High Mountains and Low Valleys Posted by Trinity on Friday, December 23, 2011Imagine hiking uphill over several false peaks of boulderfields in 90+ degree weather with no breeze and in direct sunlight. It’s tough work. Now imagine being constantly swarmed with large, biting horseflies. This was our first day on the trail into Reserva Nacional Cerro Castillo. The three of us were absolutely miserable – we were brushing handfuls of horseflies off our arms, nausious from the heat, and cussing the world. We couldn’t even take a worthwhile break because we’d have to drape ourselves in our hot, clammy rain gear for horsefly protection. However, with extreme lows also come extreme highs because we woke up to this the following morning:

Waking up on the “right side of the sleeping bag”, this day turned out to be one of our favorites yet – or maybe just in comparison to the day before? The day was balanced between finding comfort on a well-marked trail (although it would be considered “unimproved” in Colorado) and a healthy dose of adventure crossing over a snowy pass.

Laid-back trail-finding never lasts long in the Andes. On our third day, the published trail progressed from a retired ranch road through forest, to a decent trail following treeline, to superbly-built rock cairns over a mile-long pass, to absolutely nothing on the opposite side of the pass (tips on the do’s and don’ts of making and following rock cairns). So we embarked on a seven-hour stretch of trailblazing which included hiking over yet another pass in a cold, windy rainstorm to circumvent an impassable waterfall luge (when we couldn’t cross through, we crossed over!). The next morning the forest opened up into a wildflower meadow as a hawk cawed in the cliffs overhead – moments later we found the trail that led us out of the Reserve.

High As A Mountain

  • The first thing Sarah and Shelley noticed when I stepped off the bus in Villa Cerro Castillo were my new black ankle socks in lieu of my dark gray ones – we know each others’ wardrobes intimately
  • Running into (and subsequently camping with) four NOLS students during their independent group travel section
  • Feeling like Tarazan woman using trees to aid uphill travel through the forest
  • Shelley reenacting a scene from the movie Armaggedon which brought Sarah and I to tears
  • Witnessing ~6 dogs herd cattle – so cute and so good at their jobs!
  • Stopping at a farm to purchase fresh cow’s cheese which we ate with homemade bread under an aromatic jasmine tree while playing with kittens – idyllic, right??
  • Swapping stories with NOLS instructor Betsy Winston at a dinner party she hosted at her uber-cute cabin – Betsy and her friend did a six-month South American bike trip six years ago
  • Using legitimate topographic maps – thanks NOLS!
  • Seeing bamboo!
  • Shelley’s and my gear is holding up pretty well

Low As A Valley… or Lower

  • Sarah is sporting multiple holes in nearly every piece of clothing she owns (and some gear)
  • Horseflies have a surprisingly durable exoskeleton. A single slap will kill or disable a horsefly only about 10% of the time. Shelley has developed an innovative method for keeping horseflies at bay- she removes a wing. Sometimes, this is a joint process where Sarah holds the fly and Shelley pulls the wing off. To our fellow animal lovers: In our first horsefly encounter a few weeks ago, I announced that I don’t kill bugs because it’s bad kharma – it lasted 30 minutes until I killed three within 10 seconds.
  • Swapping horsefly stories with the NOLS students who not only also de-winged them but would sometimes EAT them (they are filled with a clear honey-like liquid)
  • Shelley had killed 40 horseflies before we even left camp one morning (impossible to count while on the trail)
  • Finding a sign for the Sendero de Chile (Chilean Trail) on a dirt road but no signs or gates leading to the actual trail a few miles down the road- just an old hiking sock indicating which hole in the fence to climb through
  • Seeing haze from volcano Hudson which errupted days earlier only 50km away
  • The hat + bandana headdress combo (a fashion faux pas but sun/horsefly protection necessity)
  • A cow stalking our hopped-the-fence-camping-by-the-side-of-the-road-in-pasture campsite in the dark while Shelley is outside the tent cooking
  • Waking up to a horseman whistling outside our tent the following morning. He must not have cared because by the time I stuck my head out the tent, him and his dog had moved on.
  • Shelley slipping on frozen moss into a thankfully flat section of the waterfall luge 15ft below.
  • Entering the Uni-Marc (think of a small Target or Wal-Mart) in Coyhaique and being completely overwhelmed… expecting some culture shock when we return home.

We spent the holidays ultra-lounging in Coyhaique. Thank you to Tony and Sharon Field (Sarah’s parents) and Jimmy and Laura Field (uncle and aunt) for sponsoring three days in an actual hotel. We’ve eaten well, watched Home Alone, Christmas Vacation and Miracle, slept in warm beds, taken in the sunset and an owl coasting on the wind from the hot tub (they took a picture of us for their advertisements), drank alcoholic apple cider, champagne, carmenere (wine), gin and tonics and homebrewed cinnamon and mint alcohols. We celebrated the holidays at NOLS with a large traditional asado (lamb cooked on stakes) on Christmas Eve, Sarah’s delicious crepes for Christmas morning breakfast, and cookie decorating. Christmas was hot and sunny. I even went climbing!!

Currently en route to Futalefu where we will begin our next hiking leg after some white water rafting on “the Fu’s” world-famous rapids. Looking forward to getting there… we’re having to navigate untrustworthy bus schedules and little-traveled roads. Much easier to hike!

Shelley comparing pack size with the NOLS students we ran into on the trail.