Quite often, the desert can be a difficult thing to appreciate. It can bake you to the core; there are nasty dust storms; it is full of spiders, snakes and scorpions; there are more thorny, poky plants than imaginable; water sources are scarce; the barren, desolate landscape makes you vulnerable. However, despite all these hardships, the desert country we traveled through the past week left us in awe of it's imposing mountains and raw, untamed beauty.
Over the past two weeks we've hiked from jungles practically dripping in green to the erosion-cut landscape of the desert. I'll cover our first green week from lush Huerquehue National Park to Flor del Valle, Chile (sadly our last time in Chile) and Sarah will write in our next blog post about our second dusty week in from volcanic Caviahue, Argentina to Chos Malal, Argentina.
Hiking through Huerquehue (pronounced "where-kay-way") National Park, we found the hiking trails that Los Alerces National Park didn't provide. We were happy to be protected by the cool shade of the tall forest dotted with the exotic-looking araucaria tree. We patiently waited for a fairy to fly by while the park's well-maintained trails led us to white cascades falling down luges of black rock, tranquil lagoons flanked by moss-covered granite cliffs, a peaceful river valley, and ultimately to the relaxing Termas Rio Blanco (hot springs). However, the only thing that ended up flying was the mysterious tailed creature (monito del monte?) that fell onto our tent in the middle of the night - Sarah, in her sleepy semi-conscious state, wound up and THWACK! sent the little guy flying into the night's abyss before snuggling back into her sleeping bag unperturbed.
Between the volcanic sand-filled valleys, full-fledged night (yes, night) rainbows, and neon green alpine vegetation, it is hard to not imagine that you are on another planet. The moonscape of the volcanic region we were able to explore was beyond any of our expectations; it left us speechless. The powerful energy in these places is so palpable it practically verberates through your soul. As we relax and recuperate by the lake in Pucón with Volcan Villarrica in the background, we are continually thankful for being able to witness such spectacular sights.
I think I might be hooked on wolverines. Last weekend I had the amazing opportunity to join a group of volunteers tracking wolverines and lynx in western Montana, and now I can’t stop searching for Google images of these awesome and elusive creatures. (I promise I am not just looking for pictures of Hugh Jackman’s “X-Men” character of the same name – but more on that later.)
The trip was organized by our friends at Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation, who we partnered with on several similar grizzly tracking workshops that I wrote aboutlast fall. This time, ASC was partnering with Wild Things Unlimited, a nonprofit based in Bozeman, Montana, that focuses on tracking and other non-invasive survey methods to study rare carnivores like lynx, wolverines, and fishers. These animals are so rare and elusive that relatively little is known about their dwindling populations and geographic distributions – and gaining a better understanding is crucial for figuring out how to protect these animals and their habitat, particularly as climate change and development take an increasing toll.
A whirlwind of taxis, multiple airports, a six hour bus ride and a few days without sleep, made the four days that I actually spent on the beach in the Dominican for my brother's wedding seem like a distant dream. I was back in Bariloche with the girls! A week apart seems like a lifetime when you spend 24/7 together...
It was hard to plan four months ahead what to pack for resupply via Dominican. Opening the suitcase was like the Christmas we never really had! - including bright new kicks, clean shirts and delicious Builder Bars (20g of protein!!). Alas, we had a few things to deal with before getting back on the trail. Sarah was healing her sprained ankle with self-prescribed chocolates (which led to a slight allergic reaction from cross-contamination) and I was battling a stomach bug that was not conducive to hiking- we later heard a lot of people were getting sick in Bariloche from the "ash in the water", but I am still not convinced that was the root of it. Luckily, our timing around Bariloche worked out perfectly for back-to-back rendez-vous en route north with several familiar faces.
We were extremely excited to meet up with Peter Morrison, Executive Director of Pacific Biodiversity Institute- the organization with which we have been doing research. Peter has provided us with a plethora of maps and information since day one. Although we have been emailing constantly over the last few months, it was the first time we had met face-to-face and we had a lot to talk about!
