Friday, November 15, 2013

Navarino Part II: The hike begins

Part II in the story of my 7-day solo trek on Isla Navarino, continued from Part I: Arrival. To start at the beginning or to see the full list of Navarino episodes, click here.

I got a late start due to the extremely slow internet and needing to upload my last job application but was able to enjoy a final meal with Patty. I registered my route and expected return with the carabineros (the local police), who, along with everyone else I had talked to about this trip from my roommates at Patty’s to the guy who sold me the topo maps remarked, “Sola? En serio? Sola?” (Alone? Seriously? Alone?) and then made that funny clenched teeth and hand shaking motion that means, essentially, “well, good luck, but you’re probably going to die.”

Me, at the start, next to the very nice sign marking part of the trek I planned to do.


Whatever, I’d be fine. The weather had been great in the morning but by afternoon the clouds rolled in. I shoveled in a final delicious lunch and left Puerto Williams at 3pm just as it had started to sprinkle ever so lightly. I made my way up several kilometers of dusty roads to the trailhead and up a steep hillside covered in magical forest with occasional views of the Fuegian Mountains across the Beagle Channel. It felt like the Pacific Northwest except for the giant psychedelic purple caterpillar that went crawling across my path and the deciduous vs. evergreen trees. The light was a surreal seafoam green and the ground soft.

The forest
Psychedelic caterpillar


The trail first opened out into spongy mounds of moss and lichen that reminded me of the Scottish Highlands at Cerro Bandera, a big hill that overlooks Puerto Williams with a big Chilean flag on it. A big Chilean flag that essentially stands as a big middle finger pointed at the Argentinians across the bay. Chileans and Argentinians don’t even try to disguise their mutual dislike, even though they are currently peacefully neighboring countries. Chileans generally think Argentinians are facist assholes, and Argentinians generally think Chileans are backwards savages. As a presumably neutral foreigner, I try to keep my mouth shut and be careful to bring Chilean wine to Chilean parties and vice versa (but I prefer the Chilean wine, ssshhhhh). That said, I’m not going to lie, I love Chile, and maybe it’s the familiar colors but the Chilean flag feels like home.

Cerro Bandera


The rain started as I was taking a selfie with the flag,starting as a light drizzle and getting stronger.  The trail continued at a fairly constant elevation along the west side of a ridge toward the Dientes through tundra and scree and snow. It looked down over lakes and streams dammed by transplanted North American beaver on the way. I tried hard to keep my feet dry by avoiding snow as well as possible, something that would seem an amusingly naïve effort in the coming days.

About two hours in I rounded a corner and was confronted by a wall of snowy teeth shrouded in a raincloud—the Dientes—and immediately dropped my plans of trying to make it over the pass that evening because it looked like quite a storm. I resolved to camp instead at iced-over Laguna Salta at the foot of the range. After my fourth knee-cracking fall on the slippery rocks in the rain on the way down to the lake that would leave welts on my legs and back for weeks to come, I was glad to stop for a while.

Panoramic view of the Dientes with Laguna Salta (frozen-over lake to the left), my first campsite. 


I arrived at the lake just before 7pm and failed to start a fire in the rain, the first of many failed fire-starting attempts on the hike due to a complete lack of dry wood and alternating downpour, high winds, and blizzards. I was somewhat puzzled by my new tent which I had only unpacked when I first checked it out in the store, but eventually figured out how to get the thing to stand up and was delighted with my new cheerfully yellow ultralight and waterproof little home. I settled in, attempting to stay out of the rain by setting up my gas stove right outside the tent (it is a single piece tent, so no rainfly to cook under), opening the bottom door zipper, and punching my arm out once and a while to adjust the gas and check on my pasta.

My first trail meal was pitiful: a handful of pasta seasoned with a packet of mystery mushroom seasoning that I thought would be more substantial than it was but in reality was powdered god-knows-what, a few slices of lunchmeat, and a thin packaged pumpkin soup mixed into the pasta water. But calories are calories, and I shoveled it in.

My new home! On a dry patch on the shore of Laguna Salta.


The tent was damp inside due to the general humidity in what was now a rainstorm, but comfortable (me being used to my bivvy sack, the little one-man tent felt positively luxuriously roomy). There are few feelings that I love as much as being curled up and dry in the safety of a tent while a storm rages outside. Until, that is, the soup hits the bladder and I needed to pee and briefly considered peeing into my cooking pot and waiting for a break in the storm to toss it outside. I wished I had one of those hose attachment things. But out I went, coming back drenched and doing my best to pat myself off with my little handtowel (actually a car towel that I had bought at a grocery store—the thing was cheap, super-absorbent, wrung out well, and would prove incredibly practical in the coming week) before crawling back into my sleeping bag.

I loaded up on some painkillers to ease the searing ache in my knees from the falls on the rocks earlier and tucked in to sleep. Despite my earplugs with the strong wind and rain, sleep was difficult.

The next day was a long one where I got a real taste of the crazy weather that makes this part of the world so wild: Part III: Paso de los Dientes and Descent into the Swamp