Thursday, February 17, 2011

Through the valley of death

"Is everyone confident about this walk? Now is the last chance to change your mind!"

All of us shook our heads. For my part at least, this determination was less to do with confidence in my fitness ability and everything to do with refusing to get back into that van. This organised hike was part of a round trip to visit the Upsala Glacier, north of where we had walked on Perito Moreno the day before. We had taken a boat out to Estanica Cristina, a sheep ranch named after the daughter of the British family who originally owned the land in the early 20th century. She had died at only 20 years old, for reasons unspecified. Maybe it involved a van ride.

The boat had weaved through large fields of icebergs before depositing us by the Estancia where we were picked up by a four-by-four which drove us up the mountain. The van was designed like a safari vehicle with open-sides and a canvas top. We sat on two long benches and held onto ropes strung along the cloth roof for support.

That support was needed.

Taking a van to the mountain top and then hiking down through the canyon sounded like the ideal, relaxing walk. What we hadn't taken into account was exactly how rough the journey uphill would be. The steep dirt path was only just passable by the four-by-four which bumped and rocked at it climbed. The wind was also strong, whipping through the open sides as we clung to the safety rope. I pulled the hood of my waterproof over my woollen hat and tried to avoid looking at the road ahead. Or vomiting over it.

Even the hardiest people we were travelling with looked relieved when we finally tumbled out of the vehicle. No one volunteered to take the ride back down. I wondered if anyone ever did. Maybe people extremely keen on roller coasters. Ones without seatbelts.

Shortly beyond where we had been dropped was a look out point for the glacier. It spread before us like a scene from the movie, 'The day after tomorrow'. The ground we were standing on was a red rock that extended down into Fossil Canyon. Here we could see imprints of ammonites and small white fossils of sea creatures from when water had once flowed millions of years ago. The lakes that we saw were either glacier fed or from rain water. Interestingly, you could tell instantly by looking at them (although a quick paddle would also have confirmed this effectively). Rain water lakes were a dull blue-grey shade whereas glacier water had a opaque milky turquoise colour from the tiny pieces of ice suspended within it. There was also the occasional hulking big iceberg which provided another clue.

We exited the canyon via a steep drop over piles of shale to end up in the valley leading back to the boat. Our guide pointed to the distant shoreline and said this last stretch would take us about an hour. My Dad waved this away and said it didn't look more than 15 minutes walk. I remember him telling me such things during my childhood when I was tired while we were walking in the Lake District. Then, as now, it proved to be a complete lie. It was almost exactly an hour. I was glad our guide at least was not of a similar disposition to my father in such situations.

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