Saturday 29 April 2006

Bariloche: Nahuel Huapi Traverse Day 1

The Nahuel Huapi Traverse, near Bariloche
Is it still walking if you're using your hands?

The Nahuel Huapi Traverse is billed in the Lonely Planet guide to trekking in the Patagonian Andes as a 5-day classic pass-hopping moderate-demanding trek. That basically means that for 5 days you're going to be ascending and descending steep slopes covered in loose rocks, scree, sand, boulders and other difficult terrain. You're definitely going to need to use your hands and, probably, on the occasional descent, make use of the technique known as 'sliding down on your bum'. And, of course, I choose to do it in 3 days instead of 5.

Day 1 was supposed to be easy. It wasn't. After a short steep climb to a mountain pass, I get moving along the ridge, manoeuvring over large boulders, careful not to slip and end 300m down to my right. Then the descent: step, slide, step, slide, bring half the mountain down with you. Nice walk through the wood at the bottom lasts 30 minutes max before starting the long ascent to another pass. It's warm today and the going feels slow. Half way up, I unzip my legs and remove them. That's my detachable trouser legs. So I'm in shorts now with my dayglo legs out for the world to see. Except there's no one to see them.

When I finally reach Refugio San Martín at Laguna Jakob, my knees are feeling a little sore. Each big step down on to rock with the weight on my back is putting a strain on them. The refuge, I was told by the guys at Club Andino in Bariloche, yesterday, was closed but I arrived and could hear music from inside. Definitely open. No camping tonight. Total wimp-out. I've had 8 nights in a tent for 12 days walking (including today), out of 21 days since leaving BA. Bear in mind 5 days of transfer, that's 75% of the time walking and 50% of nights spent in a tent. Tonight I have a mattress, indoors, in my sleeping bag, with a blanket should I need it. 20 pesos. £4.00.

I met a guy from Montana in the albergue in Bariloche, by the name of Bailey. After I told him what I was planning, he decided to come along. He didn't have all the kit he needed so set out later. He's camping tonight, just to show me up. Bailey works in a bar in Montana. Working evenings means that during the winter months he can ski during the day. That's 75 days skiing per year. Jealous. He also spends a lot of time out trekking and camping. Great way to live.

Tomorrow's leg is supposed to be demanding and both my book and Club Andino Bariloche strongly recommend going with a guide. Should be ok, if the weather stays good. I hope. Like today but tougher.