Its 10 PM and still quite light in Southern Patagonia. Gets fully dark around 11 PM. So what did I do today? Would you believe that I hiked 7 miles up a mountain just to take pictures? When did I start? Fell asleep at 9 PM and the alarm went off at 12:45 AM. Dressed in dirty clothes and met the other crazies at 1:30 AM in the lobby. I had one warning sign to what I faced. Andy did not join us on the hike. He always told me he would never put me in a situation that he had not previously done. Oh well. The hike goes on. After coffee we left for the hike. The entrance to the trail was near then hotel so we just walked over. Don’t forget its dark. My right foot hit a rock protruding from the road and I did not realize it. Pulled my calf muscle. As soon as it happened, I was faced with the dilemma of going back or just gutting it out. Everyone knows that I decided to gut it out. We were hiking up to a small glacier lake that is about half way up Mt. Fitz Roy. Why is the mountain called Mt. Fitz Roy? A sort of funny name. Mt. Fitz Roy was named after the captain of the HMS Beagle. His name was Robert Fitz Roy. The HMS Beagle was the ship that Charles Darwin used to charter and explore much of the Patagonian coast in the 1830’s. In 1877, Francisco Moreno first saw the mountain and gave it this name. The original native people of Patagonia were the Tehuelche. They have died out and none are alive today. They originally called the mountain “Chalten”. This is translated to mean smoking mountain. This is due to a rare phenomenon that makes its granite top appear as if it always surrounded by clouds. More on that later.
Lets get back to the hike. The trail starts by walking up steep stone steps. We then leveled off and proceeded to enter an open area. Could not see anything in the darkness. We were all wearing our head lights as we maneuvered along the trail. When the train was flat, which was not often, it was quite easy to hike. We walked up lots of stone steps that would have been OK except for two problems. Large roots were jutting out from all over the trail and small boulders and rocks appeared out of nowhere. We needed to navigate ourselves around the roots and small boulders and rocks. After about one half mile, I peeled off my jacket. We were also carrying our camera gear in a backpack.The sherpas were carrying all our tripods. The sweat started to flow and I needed to stay hydrated as much as a could. Back to the open area. I tripped over a small boulder and fell down. Luckily, I was just a little bruised and dirty except for the constant ache of the pulled calf muscle. We also had to navigate over wood planks that appeared out of nowhere. It seemed like we had found the Patagonian Death March. I thought of Andy in his comfortable bed and sort of wished I had turned around when I could have. Now it was too late. On and on we went in total darkness. Through forests, open areas and constantly up stone steps and over roots, boulders and rocks. At about one and one half miles we stopped to fill our water bottles from a small glacier stream. Fresh water at its best. A true gift from nature. Every bone in my body started to feel the pressure and the aching started like a symphony. Different parts of my body ached and then other parts took over for the ones that had voiced their displeasure with this insane activity. Why am I doing this? Just when I thought this could not go on anymore, the trail kept on going. Was I in the Twilight Zone? Did I enter a portal that only exists in my mind? Will I wake up from this nightmare and be in my safe cozy bed? We finally came upon sheltered outhouse at the three mile mark. Marc and the local guide, Cecilia, went a head to scout out the situation while we took a well needed break. Finally Marc and Cecelia came back and we followed them out of the forest. There were some tents that we walked by and finally arrived at our destination, the small glacial lake with Mt. Fitz Roy on the other side. We immediately set up our tripods as the light started to appear. We all hoped that we would be able to capture the sun rising and hitting Mt. Fitz Roy and that that sun would reflect on the glacial lake. Is this what you almost killed yourself for? Yes it is. We photographers always strive to take that great shot and most of us will do almost anything to be given the opportunity to capture it at almost any cost. Then it happened. Our prayers were answered. The sun hit the granite peak of Mt. Fitz Roy and reflected over the water. We had done it. Now only if my pictures are worthy of what we went through for that shot. After taking lots of pictures watching the sun appear over the mountain and lake, I decided to leave the others and travel back down with three other members and two guides. By the way, I was given four advil by another crazy at the lake to try and help the pain of the calf muscle. The trek down put more pressure on my feet and muscles. Don’t think it is easier to go down. Many times it is not. Something amazed me. Now that I could see what we had done and climbed up through, I was amazed by what we all endured and accomplished. Some of the views were spectacular and how we ever navigated this trail in the darkness was truly an accomplishment.
After two and one half hours, we finally arrived at the hotel. Every joint and muscle ached and they were yelling at me to lay down. I finally did after 6.8 miles. A hike I would never do again and never forget, but at least I had arrived at a nice clean hotel, with a comfortable bed and breakfast was waiting.
The reminder of the day was spent in recovery. I did not leave the hotel. went to the jacuzzi and when I fell asleep, I knew it was time to get out. Had a three hour nap from 9 to 12 and then a one hour nap at 5. My joints and muscles still ache and my calf still hurts, but was it worth it? You decide. A picture tells a thousand words and you are the ones who know what I went through to get those shots.
After dinner, four of us, including Andy and Marc, decided to go out to shoot. The clouds were not nearly as good tonight. We were looking for the sunset and light on the snow covered peaks. We pulled over somewhere outside of town and there it was. Mt. Fitz Roy with this huge cloud sitting over its granite top. Maybe the local people were right and the mountain should have kept its original name of “Chalten”.
The group is leaving at 4:30 for another sunrise shoot. I am unsure if I can make it. Am very beat and need to do some serious mopping while I try to heal.