to Patagonia. Reminiscing about our last hurrah in Colorado together when we backpacked in Maroon Bells outside of Aspen, I knew I wanted to take them to Patagonia too. My dad wanted to go to places like he was seeing in my pictures throughout the year, perfectly wild Patagonia.

We stepped into the office of Club Andino in Bariloche, where you can plan treks in the surrounding Nahuel Huapi National Park. I already had one picked out for us and we just needed to check out the maps and solidify details.

Our first day involved a 9 mile trek, easy at first, and then weaving up steep switchbacks and over and across a rocky ridge for a few more hours leading us to Refugio Otto Meiling. I’m not sure who this Otto guy was, but he was ambitious building a hut there. And the motivation is obvious…throughout the hike you have views of Mount Tronador, the highest in the park, which sits on the border of Argentina and Chile. It is made up of 4 distinct peaks and 7 glaciers. As the glaciers live and breathe and move, they sound like a thunderstorm, giving Mount Tronador, or Mount Thunder, its name. The hut is nestled between two of the glaciers, both of which have waterfalls cascading down from them, one of which we would be crossing the next day.

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That night we had a unique kind of cultural immersion. The cozy, candlelit hut was packed with other trekkers who had all worked hard to make it there, and were enjoying the rest and good company over a hot meal and a bottle of wine. I’m of the opinion that every good, long trek should end that way. We met a German couple on sabbatical, and befriended a brother/sister pair from Buenos Aires. They were adorable teenagers very eager to practice their already astoundingly good English. We hope they take us up on our offer to visit us in the States. We talked to the girls managing the hut about their studies in mountaineering and skiing and rock climbing, and life at the refugio. For dessert we had…well, something with dulce de leche of course, I mean, this IS Argentina…but also one of those perfect cloudless sunsets where the sky simply paints a pallet of pink fading to orange fading to blue with an encore of the most incredible night sky. There were almost more stars than not stars. We could clearly see the milky way, and the entirety of the sky looked to be gently dusted with pixie dust. I must get a tripod and learn to take night shots!

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It was then time for bed and oh boy. I give my parents credit for bearing this packed house. We went upstairs and you could not see any floor. It was mattress to mattress like a matchbox. My dad was so tired from the day that in his sleep he accidentally took the pillow from the guy whose mattress was up against his at the head of it. I kept waking up afraid that I’d be spooning the person next to me in the middle of the night, or perhaps have rolled over to their bed. You get the idea, it was a tight squeeze.

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We had a low key morning before meeting up with our guide, Luciano, who would be taking us across Glacier Alerce that day along with another adorable German couple. This was a scenario where I was ok with a guide after seeing his good looks, but more importantly after seeing the crevasses that he expertly guided us through and across. We had crampons on and harnesses so that we could be tethered together by a rope, and took a longer than planned route up and over the glacier so we could have more time there. Pia and Michael were so kind as to share their trekking poles with us, which was beyond helpful. My dad was giggling like a mischievous little school kid and my mom said she had this profound emotion spread over her, thinking that so few people will ever get to be this majestic place. Wow. My cheeks started to hurt from smiling.

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I had hoped my parents would get to see one condor, and this could’ve been called the trek of the condors. We had see one briefly the first day just as we were coming to the last summit of the ridge.  Then that morning before we set off, there were several of them gliding around, in the way the orbs that they fly weave in and out of each other, coasting the ridges for breakfast. Add a glacier trek on top of that and I was happy, proud, and relieved to give them a quintessential Patagonia experience.

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And it didn’t stop there. We spent another few hours picking our way down a scree field, occasionally scooting along a section while grasping an anchored chain that provided more of a “trail” than the ground did. We sampled the purple chaura berries that were somehow finding a way to thrive in this rocky environment; they looked like perfectly round, pretty beads waiting to be woven into a necklace. They tasted tart and sweet. Tiny lizards added sparks of different colors as they scurried amongst our feet. When we arrived at Refugio Agonstino Rocca, we were tired, relieved, and overwhelmed with more beauty. Too many waterfalls to count were spilling from the glacier and we had what felt like a private balcony view to the paso de las nubes valley below and lago frio, where we would hike the next day. We had more time this night to rest, do some yoga, savor some hot chocolate, savor a hot shower (no joke!), and enjoy another nice warm meal and wine, with another sunset so beautiful it was as if we had ordered it.

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The next day we were surprised again, as the third day of hiking provided a third type of scenery. Today we’d be hiking 7 hours through a cloud forest and a whole lot of mud. It started out with a steep down hill and a canopy, almost cave of gnarly trees that had ultra green, wax-like leaves with deep creases. We saw holly-like plants and almost plastic looking cone flowers that looked like candy corn, but with red and yellow. It wasn’t long before we started crossing streams, creeks, rivers, and mud baths…sometimes with log bridges, sometimes with casually scattered logs and sticks and brush to step on, sometimes with pure balance as we grabbed tree branch after tree branch while tip toeing along the side of this mush. We climbed up and over many a fallen tree too, and wise old trees towered high above. When one was fallen, it was like climbing over your own height’s worth of log. This was a challenging day. All of this with the added pressure to make it to the end by 4:30pm or we would miss our boat across the lake and back to town. There was no plan B, although there came a time where we started scouting areas as potential campsites for the night.

In the end, we made it on time and met up with our friends Pia and Michael and a cute Chilean couple that had leap frogged us earlier on the trail. Did I mention my mom had just had knee surgery in November? Troopers I tell you. By the time we were cruising across the royal blue waters, hair blowing in the breeze, sipping on a beer…the challenge of it all was being consumed into the beauty of an unforgettable experience.

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