Monday 1 May 2006

Bariloche: Nahuel Huapi Traverse Day 3

Refugio Lopez, Nahuel Huapi, BarilocheI'm heading all the way back today. There is the option of staying at Refugio Lopez, about 1.5 to 2 hours from the bottom but I don't see the point of breaking the day up like that. There's another option of leaving to Colonia Suiza, a short, direct route along the valley floor but that would be cheating. And anyway, I had decided back in London that I wanted to go the full route via Lopez, seeing as it's my mother's maiden name. Bailey was staying at the refugio on the basis that it would save him a little money, not having to pay for a night's stay in Bariloche.

I brew a nice mug of coffee, eat some biscuits and bread and wish that I'd brought a more substantial breakfast. Today's route, though, is supposed to be easy. Slight climb to go over into the next valley. Long descent. Bit of a climb over the next pass and an easy gentle descent to Lopez.

Actually, the first ascent is a bit treacherous with lots of loose rock. No problems with the descent. Then the climb starts. I have a quick read of the guidebook... a climb up a steep gully with loose rock making it slow going and slightly dangerous. And so it was. Some of the time I thought the rocks sliding beneath my hands and feet were moving faster than I was going up. There are way markings but they don't help here. As the rocks slide, the route changes. So several routes are marked out and conflict with each other. I decide to make my own way up.

I get to the top. A condor glides over to check if I'm still alive. Ahead of me is a view to the vast Lago Nahuel Huapi and Bariloche. Behind me is an amazing view to Tronador and over into Chile. Stunning. The wind's blowing hard and cold but I spend about 15 minutes trying to get a couple of good shots.

It's already 2.30pm. I was expecting to have reached Refugio Lopez by now and be starting my walk to the end. The bus leaves Colonia Suiza at 5.45.

The descent is way tougher than expected. It's a clamber not a saunter. My muscles and joints are aching from the constant pounding of each step down. My feet are sore from treading on to hard rock. I'm running out of water. Dehydrated and tired, I get to the refuge some time after 4.00. I take a quick snap of myself on my phone. I look a wreck. I drink a whole litre of water then try to eat. The salami, cheese and slightly stale bread don't go down easily. The apple's welcome, though.

I get chatting to a guy from Bariloche, who's walked up with his young daughter on his back, since it's such a beautiful day. Today is 1st May, which here is the Day of the Worker, a holiday. He offers me a lift into town, which I accept. First, though, we have to get down to his car. He's carrying a knee injury, I'm carrying a corpse. My own. We walk down fast. I think we're somehow pushing each other on. Or we both just want the pain to stop. Meanwhile his daughter is just enjoying the ride and the view all around.

The hot shower, back at the albergue, is beautiful. I've picked up: a small gash on my forearm from slipping on a wet log bridge; bruises and cuts on knees from bashes against rock; a bruised elbow, don't know what from; a massive bruise on my hip, which I think is from the slip on the bridge; and a bit of a tan on my face and hands. The hair on my thighs has been totally rubbed off. Looks very strange. I promise it isn't shaved: I haven't used a razor in weeks. Quite a beard I`ve grown.

Dinner. Smoked venison. Steak with a delicious mushroom sauce and chips, along with a big tomato salad. A nice big bottle of Quilmes to wash it down.

And so to bed. Lazy day tomorrow. I contemplate my next options. I'd had the idea of doing a 2-day trek by Tronador, with a 1-day extension taking me into Chile. I could then take a boat to the start of another 2-day trek. I've got just about enough time to do it. But does my body want it?

Footnote: I've written out an Australian couple from this story. They're the first people I've met on my travels that I haven't wanted to know.