After the exhilaration of yesterday's hike we woke up early(ish) to tackle Laguna de Los Tres. A longer hike in terms of time but similar in terms of kilometres, a fact that I naively didn't give a lot of thought to until much later on. More specifically, until I was at the point that I could hear my heart pounding in my ears, my face was the reddest it's ever been and I was asking Zarius very seriously if he thought it was a possibility that I could have a heart attack. It was at that point, that the penny dropped and I understood why it took so much longer.
But I'm skipping ahead. It wasn't all like that. It started so well. The entrance to the trail was very close to our hostel. We followed a whole line of people heading in the same direction and worried slightly that we'd all be following each other in single file like some sort of school trip. But I needn't have worried, I soon realised that everyone has their own unique pace and it doesn't take long for the group to disperse.
Setting out on our trail - our next door neighbours
The road ahead
That 10.2km is one way I may add
The start of the trail is steep. You're straight into it. Straight up. But after 15 minutes you reach the first viewing point and wow, it's beautiful. It's the first of many on this hike, which has turned out to be the highlight of our trip so far.
It's the sheer scale of the openness. Incredible vistas stretching as far as the eye can see and the feeling of being completely absorbed in it. The stillness, silence and beauty is breathtaking. We were both in our element. The trail quickly evens out and it's pretty easy going from there on in, well until the last 1.5km. It takes you through forests, meadows, waterfalls, across rivers, all the time having this view of Fitz Roy as the backdrop. It's just amazing. At times it reminded me of a summers day in Dungarvan or Kerry, walking through the sand dunes and rushes to get to the beach. But mostly I felt like I was somewhere completely new, incomparable with anywhere else I have ever been and unlike anything I have ever experienced.
When we arrived in El Chalten the park rangers had talked about the campsites and trails and how you needed to bring everything in with you because there are no facilities, except for some toilets. Interesting I thought. Portaloos on the trails, that's handy. And sure enough we passed a couple along the way. So during this hike, as we neared the final leg, I thought I should of the service. We reached a campsite and I went off in search of the loo. I spotted a pretty average looking, festival like toilet in the distance and I made my way towards it. The door was swinging open and as I neared, I realised it was empty. As in, no toilet. Hmmm I thought. This must be the mens toilet, there must be a urinal at the side (yes hiking folk that is actually what I thought) so I started looking around searching for another toilet. Then I spotted a little sticker beside the door with a picture of a man on it, which kind of confirmed my theory. But something was niggling. It just didn't feel right. I got closer and closer and then noticed a little lady sticker, just above the little man sticker, at about the same time that I noticed....the hole in the ground!!!!! Ohhhhhhhhhh. I seeeeeeee. It's not your average portaloo, it's not a nice modern toilet in the forest. I went running back to Z with my findings. When he had finished laughing he explained that this is called a drop toilet. Named so, because of the, well, drop. It's a big deep hole with 4 walls around it. I immediately thought of Slumdog Millionaire and the scene when the little boy jumps into such a pit and Zarius confirmed that yes, that may well be the case for what lay beneath the hole. It was a tough decision that I had to make, should I, shouldn't I, there were a lot of factors to take into consideration before I made my decison...to pee or not to pee. But let's move on. Enough toilet talk.
What I saw through the trees
We had met a couple the day before when we did our first hike, an American couple who were a day ahead and had done the trails in reverse, this one first and Laguna Torre on their second day where we met them. They told us we were in for a treat and it was an amazing hike. The husband was raving about it and at one point referred to the last section of the trail as 'a bit tough'. He turned to his wife, as if they were discussing it for the first time and asked if she would agree, that it was 'a bit more challenging', to which she shrugged, as if to say, "yeah I guess so". It was such a throw away comment, I didn't think much of it.
And then we arrived at the last leg and we were faced with this sign.
I thought, hmmm ok, well gosh, it's hardly going to be the whole distance and we set off. And then we saw this
It immediately turned into steps. But those big, wide, long steps which are tough on the thighs. We carried on, up and up and then I looked up and it was so steep and there were tiny little specks of people so far ahead and so high up and the panic set in. Were they serious? Was this it? We were going to climb up the mountain? Using steps. Horrendous.
But quickly the steps stopped and it became scree and small boulders and you needed to take longer strides, bigger strides and it's tougher because of the loose ground.
And then you have to use your hands to get a grip to carry on pulling yourself up. And so it goes on and on and on. Now bear in mind it's sweltering hot and there is no shade and it's bang in the middle of the time of day when they say not to go out. And not only are we outside, we've walked for 4 hours and now we're climbing in it. We passed people taking time outs sitting on the side. Older people. Younger people. Bigger people. Smaller people. And not one of them was giving up. That made it worse.
Every muscle in my body was screaming. Zarius started talking about people dying of heart attacks, unknowingly planting the seed in my head that maybe I could die of a heart attack. We had to stop for water. Stop to breath. I say we, but I mean me. Zarius was in his element on the steeps. He was setting the pace, flying up. It was pretty incredible.
Views during one of our pitstops
I staretd to worry about my heart and asked him if he thought I could have a heart attack. And he said he guessed I could, although it was unlikely. But not impossible. Which really didn't help.
We got to what looked like the last stretch and Zarius was pushing me on telling me to keep going, we were nearly there. So I did. I got a final burst of energy and stormed on ahead. Not pausing, not slowing, pushing through the pain to get to the top. And I did, my head reached up over the last step, my hands pulling me up and there in front of me, stood another hill. There was a flat plain and then it peaked again and there was one last mountain to climb. A sailor would have been shocked by what came out of my mouth. It was so cruel, it was funny and we had to laugh. Or else I would cry. But at least I knew this really was the end. I could see the elated people at the top. So on we went.
What I saw in front of me when I thought we had reached the summit
Getting to the top was pretty amazing. The view down on the lake was incredible and beautiful and very very special and I was delighted that we had made it and overjoyed that I hadn't given up and overwhelmed by a great sense of pride that I had made it. Zarius claims it's my stubbornness that got me to the top, but I like to think of it as determination. That said, on our way down when we passed a guy doing it in flip flops, feet bleeding (obviously), I felt like a bit of a wuss!
The views from the top are breathtaking. We looked down at the lake, at all these little dots of people and appreciated the enormity of the mountain. Apparently it's approximately one person a year who reaches the summit of Mt Fitz Roy. We had reached basecamp!
We debated eating lunch there and then, at that spot overlooking everyone down below us but it felt like we hadn't finished yet. So off up and over the edge we went. Scrambling down the side of the mountain, slipping and sliding the whole way down on the loose shingle.
Those specs at the very bottom are people!
Looking back up from the bottom at where we had come from
And what a reward. It's hard to describe the beauty of it. The blueness of the water, the epic size of the Glacier and the silence. We were unbelievably lucky with the weather. Not many people get to experience the lake in warmth and sunshine. We collapsed on the edge and pulled our shoes and socks off and dipped our aching feet into the ice cold Glacier water. And I immediately got brain freeze and had to pull them out again! But it was enough to soothe the burning.
We enjoyed half our lunch by the lake before climbing back up and finishing it off looking down on this wonder.
We flew down. Hopping from step to step. Buoying people along. Reassuring them that it was worth it.
Happy joyful faces at the start of our descent
But my enthusiasm was short lived. The exhaustion soon set in and the aching started, my feet were on fire, my calf muscles were on fire and we had 9km left to go. It was a long walk home!
But of course, to end our day, waiting for us back in El Chalten was....
The next day of course was a day of pain. A day when I struggled to get out of bed, let alone climb a mountain, so we declared it a day of rest. We are on holiday after all.