Friday, January 25, 2008

Bariloche: Tronador

The plan was to hike 17.5 km up Cerro Tronador to see its glacier and stay at the refugio overnight at the top. The mountain has a thick icecap covering it with tongues of ice descending and reshaping the landscape. Tronador means Thunderer in Spanish and it refers to the roaring sound produced as the ice cracks. As the glacier expands it pushes everything out of its way, gobbling up any sign of life and spitting out dead trees and stones.  On the way up we would see the spectacular glacier, and in places where it had receded, its trail of destruction.
Having some expectation of what this might actually look like, we were somewhat surprised when we found ourselves trekking through thick forest...
We were also surprised to find out that it was a stinker of a day and we would be accompanied by a bothersome business of flies. But not just any flies, horse flies. The enormous type that draw blood and madden horses. Here you can see one that landed on TZ's hat. Jez was extremely chivalrous and killed that fly (and others) with one almighty smack leaving TZ somewhat dazed.
After hiking about four hours of steep incline we saw through a clearing in the forest our first sneak preview of the glacier:
As we grew closer the glacier replaced the forest and dominated the landscape. We could see and hear mother nature at work. As the glacier melted it thundered, and streams were created. An idea entered our imagination ... what did this look like up close and more importantly could we walk on it?
We approached the summit separately. Jez was a good half hour in front and started to panic. Our accommodation was somewhat...smaller than he expected and not as hospitable-looking as he assumed it would be. None of this mattered. He knew that if it did not have a power outlet for TZ's hairdryer all bets were off...Minutes later, he learnt that this was not where we were going to sleep. It was in fact a storage shed!
The actual refugio was a lot more impressive than the storage shed. Unfortunately though it still didnt have any power outlets. All the energy needs were supplied by solar panels. Food was carried up by backpack, and once a year heavy supplies such as gas bottles were brought up by helicopter. At least they dont have to go too far for fresh water!

Despite the difficulties, the friendly staff at the refugio prepared for us the very best steak we ate whilst in Argentina.IMG_3754
When we arrived we joined the other backpackers wandering around, stupefied by exhaustion and the overwhelming view.
We spent the afternoon with jaws agape, and were thrilled by the spectacle of circling condors.
It may look like we roughed it a bit, but if you look closely at this picture of TZ reading her book and enjoying a hot chocolate, you can see some people camped outside. The Argentinians (ie non-gringos) even prepared food that they had schlepped up the mountain themselves.
Meanwhile, Jez was brushing up on his Patagonian history by reading Bruce Chatwin's classic 'In Patagonia'. If the man himself were alive today, he would be most impressed by the setting in which his book was being read. Although he might not be so happy to learn that the erstwhile, mostly undiscovered farthermost end-of-the-world region that he knew back in the 70s now swarms with millions of tourists...
One of the staff at the refugio ran ice-hiking trips across the glacier. Jez was excited at the idea of using crampons although he wasnt exactly sure what they were. Unfortunately the expedition collapsed when a bunch of Frenchies pulled out. In retrospect it was hard to be disappointed with the croissant munchers, as their intention to exert themselves outlasted their compatriots in WWII. See below Jez's frustration in pantomime.
Note the luminous Kermit green backpack Jez is sporting. Keen observers will note a distinct lack of it in subsequent photos. This is because the backpack was bought in haste the day before we hiked up Tronador. After struggling to fit all his things in it for a mere two day hike, Jez flipped out. How could he possibly use this microscopic thing for our up and coming 5 day hike in Torres del Paines? It was simply impossible! There was only one solution. The backpack must be restored to its original condition and returned to the shop for an exchange. And there was only one person who could pull this off, his wife. She would scrub off the mud, soak away the the sweat stains, trim the fraying straps and re-attach the label. It was almost perfect and not a bit stinky! Luckily for us the poor lighting in the store sealed the deal and the staff were none the wiser. Jez successfully upgraded his Mini to the Kingswood station wagon of backpacks.

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