Intermingled with a delicious dinner (thank you Peter!) and meetings with Peter (sharing stories, backing-up photos and our daily data collection, planning future "less traveled" routes and studying his amazing maps) we managed to get out on a couple overnight trips to the refugios around Bariloche. We started on Friday night at 6pm (right on time!), again cutting the posted travel time from 4-6 hours down to 3 hours (and this is hiking with Sarah's sprained ankle!). The well marked trails and magnificent sawtooth ridge gave off a strong Colorado aura. The hut systems around El Bolson and Bariloche run all year round as well; as Trinity and I were reminiscing about backcountry trips in the Rockies, we noted how strange it would be to skin in surrounded by the bamboo on this trail. We were expecting to see many climbers on the trail with all their gear but what we saw was a guitar... then drums... then wind chimes and ukelele... weekend jam sesh at The Frey! Between the mullets, rat-tails, mid-drift shirts and MC Hammer pants, I can't stop thinking how much Argentina reminds me of the 80's- my new shoes fit right in!
After another meeting with Peter we had a few hours to kill before dinner. Trinity opted for a $30 1.5 hour massage, Sarah and I decided to try the local breweries (Blest Beers were on par with any Colorado micro brew in my opinion). We stayed in town another night in order to cross paths with Trinity's friends Jesse, Jason and Vaughn. They had just arrived in South America to get some practice climbs in around Frey before heading down to climb the infamous Mt. Fitz Roy near El Chalten- quite a climbing feat! We are sending them good weather vibes, you can follow their journey HERE.
We intended to go to Laguna Negra on our second overnight, however we missed the midday bus, started right on time again at 6pm and camped at Refugio Lopez instead. The steep incline was rough on Sarah's ankle and (unrelated) she ended up with a similar horrible stomach bug. Apparently Trinity's German stomach is indestructible- she has yet to get sick on the trip. On top of it all, the zipper on our tent broke in the middle of the night therefore we decided to forego the trip to Laguna Negra (next time!).
The area most affected by the volcanic ash is between Bariloche and San Martin de los Andes. From the stories of "ankle deep ash" we decided to not destroy our lungs and spirit by hiking along the dusty road. From the bus we could only get a small glimpse of the impact- imagine a grey tint in every direction you look, guard rails buried under ash and piles similar to the "snow removal" ones in Breckenridge, although the ash will not melt away like the snow does. Even hiking down around Bariloche Sarah's asthma flared up and Trinity got red eyes from irritation. I even woke up in the night to a snowstorm of ash- Trinity tells me I was hallucinating.
San Martin de los Andes is another adorable mountain town. Trinity's former boss Lee White at George K. Baum & Co. was down on a fly-fishing trip and again, the timing worked out perfect. Lee was able to resupply us with some gear, including Sil-Net (we have already gone through two tubes in repair since we have seen him), and is transporting unneeded things back for us (full journals). In the beginning, they sent us on the trail with our home (tent) and now provided us with a lovely meal. Many thanks to the Whites!
Back many moons ago when we were in Buenos Aires, we went on a bike tour to see the city. We mentioned our trip to our guide and after checking out our blog, he might have been the first person to call us "locas". We have been in touch with David since the beginning and we finally reunited in Junin de los Andes, David's base for guiding trips around Volcán Lanín. He graciously welcomed into his "home" in the campground and offered up great advice for our next leg. David put us in touch with his guide friends back in El Chalten and has been a great pen-pal so we were thrilled to be able to meet up again! In David's words, we are "the good kind of un-normal."
Somewhere lost in translation, or in explanation of what we really needed, the tent was not fixed back to 100% but it still stands. The zipper gaps a bit and does not line up perfect (the man told us the nylon slips in the machine). David says, "it is not a major problem, you just sleep with rain jackets on." We are heading back on the trail tomorrow after one last meeting with Peter. They are forecasting rain as we head through Parque Nacional Lanín on our next big 11 day stretch- which will hopefully keep the dust down and we will be able to test our "new" tent.
As we take off on the trail, our thoughts are with my family back home grieving my uncle, Doug MacIver's death. I was very fortunate to see him at the wedding. While they are all together up in Canada, we will take a moment in the mountains to remember such a wonderful man. I am lucky to be with two phenomenal friends.
Posted by Shelley
Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation Blog.