The locals use the word “Andinismo” to mean “exploring the Andes Mountains”. So far our experience of the Andes has been limited to areas in close proximity to civilization.
I felt it was time to do something more, and summer was almost gone.
Following a two day scouting trip by Doodle and I a few weeks ago, Sudoku joined us this past Sunday for a three day attempt to reach the La Paloma glacier, the lesser of the two glaciers visible from downtown Santiago.
We picked the warmest sequence of days we could find, but the temperature still dropped below freezing at night where we slept.
The 20 km trail toward the glacier was quite busy on Sunday afternoon, but once night came at our base camp around 9000 feet, it would not be until midday Tuesday that we would see another human being.
It’s safe to drink the water at certain places along the hike. Here’s a little log of that for those interested:
- At 1.5 hours of ascent, you’ll cross the potable Agua Larga, marked with a wooden sign.
- At four hours, you’ll reach La Lata, a marshy pasture area with horses. The water here is said to be safe to drink, but I didn’t trust it because of the presence of horse and hiker feces in the area. However, just above La Lata, there is a stream much like Agua Larga which shows none of the copper/ sulfur discoloration indicative of the non-potable waterways. We took water at that stream.
- At six hours, you’ll reach Las Cascadas, where two major waterways join, but none of the water in that area is considered potable due to the high concentration of metals.
- At seven hours, Piedra Carvajal appears to be a former glacier lake, but now filled with tundra and very clear streams of water running through it. This water is said to be safe, and it’s your last chance for water before the glacier. [Sudoku: The grass here was so tough that some spots of blood appeared on my hand when I touched it!]
The hike was hot and dusty and we had some boot problems and other difficulties with our cobbled-together gear. Fortunately, the three of us are all fairly close on shoe size right now, so we were able to swap around to mitigate the effects of boot irritations.
[Sudoku: My toes only came within about 2.5″ of the end of Dad’s boots, but they were pretty comfortable.]
The peaks ahead of us were amazing under light of sunset. The stars would have been great (Doodle saw five shooting stars on our scouting trip), but we had a dusk that seemed to last forever and a full moon.
Here in Chile, we’ve grown quite accustomed to having grazing animals around us when we slept outside in the countryside. Nonetheless, it was a bit unnerving to have horses nonchalantly grazing right up against our tent all through the night.
[Sudoku: I woke up several times to hear Dad shooing the horses away from our tent again.]
We woke feeling good on Monday morning and went for the glacier. It was clear and dry. (there was no dew on the tent.) I couldn’t keep up with the kids, so I stopped about an hour short of the glacier’s scree-field base and they went to the glacier without me. (And I had the camera with me. Hence no actual pictures of Paloma glacier. Sorry! Here are some.)
On the way down we had the thrill of watching a pair of soaring/gliding condors — practically stationary in the air just above us — as we approached one of the steepest sections of the trail.
I never saw a mouse, but I did see a hole in a bag of cheese left inside a backpack we hid in the rocks back at the camp site.
Here are some of my takeaways regarding Andinismo:
- we form a route by connecting water points like camels in the desert and those water points are often glorious
- the tremendous scale of everything boggles the mind, and the lack of vegetation makes it very difficult to tell how far way things are because there is no reference object
- managing the sun and the cold is difficult but doable, even for lightly-equipped folk like us
- appreciating the tenacious plants and sometimes invisible mountain creatures
The animals we saw over 3 days: Horses, cows, snakes, lizards, mice, foxes, toads, and condors.
[Sudoku: The boys did a great job making sure we had everything we needed for the trip. They have short hair though, and weren’t able to warn me about the big tangle I had by the end of our trip!]
[Doodle: Once, when we were hanging out around some small pools of red water, I noticed that it wasn’t the water that was red, but that there were hundreds of tiny, red bugs, all crawling over each other.]