21 April 2015

Patagonia Part 2: El Chalten

Without realizing how big Patagonia really was I had planned a quick wee trip for a couple of weeks to do some hiking.. turns out if we needed a bus, we also needed at least a day to complete the travel. Our trip to El Chalten was pretty funny really. A nice relaxing bus ride to Calafate, only to find out that cash is a necessity up there (I'd already spent all the cash because it was also a necessity in Chile) because lots of places credit card machines were broken or they didn't have them at all. Even the one ATM in the town wasn't playing ball. With Nicole to the rescue with her reason and better logic than my own we figured out a bus to El Chalten, sorted accommodation for when we returned to Calafate, and we were on our way.

The bus finally reached El Chalten at about 9pm and we began walking across town to start walking towards Laguna Capri which was half way to where we intended to camp. Reality had set in though when it was already dark as we reached the trailhead so we settled for the shortest option possible.

Tenting at Laguna Capri.

Waking up there was awesome. Because we had arrived in the dark, we had no idea where to camp or where we were allowed to camp so we just did what I wanted and took a place with a potential view. The spot worked out as a very scenic coffee spot indeed.

Walking towards Fitzroy was pretty cool. Always a spectacular view and the best bit is you could see where you wanted to be the whole time.

We set up camp at Poincenot that turned out to be base camp for 4 nights and then got a little bored so we did one of the side hikes that we had heard was pretty cool. Glaciar Piedras Blancas turned out to be really cool and there was no one else out there. Went for a swim in the freezing cold water because we could and then headed back to camp.

Navagating the boulder field to the lake. 

Glaciar Piedras Blancas.

The next day we woke up in the middle of the night ready to hike up to the base of Fitzroy for sunrise and it was trying to rain so we decided it wasn't worth it. Instead we went for a hike out to Glaciar Torre which was also meant to be good. It was good but it was also windy as!

Fitzroy Valley

Laguna Torre.

Lago Hija.

Finally the day came we were woke up and could see stars. Time to go for a walk!

Lago De Los Tres.

We got up there and made some coffee as the sun came up and lit Fitzroy perfectly. No wind, maybe 10 other people, that was refreshing after the raucous that takes place at the towers of Torres Del Paine.

Once everyone else left there were a couple of Culpeo Foxs that came to rummage around in the rocks.

Don't know what the were looking for but they just came trotting over then trotted off not really worried about us at all.

The view from our tent was pretty good for checking if the weather was clear enough for the sunrise or not.

Once we had seen the sunrise, we had seen everything we set out to and more. The next day we packed our things and walked to town for a lunch of waffles before the two day bus journey back to Punta Arenas. 

Patagonia part 1: Torres del Paine

After an all day bus from Ushuaia to Punta Arenas, a rush around to try get a ticket that would connect another ticket I had a friend get for us about 5 hours away, a night, a forgotten camera on a bus, we made it to Chiles famous national park, Torres del Paine. 

 Our ferry that broke up the 12 hour bus ride. 

Running around trying to book transport and accommodation was pretty funny only using pointing and "por favor" not being able to speak any spanish. A challenge but not impossible. With our backpacks full of all sorts of shit that sometimes just got pulled out to say we used it we embarked on a little whirlwind tour of Patagonia.
Because of our lack of time (always the case) and info that we had received from a couple of mates who had spent heaps of time here, we did only the front portion of the complete circuit around the massif called "The W".

Our first night was at a camp, Campmento las Carretas, that it appeared not that many people visited which was a surprise and it suited us perfectly. 

 We woke up to a super hot day which set the scene for the rest of the trip really. No wind, lots of sun, pasty Jamie got BURNT!

 Some hilarious looking Guanaco

That is the massif in all of its glory. A crazy granite bubble that bubbled up under the ground and then everything eroded away leaving a sweet mountain.

That night we stayed at Campmento Italiano which is right in the middle of that valley in the middle of the mountain. It was a super popular spot and tents were packed in like sardines. Rather than follow the masses in the morning we got an early night and an even earlier start. The first of many sunrise missions.

 The top of French Valley was the goal for sunrise. We kinda saw it as we walked the final Kilometer.. pretty pretty though.

 If I was a rock climber I'd be in heaven. Craaaaags mate for days!

 Some glaciers that you can see from the camp.

 French Valley.

We started walking past the crowds just before we made it back to camp and were pretty happy to have had the views up there all to ourselves. Next though was the march across to Campmento Los Cuernos and there was beer there and a platform to keep you out of the dirt.. Expensive but.

Spreading everything everywhere just to cook some dinner.

