Snow camp

Trip Start Sep 22, 2007
Trip End Nov 10, 2007

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Flag of Argentina  ,
Wednesday, October 31, 2007

7 weeks into the Argentina trip. And now, writing this, it's practically 7 weeks since we have returned to home. At the time, I wrote an entry for our experiences snow camping in the mountains of Ushuaia, but unfortunately due to the shortcomings of internet cafes, I lost the entry.
That's a pity because now as I sit recovering from a Russian interrogation at customs, on an aeroplane bound from St Petersburg to London, I have to rely on my longer-term memories.
We begin our adventure on Wednesday morning. We walk from Hostel Lupinos through the snowy streets of Ushuia to the mountain guide's shop. We meet again our handsome guide, Daniel, along with two other clients, a young French couple, and take a short drive to the valley behind the jaw-droppingly beautiful mountains which backdrop the city.

Our plan is to trek up Oveja Valley behind Ushuaia, climb Mount Tonelli Falso, sneak through Paso Oveja , and return via Valley of Andorra.
Day 1:
The three day trek begins by following along an old horse track and after the first three miles, we are all caked in wet and slimy mud. We see a few farmers paddocks and plenty of horses, but it is difficult to see any mountains because of the cloud.

Daniel tells us that this is his first trek of the season. He is actually the chief guide, so we feel that we are in safe hands. He is bounding with energy and keeps pushing us on to reach our camp before the weather becomes any worse.
6 hours later we are still trekking at a fast pace. We have now entered the woods. The path has become narrower with less mud, however trees cross our way and there's plenty of scrambling. As we start ascending to the snow line, the sun pops out. It's beginning to become really hard work carrying our heavy backpacks containing tent and food supplies but the view of the surrounding mountains are beautiful.
It gets a little more scary as we cling to a skinny path which circles around one of the mountains. There's plenty of long grass, trampled by the snow and I feel that the risk of slipping is getting a higher with each step.
On the far side of the mountain we excitedly wait to see the first view of Laguna Caminante where we will camp for the night. John and I are really tired. First we notice that a lake is not there and second, there has been a huge avalanche along the path which is supposed to descend to the so-called lake.
Daniel informs us that although this is the 1st trek of the season, he did not expect any avalanches. The lake is also totally frozen over. A strange occurance for this time of spring. We have 2 choices. Either to return along our narrow path and camp in the woods, or to descend down the avalanche (via a waterfall) and camp in the snow.
I prefer to return, but everyone else wants to camp in the snow. It is actually a lot easier to get down to the lake. We see some wild geese drinking at a small water hole. Everything is white and we are still surrounded by mountains. We set up camp in the snow under some antarctic beech trees.
During the night, we squeeze into Daniels tent for dinner, huddling together for warmth. Dinner is not very good as we have pre-packaged pasta with sauce. To my disappointment, I find that I have been carrying in my food bag about 1kg of sugar. This is typically so Argentinian.
Day 2: Snow camp
No one sleeps well during the night. It begins to snow heavily. At first it's quite romantic but as the night temperature drops, so does our mood.
I spend the whole of the next day feeling tired and miserable. The weather has become so bad that we can't even go for a walk up any of the mountains. About a metre of snow has fallen.We tentatively try walking across the frozen lake, but there's no where to go and it's so cold.
Daniel holds an emergency meeting. If the weather improves during the day, then we will attempt to return to Ushuaia along our original route.
The weather doesn't improve. Instead, it seems to get worse. We leave footprints several feet deep in the snow and it's scarey to see them disappear after a couple of hours. It's almost as though we do not exist anymore.

Day 3: Return to Ushuaia
Overnight I seem to adapt to the cold and actually sleep quite well. This is suprising considering that I slept most of the day aswell.
We have a quick breakfast of biscuits and then wrap up our icy tents. It's still snowing and I wonder whether I can still feel my fingertips.
The hike back to Ushuia is easier than I imagined. We do not return along the avalanche route, but trek across the lake and then down back into the woods. Sometimes when crossing the lake, I feel water breaking through the ice but we keep moving at a fast and steady pace. Some of my steps sinkover a meter into the soft snow.
Soon we begin to relax a little. The snow is actually fun. When in the woods, the slightest vibrations send the precariously perched soft powder which is nestling on the tree branches onto someone. It does not hurt, but it looks really funny.
As we descend the proportion of white decreases. After the snow line I feel really hot and start trekking in my t-shirt. We push through the small branches as though returning from the world of Narnia. Gradually we begin to see signs of life - green buds on the trees and then leaves.
We finally reach the road where we were dropped off 3 days ago. It feels as though we have been away for a week. It feels nice to return to the town for a hot shower and the warmth of a bed. It was a cold and harsh experience of survival, but nonetheless, I still have fond memories.
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