El Chalten, Argentina
Last night I sat in a beer garden sipping my “pinta de cerveza roja”, a red ale, Keane was playing on the sound system. I was layered up, like everyone else in the beer garden, the ones they couldn’t find a seat for in the restaurant, in the warmth. The building had a mock timber log design to give the place a cabin in the woods feel, more important was that it acted as a wind break against the stiff nor-westerly winds that have been buffeting the town since I arrived.
The mountains here are magnets. They attract climbers, hikers, photographers, but mostly they attract clouds, and wind. Lots of wind. Yesterday Santa could not deliver my view of Cerro Torre. I don’t think he had clearance to land given the wind gusts would have blown him, Rudolph, Comet, Blitzen and the other reindeer to Buenos Aires. Nor did he deliver a warm dry day. My planned hike up to the mirador (view point) was met with lashing drizzle that sped down from the hidden peaks across the just visible glacier, freezing my fingers, and soaking me almost to my skin. I was going to have earn my view of Glacier Grande, the main source of Rio Torre.
At one point I followed a trail that climbed away from the glacial moraine ( the boulders, rock and scree created over centuries by the glacier, now receded) through the forest that edged along the valley. It was sheltered, from the wind and rain, almost pleasant. I found a climbers refuge, walls of corrugated iron joined at the top in an A frame, a small square hole where a window used to be, and a scrappy swinging door. An emergency refuge at best. No flat white, no carrot cake, no wifi. I realised I had found a climbers trail heading high up into the mountains. Oooops.
It was easier to scramble down wet scree to the trail 50m below than back track. The view of the glacier while hidden by mists was still impressive. Huge car-sized chunks of ice were grounded on the far side of Laguna Torre; the catchment lake beneath the glacier. While at the foot of the glacier were large broken sections of ice covered in brown grit from the peaks above – like ice cream dusted with chocolate.
While Santa may not have been able to deliver the views I wanted, I did enjoy walking towards a rainbow for my first hour of the hike. Behind it the mountains formed the perfect grey back drop as the morning sun filled the Torre valley trying and failing to push back the thick rain clouds that were being push and squeezed against the mountains.
Christmas Day in London, normally cold, sometimes wet, but often full of people out in Richmond Park or Wimbledon Common walking, running or biking with some Xmas decoration. And I’m no exception – run or bike on Xmas day and celebrate it with some sort of head gear. It’s silly, it’s fun, hell its Xmas. And the juke box in my head ( thanks Jane ) was playing Feliz Navidad. Santa hats were in the minority today. 5 1/2 hours of hiking up to the glacier and back and I only spotted three other red and white festive head gear. I amused many, got plenty of curious looks, and a good smattering of Merry Xmas and Feliz Navidad greetings. My juke box also threw out “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas”, which given the rain and wind gusts I was walking into, seemed to sum up the wintery weather quite well. And finally before the rain really hit, one rendition of “I’m dreaming of a white Xmas” which also seemed appropriate considering the snow and ice I could see hanging above me.
As the wind whistled through the power lines around the beer garden, sheltered as it may have been from the Andean mountain gusts, it was cold. It felt like winter in London not summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Keane was playing “bend and break”. The local weather system was doing its best.
No Cerro Torre views today, no condors, no parrots. It’s been wet, windy and a little wild. But as Xmases go, with a rainbow to accompany me at the start and Jose Feliciano singing “I want to wish you a merry Christmas” in my head, it’s been a grand day out.