Hey! out there, to all my little, beautiful mountain goat friends. Keep up the good climb.
A friend from Peru, Karim, who lives in my building, wanted to go climb a Patagonian Ande named Cerro Lopez. Seeing as how I have nothing important to do besides put food in me occasionally, I figured I´d make the climb a two-some. Heck, we could´ve gone tango-ing! That would´ve been much safer - unless I really screwed up one of the passes.
Three days ago, we went to take the local # 10 bus, after noon. Summer wind blew hard.
A stout old man walked the street. The hopeless-looking-ness of the gloved arms to his side, pushed out by a thick coat, his ear-covering fur hat, and his glum march portrayed in one look the Patagonian definition of "summer."
By 2:45, it wasn´t so windy or cold. Karim and I were out of the bus, beneath Cerro Lopez.
Far above the paved road, large rock heads and a snow-plaited rock ridge stuck from the green land that climbed up. We climbed up.
Actually, it wasn´t that cold at all. Towards the partially cloudy, big sky blue we hiked. Red dots had been spray-painted onto the rocks and trees, marking a path up the popular mountain. So, Karim and I wouldn´t be "Free-path mountain-blazing." Not yet.
Boy, following paths can be tough. We hiked through a soft-hilled, mossy forest, not too dense with gray, peaceful trees. It was a very pleasant setting, and orange-caped birds scampered around the roots. At times, the forest gave way to a green slope. Looking out to the territory below and beyond, we could see the glistening silvery-blue of Argentina´s Lake District lakes, green land amid, and more mountains at vision´s end.
"Hay las marcas rojas por allá?" Karen would ask, at the tough parts where worn trail imposturs led us off-path. (Are the red marks over there?)
Karim, foolish enough to companion me on a mountain trek - or "death teasers" as I ought to secretly call them - was a brown-skinned Peruvian. Red lips stuck out from her face. Dark eyes were hidden by curly, black hair that widened her head. She was NOT a professional mountain-climber. She was a mere mortal physics student.
She laughed, because we were carrying so much clothes and food for a trek that would supposedly see us snug in our homes by nightfall. We passed one guy who was hiking in shorts, and I told him I was envious that I had on my wind-pants.
After two-and-a-half hours, the red-mark path we tred came to an end. The rocksy top of the mountain was much closer and bigger, but still a ways off. A road for cars led sideways across the mountain towards a lodge that offered cheap sleeping accomodation. There also might´ve been a human´s path to the top of the mountain there.
Aww, but who needs paths? Like two irrational animals, Karim and I headed STRAIGHT UP the mountain with no sideways delay. All cliff ledges, plant forests, and crevasses would fall before us - or else we would.
Karim hadn´t done much free-style mountain-blazing, I don´t think. On a long, creeping slide of snow, I held her hand to secure her from slipping, as I dug my feet sideways into the snow and pulled us upwards. Then, she got trapped, screaming, four feet off the ground trying to climb up a small rock wall. I helped her down.
We made it up a similar rock wall on the other side. We crossed a grass plateau and fought slithering, dark green plants to get through. The Peruvian advanced slow, scared, and unsure, and I kept expecting/half-hoping she would want to turn back. But, as I went ahead to scout the terrain´s upcoming passability, she rabidly pulled herself up one tough rock wall.
The Peruvian wanted everything Lopez could give her.
We climbed up more rocks, fought more slithering plants, and stepped up parts of the mountain that were like stairs. We were high up. At parts, all we had to do was lose our footing, and we would´ve fallen a long, hard ways. I shadowed Karim in these parts, so I could grab her in case, but she never fell. She sometimes got stuck in climbing positions, yes, and I rushed to un-paralyze her.
All plant-life gave way to Lopez´s rock and snow. Karim and I carefully stepped across a slippery stream that tore down the mountain. I ran ahead, and called back to Karim that the dangerous parts were over with and we merely had to walk the slope upwards to reach the snowy top.
Karim had tired of the tough climb, I think. Because she said, "Hay las marcas rojas por allá?" (Are there red marks over there?) which was funny. No, Karim, that whimpering trail far below had admitted defeat to Lopez at a much-saner altitude.
If you can fricken believe it, we had to admit defeat to Lopez too. At about seventy feet from the final mountain crest. Snow - which scared the crap out of Karim - and the fact that it was seven p.m. kept us from seeing the other side of the mountain. Gal-dang it. Lopez had won. But, would the mountain´s be a murderous victory? Perhaps.
Seven p.m. Two hours of sunlight remained. How on earth were we even going to make it back to the trail in two hours? With Karim, who toppled like a newborn penguin on the snow, and who didn´t walk much faster elsewhere on the mountain? She smiled, as we rested and celebrated with sandwiches. But, I may never have been in a situation that worried my heart more. If we spent the night this high on the mountain, morning probably would never come.
Wind at this altitude worked on numbing our hands. We got up, and I scouted the path down. We couldn´t descend the way we´d climbed. It was too perilous.
To make it down in time, we were gonna need three things: teamwork; to not follow a descent that dead-ended at a tall or steep cliff or crevass, because then we would have to backtrack (I´d learned that lesson during my Christmas day fpmbing); and, to not fall off one of these dead ends.
Karim didn´t show worry. Thankfully, though, she - who had been so independent on the way up, and only rarely took my hand in aid - accepted my hand as we walked down the top. The slope was walkable, but steep and paved with small, loose rocks. I or Karim fell a lot. "Ai!" Karim yelped too many times on the day. Each time, I braced myself to see she hadn´t sprained an ankle or pulled something.
