Coming down from the excitement of the road trip was a process, just like coming down from the high of any adventure once thrust back into a routine. Savannah went from long days blasting down a highway to sitting stagnant on the side of a city street. I went back to work, but the sampling slowed so my days were spent with little chaos. I accepted that this next grand adventure was, in fact, rest. I slept more than I had in the past 6 or 7 months. I decided to listen to my body and give it what it craved, some good brain washing.
Soon, when I woke up in Savannah in the mornings my legs were restless and I knew it was time to put in a big day in the mountains. From the sampling schedule, I saw I’d have to work over the weekend but would have Monday off. I reserved a spot to enter the Yerba Loca park that I had gone ridge walking in about a month ago. From that ridge I had been looking down into a valley and I knew I would be back to explore it. Now, with a free day, I decided to hike to La Paloma glacier which is located up at the origin of the valley. Usually done as a two-day hike, the out and back trail covers 17 miles with around 4900 feet of elevation gain and it tops out at almost 11,500 feet. I wasn’t sure if I needed to work on Tuesday, so I planned to try to tackle it in a day. The tough part would be, since the park gate is only open from 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM (and I wasn’t planning on staying the night), that I would have just that amount of time to make it up to the glacier and back.
The night before we had lost track of time at a nearby beer garden, and perhaps all of that craft beer wasn’t the best way to prep for a big hike. But, life is for the living and I’ve gotten used to burning the candle at both ends trying to get the most out of it. Monday morning I woke up a bit groggy, but antsy to get up into the mountains. By 7 AM Savannah was carrying me away from the city. I arrived at the gate just as they opened it, checked in, and drove the 15 minutes along the dirt road to the trailhead.
I realized that I totally forgot to buy snacks for the hike so I threw together a lunch of crackers, some half melted cheese, and a bottle of hot sauce into my daypack. A full water bottle, water filter pump, headlamp, puff, 10 essentials kit, and sunscreen followed, and I was soon working my way up the trail. I assumed it would be chilly, since we are in autumn now and at night it gets below freezing up there, but soon I was shedding my leggings under my shorts as well as my sweater. The sun in Chile is brutal, so sunscreen was a must. I followed the Yerba Loca river with my sights set on the icy cliffs ahead.
I’m learning that the scale of the landscape in Chile can be very misleading. At first I thought the start of the canyon was maybe an hour or so ahead of me as I trekked up the steady, but gradual slope of the valley. An hour went by and it looked just as far as it did from the start. I broke a sweat pretty quickly, and thoroughly enjoyed any slight breeze that happened to give me some relief. Finally, about 2.5 hours in, I could see details in the ice falls and watched the cliffs grow taller. I passed through some high meadows, then scrambled up the first little rock wall which gave way to a new tier of the Earth. On the next shelf, I had some condors circle over me. We had recently watched a documentary about condors in Southern Chile and learned that since they are such heavy birds (tipping in at up to 33 lbs), they need to glide on air currents despite their 10-foot wingspan. They soar for 99% of their flight time on wind and thermal updrafts! For most of the hike there after, it was only the condors and I.
Time was running out, but I had already made it about 85% of the way to the glacier. I tried to make my stride bigger as I worked my way over the upper meadows, walking mostly on squishy moss and grass with some occasional ice. I did completely wipe out once on a frozen section of stream, but only my ego was bruised from the condors watching me and no injuries were had. At around 2:30 PM I climbed up the last stretch of scree to the lookout hill admiring the glacier. It was huge! It rolled down from the summit of La Paloma and clung to its’ sharp ridges. I could see what must have been giant crevasses with bright blue ice from within. There was a crazy ridge-line that completely captivated me, just to the West of the glacier. I must look into this more for a future objective.
It was late, but I had a lunch of my crackers/cheese/hot sauce combination. The hot sauce exploded when I opened it due to the elevation change. I finished my water, then accepted that I’d have to leave sooner than I wanted if I were to make it out in time.
I was a bit lightheaded from the altitude, so the first few miles back went slower than I planned. In the upper valley before the glacier, I saw the first humans since I checked in at the gate. They had been guided up the valley on horseback, with a pack of dog companions, and appeared to be setting up camp. Not soon after I passed and waved, I heard the dogs barking and hooves pounding on the dirt. I looked back to see 4 saddled horses blasting down the trail towards me with about 6 dogs nipping at their heels! Unsure of what was happening, I thought maybe I should try to stop the horses if they had bolted. The humans in the distance seemed to be standing still just watching the horses run so it didn’t seem planned. I decided though that one human could probably not convince 4 horses to stop, so I stepped aside and watched them buck and tear up the trail. A few seconds later, the guide came galloping past on his horse calling after the dogs. To my surprise though, he never tried to catch them. It turned out, they were just dropping off the campers and heading back to the ranch. I followed them for awhile wondering if, maybe, I’d be offered to ride one of them back. No luck, and as it got later in the afternoon, I was jogging behind the line of horses trotting down the trail. The shadow cast from the Eastern side of the valley will be something I will never forget.
By 4 PM, the jog turned into a run as I began to wonder if I’d make it to Savannah and down the dirt road in time to make it through the gate. I hadn’t run in a while and it felt really good to stretch my legs again, especially with the help of gravity pulling me downhill. I cringed when I checked the signs on the way down, when I wasn’t making good enough time. However, soon I passed the halfway point and got new confidence that I’d make it if I kept my current pace. I got to Savannah at 5:40 PM and made it to the gate at 5:58 PM – just in time! Occasionally on my run down, I’d look back up the valley at the golden light cast on the cliffs. Dusk is my favorite time to be in the mountains, so I was sad I had to run away from them. But, winter is coming and soon the road could be too icy to get Sav up there so I had to make the most of my time.
Needless to say it’s now Wednesday, and my legs are still rebelling at what I put them through. I’ve been exploring that grand adventure of rest again, but I know within the next couple of days I’ll be back up high somewhere. The night I returned to the city, I had my side mirrors stolen off Savannah. I woke up to some shaking and only hit the alarm after the thief got both of them off (left and right). So that was a huge bummer to return to. Apparently, it’s happening a lot in Santiago so at least I wasn’t targeted because of my NY plate. I’ll have to get them replaced before the next adventure, and I hope they won’t get stolen again.
One thing that did lift my spirits after this unfortunate event was listening to The Black Keys new album, check it out here!