The next day was super cruisey because we got shafted with our next campsite. We were off to get as close to the towers as possible for another sunrise mission but it booked out and we missed out. All that it really meant was an easy day which was much appreciated and a slightly earlier morning the next day..

 And this day was pretty similar to the day before until we began heading up the valley Rio Ascencio.

And once again there was a refreshing cold one at the camp which made us happy and forget about the sardine situation.

The following morning was a good honest early start to head to see The Towers  light up with the rising sun. Very cool. Last year I was dissappointed that I missed out on it because it was cloudy so it was great to see it in all of its glory. Then it was back in a bus to head back to Puerto Natales for a hot shower and a meal not cooked by us before we headed north into Argentina.

Not so far south but still pretty south in Argentina

 Off the Ocean Nova and into the hills for some R & R. And if you're thinking that that's not an Argentine flag then you're right. On our way back from the Antarctic Peninsular we had to do some loading of provisions and swapping of staff and we had an afternoon when we were set free to go stretch the legs. Pretty sure that we walked up to Cerro Bandera where we found this giant Chilean flag just so that we wouldn't forget where we were. Good walk that is in one of the most southern inhabited places on earth (southern most town anyway, Puerto Williams).
 Me just really excited to be able to wear shorts!

Most of the expedition staff plus the cheff, hotel manager and doctor.

After that it was back on the boat to Ushuaia where we had a final send off and then headed for the hills once again. Because I had Nicole with me I really wanted to show her a place we went while we were stranded in Ushuaia a few months prior to try spot a beaver or two. This is where the idea to camp at the beaver dam above Lago Esmeralda came from. So off we went.

 Way too cold for shorts but at the time it was a good idea.

 Camp was sweet. No one around, just beavers! Also much to Nicole's disgust, we only had one (very light) sleeping bag and one very small sleeping mat. That was a cold night!

 Beaver swimming... That's all they really did for us.
 Pretty cool waterfall out there or Cascada.. depends on whether or not you speak spanicho.

Ushuaia is Fin del mondo for sure with it's terrible internet, beautifully harsh landscapes, cold and unpredictable weather, and isolation. But it's worth the effort with a pretty reasonable taxi in any direction you can find some sweet spots to go on an adventure. Perhaps next time I'll actually be able to speak a little EspaƱol!

20 April 2015

Antarctica for Christmas

Back to The Peninsular for the rest of the season including Christmas and I even had a visitor!

Once we left Ushuaia it was back to "work" looking at charts and ways to make Antarctica better than ever for the lucky people I would take sea kayaking down there. The typical day would start with a lovely wake up call over the PA, staff meeting over breakfast, then it was off to the bridge to try figure out the weather and make a plan. This would often change according to where the boat was anchored and what the wind, ice, wildlife, etc was doing to get people on the water and then finish at the landing site where the rest of the passengers were to go and check out the penguin colonies etc. 

Lucky for me, if I was unsure if my plan was going to exceed people's expectations, Antarctica would top it off for me.

Then there were the days when a curve ball would get thrown and rather than plan A working out it would evolve until the uncertainty was conquered and a decision was made to get people off the ship and into zodiacs to go on a cruise, go for a kayak, or go for a walk around on one of the many islands or the continent.

Capt. Barios navigating through some ice in the Lemaire Channel. No problem at all.

Then christmas came along and it was just like any other Christmas only the penguins refused to put on their Santa hats, but they did come to the party.

A Gentoo came in to say "hi" at Dorian bay.

Then Christmas changed with the tide and we had an adventure where a non-ice chocked channel became very ice choked and the ship had to re-locate as a couple of us made our way out through some thickening ice..

Dance party on the zodiacs to keep warm while we waited for the Ocean Nova to move from anchorage A to anchorage B.

Other than that, there were plenty of whales to check out. This day I had a couple of super lucky teenagers that had a few Humpbacks come say hi. So rather than our mission we had planned to go for a longer paddle away from the ship and get picked up, we made it a couple of miles and then just let ourselves be entertained by them feeding and cartwheeling in a nice calm bay.

 Just chillin.

And then there were the times when you went to a landing site that you'd never been to before, or even rarer, one that none of the staff had been to before just to go for a little look around. 
This was the first time that any of us had been to Fort Point, mainly because in rough weather landing here is super hard, this day it was amazing.

 Mikkleson Horbour on a rare calm day with a curious Weddell Seal. Photo from Nico Guildemeister.

 Somehow Mike and I became the ships quizz masters.. the quizz master is always right!

 Baby Gentoo twins at Yankee Harbour

 Penguinos down in the Polar Circle
 Ice south of the Polar Circle

 Penguin colony on the Yalour Islands.

Chinny Chinstrap Penguino.
Until next time!