After twenty-five minutes, the mountain´s relatively easy-walking top came to an end. In front of us and to the left - where we´d made our ascent - large drops and stream crevasses lurked prolificly. An evenly-descending plant forest far to the right looked promising - if we could reach it.
Heading right-wards, we had to cross two big slides of snow. Karim confessed to me her terror that snow she walked on would collapse out from below her. But, for some reason, she somehow said she trusted in me. Man, they make ´em brave in Peru!
We simply walked across the first snow slide. Taking my hand, the Peruvian learned to dig her feet sideways into the snow and walked across without slipping so much.
At the second snow, we needed to slide down it a good ways to get where we were going. This terrified Karim. We sat on our butts in the snow and fastened hands. I slid first, eight feet down, and braked with my feet below Karim. Karim followed, screaming for me to hold onto her as she tried to stop. We continued this pattern for about twenty slides each, and Karim was happy when we again were standing, on the other side´s dry rock.
We seemed to be in good position now. We spent forty minutes easing our way down very steep and tricksy, but navigable, loose gray rocks. Then, we wrestled through slithering, dark green plants for twenty minutes.
Karim "Ai!"ed, slipping occasionally on the 45-degree descent, and often called for my assistance as she backed down short, rocky drops. But, the closest we came to a real accident was when I told Karim below that I would alert her if I knocked a rock her way, then sent a big rock bowling past her leg but forgot to warn her. Another time, I directed her. "Baje acá," (Go down here) and gave her an incidental push that could´ve sent her tumbling. She told me later I´d done this many times. Whoops.
When we pushed the last plant out of our way, and the mountain road was just before us, it was a fantastic feeling that we were going to survive. A beautiful, light-copper-colored "zorro" (fox) with a black-tipped tail jogged along the road and ducked into some brush.
It was 9:05 p.m. and darkening. We could´ve ducked into the safety of the nearby lodge. But, no, the Peruvian and I "pressed on!" downhill, desiring the comfort of our beds. The last # 10 bus would pass below at 10:15 p.m., or else we could walk a further four miles into town. The shorter red-mark trail would be too dark to walk on; we took the unpaved road for cars down.
This road was terrible. It hardly went downhill at all; sometimes it seemed to be rising. It snaked back and forth dozens of times, so that Karim and I miserably doubled back on ourselves over and over again.
It became dark. The near-full moon was not out this night. A sky of stars everywhere lit our way, meekly. The road was rutty, and because we could not see, I fell and Karim "Ai!"ed frequently. She suggested we get some "bastions" (walking sticks), which helped a lot. Karim carried matches, but our efforts to light torches or start a fire were failures.
It became colder. Karim changed her muddy jeans and socks - wet from her snow-sliding - for short pants and no socks. We wore five long-sleeve shirts between us, and I gave Karim my last long-sleeve shirt to tie around her waist. Luckily, it was much closer to "cool" than "really cold."
Amazingly, Karim kept her spirits up in this dark situation, and never complaimed. "Donde está la luna?" she yelled. (Where is the moon?) We came to another "curva" in the road - as dark and dead as all of them before - and Karim yelled, "El diez pasa por acá?" (Does the # 10 bus pass here?)
10:15 came and flew by.
Karim, twenty-five, told me about her mom and five brothers and sisters and their apartment in Lima. She´d come to Patagonia years ago to study physics, and she´d had her heart broken by an Argentinian guy recently, in the process.
My heart was being broken by the fact that the city lights below didn´t seem to get any closer no matter how fricken long we walked. I complained - and then I complained again about Patagonia´s lack of summer.
"Yo desejo que yo estaria en brasil ahora, descansando en una playa" ... (I wish I could be in Brazil right now, lying on a beach.) I whined to Karim, "Por que me forzaste a venir a esta montaña!?" (Why did you force me to come to this mountain!?)
At midnight, the road entered a "bosque." In this cold-climate forest, all was black, and Karim and I couldn´t see each other from three feet away. We couldn´t continue. We´d get lost. I told Karim the bosque would steal our hope and make us crazy. We were left with the grim option of returning the three hours back up the mountain to get to the lodge and safety. Oh, bitter grimnosity. We turned around and left the bosque.
And then, finally, some good fortune came the way of me and the Peruvian. We noticed trees illuminated around the road, as if by the lights of Disneyworld themselves. We turned to see a bright, yellow moon had jumped over the horizon. Hurrah! And its light high-lighted for us bundles of tiny dry sticks that grew on certain trees all around. These sticks were a fire-makers fantasy-come-true.
Karim and I spent three gloriously-happy hours with our new friend, the fire. Karim warmed her knees, hands, and nose. We ate the last of our food: some cookies and juice, and pepperoni and cheese we toasted. Ohh, yes.
At three o´clock, we headed through the bosque, which was pretty mystical with the high moon´s illumination. We reached a 24-hour bar/restaurant in the camping community below, and scarfed down some hot chocolates and pizza. Someone woke us up when the bus came.
It was close, but in the end, ol´ man Lopez failed to kill us! Woohoo! Her, the latest Peruvian physicist sensation, Karim, and me ...
the Modern Oddyseus.
"There is always hope." - Viggio Mortensen (Aragorn), in "The Two Towers"