It was a very cold night on Camp Poincenot. Our sleeping bags were warm but the Dr. had a restless sleep, wearing almost everything he’d pack to keep extra warm. I was okay in a long-sleeved Capilene and underpants until around 3am when I felt a cold breeze coming from the side of our tent. I had the chills and squirmed inside my sleeping bag to put extra layers on. It was my first time to camp in the woods, and though I liked the process of the whole thing, I can’t say sleeping in a bag so close to the ground is my favorite thing.
Today I wake up first to boil some water and get the coffee ready. I know the boys will need it especially if I want them to be good sports about the vertical hike that’s to come. I send them to the river where it’s warmer to collect some water to drink so they can stretch while waiting for the congee to cook. Here in Patagonia, water from running rivers is potable. We were apprehensive at first, but because everyone else was doing it, we joined in. We never had to use our $50 purification system after all.
From the camp, we begin our hike to Lago de los Tres with only our day packs. We hike through another forest and continue to go up for the next hour and a half. From the highest viewpoints, we see several lakes and never-ending trees. I imagine how white everything would be if it isn’t summer. I remember from the other day when the ranger told us that this hike is easy because of the stairs. There are stairs all right, but they are steep and they keep going up. The sun is out in full force though, and I am only wearing a tank top to keep myself cool.
The path starts to transform into gravel and crushed soil, almost like sand. You sink whenever you take a step, but I know a closer look at Monte Fitz Roy is just ahead. When I walk over the last hill, the last hurdle to the finish line, I gasp because I did not expect to see what’s immediately in front of me: the greenest of the green with the bluest of the blue water, surrounded by boulders spotted with fresh white snow. I want to cry.
At this close proximity, I acknowledge the entirety of the Fitz Roy range. Starting from Fitz Roy’s 12,300 feet going to my left is Poincenot, also our camp’s namesake, at about 9,850; Aguja Raphael at about 8,100; Aguja Saint-Exupéry at about 8,400; and Aguja de la S, aka Aguja Innominata, at about 7,600. The three granite agujas, or needles, are the “tres” in the name Lago de los Tres, or Lake of the Three.
In 1952, the French alpinist Jacques Poincenot fell in the river and died during a trip to conquer Fitz Roy. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, of Le Petit Prince fame, delivered mail to Patagonia via the French airline Aerospostale from 1929 to 1932. His co-pilots are honored with the two summits north of Fitz Roy: Aguja (Jean) Mermoz and Aguja (Henri) Guillaumet.
The entire thing is more majestic and spectacular this close. Of course, a cloud is swirling around the spires, but even with the wind, it’s calm and it’s giving me that feeling that everything around me is older than time. I realize that this earth is truly a place one can’t stop appreciating because at every other turn, it will leave you in awe.
I see people closer to the water and leave my group to walk down. It’s the wrong and dangerous choice because on every step, a few rocks loosen behind me and roll. It’s too late to stop and walk back up; I am on my aSs just trying to slide down gingerly. When I get to the bottom, I lie on a big rock and look up the blue sky. Upside-down, I can see more people now and they’re all sitting at where I was before. Everyone is speechless and staring at the Fitz Roy range. I bask under the sun and get my raccoon tan.
After a few minutes, I decide to walk the opposite way and see what else is around. I see a spike with a yellow tip and realize it’s a trail marker from where we entered. It’s the path I should have taken instead of blazing down the rocks. At least now I know how to safely go back up. I’m alone when I make the next hill over and while I’m thinking that that was the best viewpoint yet, I come across a danger sign to warn me that the trail stops there. I take a couple of steps down and follow the sound of a waterfall. It’s a small trickle, but the sound echoes loud enough as if I was in a cathedral. I laugh to myself as soon as I discover where the water was going. All I can think of is, Where the hell am I?
I unfold my map and realize that I am right above Lago Sucia. Even though the name means “dirty”, there is nothing dirty about the water except for the fact that it has a deeper hue than Lago de los Tres. It’s even more still here because it’s surrounded by Cerro Techado Negro, the range that climbers must pass through to camp on Glaciar Rio Blanco before they attempt an ascend.
I reunite with the group again and I encourage them to take the short trail down to Sucia. I wait for them behind a large rock and borrow a pair of binoculars from two other hikers who were pointing towards Fitz Roy: there are at least four ant-sized people on the snow going up. I imagine what they must be feeling now. I send them good vibes and hope they make it as high as they want to go.
On the way down, we run into more people going up. We don’t recognize them from camp so we assume they have come all the way from El Chalten to do the whole trail as a day trip. Alas, there are people who are stronger than I am. I tread carefully and take care of my left knee. Miraculously, it hasn’t hurt and I am determined to keep it that way.
Back at Camp Poincenot, we all agree to pack up and go back down to El Chalten to escape another chilly night in our tents. We use the other route down via Lago Capri and watch families with children set up picnics by the water. I feel like a wimp for hiking with so much weight only to stay for one night, but the temptation of having a sit-down dinner with a bottle of Malbec is too hard to resist; not to mention a hot shower and a working toilet.
Day 2 itinerary:
Lago de los Tres and Lago Sucia photos on Flickr
Day 1: Hiking from El Chalten to Monte Fitz Roy
I highly recommended Enduring Patagonia as a must-read
This is an awesome site detailing the climbs and attempts on Fitz Roy