Questions of when the mules would come and our general exhaustion led to once again a late departure. Almost 12 before we waved goodbye to our glaciated rocky perch at Plaza Argentina. Once again the world seemed quite different from the vista enjoyed only days previously. Dry red rocky eroded valleys with sand and boulders exposed to our mindless amble. I stared back several times within the first hour of walking to take in the threatening storm above the basecamp and on the mountain.
We had awoken this morning to hear the pitter patter of something hard being blown into the tent. We had wrongly assumed it to be sand until with my head poking out of the orange tent flap hail (ice pellets) greeted me with a friendly and painful hello. This storm would sit over the mountain for much of the day, dark ominous clouds and we couldn’t help but discuss what we knew our friends would be experiencing up at he higher camps.
As we trudged outward our packs were greater in weight than on the day in, as there would not be mules following along with our gear and food for each night. We were therefore schlepping our tent, sleeping bags/mats, and delicious couscous a la Lipton Soup. Each of our bags were inevitably massive and we eyed each other suspiciously when packing or unpacking to make sure we were each carrying our part. ‘Unbiased’ as I am, I must point out Laura seemed to have a lot of down (air) filled items.
Wind also seemed to play a role in our misery as the foam mattresses attached to the rear of my bag acted as an aerodynamic rudder pushing me to and fro with each awkward step. Loose boulders and scree were the twister board on which we would play over the next two days, reaching out with our numb legs and extended hiking poles, trying to pass the day with idle chit chat, singing (come to think of it, that might have been mostly me – although Laura had a few of her nieces songs in her head), and searching for lost mule shoes. Other ‘exciting’ finds included a worn leather belt, enough rope to refit the Bluenose, and a can of preserved pears, extremely dented and warm we did not crack ‘er open.
After a seemingly long (we would be witness to worse on this day) 3 hours of hiking, we cruised into Casa de Piedra (night two of our walk in) after a slightly more parrilous crossing of the Vacas River. The river had swelled even more in the past few days and we could understand why our timing was the peak season, with February or later likely experiencing greater hurdles like swelled rivers and heat. We ate a brief meal here, myself a nutritious concoction of mostly Oreo cookies and Laura cheese and crackers. Downing some water, we ‘checked out’ with the park rangers and continued on, noting that we still had many hours of hiking ahead of us. As we left, the site filled with the hikers now heading up for basecamp, and setting up their tents in the gale force winds which frequent this location. They were a few days behind us and what seemed like a world of adventure still before them.
I would be lying if I in any way suggested this was a fun or exciting day. We would walk for a total of 8 hours in the heat and dust of the mid summer weather 30ish degrees Celsius. Few others passed us on this second leg of the days journey and we quickly ran out of things to converse on. We bent to the work ahead and focused on our feet.
Arriving at just after 20:00 at Pampa Las Lenas we watched two large group gorging on piles of meat, potatoes and vegetables, their well deserved first meal of their summit trip. We for the last time would concoct the appetizing one pot meal of couscous and Lipton Soup mix. Pumping water we gulped the liquid as fast as we could make it, and after a pleasant sit down ‘chat’ with the local park ranger (he had an aunt in Vancouver, and some broken English – Laura wasn’t exactly in the mood to think or speak in Spanish) we closed our eyes on the mountain for the last time. Asleep by 2300, starring up at the southern stars, spread before our eyes. No fly on the tent this evening, the air stayed warm and breathless. One more day to come.