Tales from today, preserved for tomorrow.

Trip Reports

Fence Removal on Tamango

Sunset / Moonrise over Los Alamos campground.

I was pretty lucky, in my opinion, to spend my first week volunteering working on trails. The other 2 primary objectives of the volunteer group is fence removal and invasive species removal. Fence removal was what we were tasked with on week 2. I can’t imagine how much work it was to install hundreds of miles of fence 30 years ago in this area, but I can imagine it was ten times harder than what we had to do which was still tough.

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Trailwork in the Valle Aviles

Mouth of the Aviles Valley.

Patagonia is home to an incredible number of relatively untouched terrain, and the Aviles Valley is no exception. Our goal for the week was to join the senderistas to extend the trail as far as we could in a few days work.

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Lagunas Altas Trek

Overview of the Lagunas Altas trek.

To be a national park, there must be trails for visitors to enjoy. The first official trail of the future Patagonia National Park is the Lagunas Altas trek. It’s a spectacular walk and is definitely unknown at this point. I don’t know where else I would be able to hike for 3 days on such a beautiful trail and not see a single human. At least one writer for the International Business Times put this hike in his top 5 of Patagonia, and also acknowledges that its a hidden gem.

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Getting to the Valle Chacabuco

Conservacion Patagonica is a conservation group based in San Francisco but primarily concerned with protecting stretches of land in Patagonia. The Chacabuco Valley is just one of these areas which will be eventually donated back to Chile in hopes that they can set examples for future preserves for the country. The Chacabuco Valley was previously sheep farms with hundreds of kilometers of fence installed that drastically reduced the roaming capabilities of herds of guanaco and other animals. Our goal during my time here was two-fold: remove the fence to assist in the restoration of the area back to its natural state, and construct trails for visitors to this future national park to enjoy.

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Volviendo a Chile

Time had run out on my short trip to Brazil and I was on a flight back to Chile. It was early morning on the 15th of February, my 47th day in South America. Though I had 2 weeks until I officially started volunteering at the Valle Chacabuco and future Patagonia National Park, I wanted to get there a week early to do some exploring around this relatively untouched area of Patagonia.

Kevin C had told me about this little town in Chile called Pucón that, though touristy, is a great center for outdoor activities. Seemed like a perfect place to spend a few days before I had to head south to Aysén.

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Build up to Brazil

After returning from Tronador I began my research for Brazil. Fortunately it rained all day in Bariloche so I didn’t regret staying in. Though the cheapest flight I could find was only a week long, it seemed like I could squeeze in a trip to Bonito (but save the Pantanal for another time during the dry season) and a couple of days at the Iguazu Falls. With the help of the internet and a fellow from Pantanal Expeditions, I was able to learn much about the logistics for Bonito including available tours, accommodation, and transportation. I had read about the cost of a visa for US citizens but it seemed like a minor inconvenience at the time.

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Brazil

Before I left this on this adventure to South America, I was thinking about visiting Brazil as a backup plan in the event that I couldn’t find a climbing partner. However, in my head I imagined that my main option would be Rio or Sao Paulo for Carnival. To visit during Carnival requires planning far in advance because it becomes impossible to find a bed. Additionally, since Carnival in the major Brazilian cities is basically the largest and craziest street party in the world, I figured it wouldn’t be fun alone. Thus, I nearly ruled out Brazil and focused my planning on Uruguay, Argentina, and Chile.

Brazil re-entered my thoughts in Bariloche when I was talking to a girl from the Rio Grande do Sul state of Brazil. She was giving me plenty of new information but what piqued my interest was the Pantanal. Somehow I had never heard of this place which is the largest marshland in the world and has one of the most diverse flora and fauna of anywhere. The relatively small area (about the size of Wisconsin) has more species of birds than all of North America.

When I was rethinking my plans in the hut on Monte Tronador, the Pantanal seemed like the most interesting option. Even better is that a town called Bonito is not far south, making for an awesome combination. Bonito is one of the ecotouring capitals of Brazil, featuring large sinkholes, caves, rafting, freshwater snorkeling, and various other activities. Unfortunately by the time it came around to booking flights, the only modestly priced one was only a week long. Since February is a bad month for wildlife spotting in the Pantanal anyway, and I didn’t have my 400mm lens, I decided that a week of Bonito and the Iguazu Falls would be my plan.

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Crossing the Andes back to Argentina

About an hour after we were told that they had no cars available at the Puerto Montt airport, despite my reservation, I was over the initial frustration. This wasn’t completely unexpected for me, as I’ve read many stories of this happening at other small places. Regardless it meant we couldn’t go to Cochamó and had to find a backup plan. Puerto Montt wasn’t very appealing to us so we decided to give Puerto Varas a try.

It didn’t take long for us to realize we made the right choice of leaving Puerto Montt. Though touristy, PV definitely is more attractive and kind of reminded me of Jackson, WY with a beach with the picturesque Volcán Osorno as a backdrop. We walked into the Casa Azul and made reservations for 3 nights and set out to figure out what we would do for the next 3 days.

I really wanted to climb Osorno with Ange and a guide because I figured it would give both of us good exposure to volcano climbing with less risk. Not to mention apparently guides are required now after two Frenchmen died in crevasse last month (still need to verify this story). Unfortunately we discovered once again that prices have skyrocketed since my guidebook was published. All of the companies wanted at least USD$360 per person, which was almost double the USD$200 my guidebook reported. Next option was seakayaking which was still expensive but 1/3 the price so we booked it.

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Tierra del Fuego and the Chilean Fjords

The areas of Chile from the island of Chiloé south to Cape Horn are so remote and fractured by fjords that the only way to travel in this area is through the numerous fjords. Ever since visiting Doubtful and Milford Sounds in New Zealand l have been fascinated with the remoteness and uninhabitable nature of these deep fjords carved by glaciers during the ice ages.

Not only does the Navimag ferry allow you to see these remote lands, but it provides an excellent method of travel from Puerto Natales to Puerto Montt. The Navimag started as a cargo ferry, but as its popularity grew it became less of a means of transporting cargo and more of a means of transporting passengers. For this reason it is in no way a luxury cruiseliner, though the scenery is 5 star.

As it turns out, when factoring in the full board meals, accommodation and cost of travel its not a bad deal either. We paid USD$380 per person (10% code in TDP map given by CONAF!) for a 4 bunk room that we would end up sharing with a great young couple from Holland: Renzo who works on a boat that builds offshore drilling rigs and Lonica who is a KLM flight attendant.

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Torres del Paine

One of the main focuses of our trip to South America was a trip to Torres del Paine. TDP is a national park that, despite being in a remote southern point of Chile, celebrates international acclaim and is visited by many foreign and local visitors every day. We visited this park during one of the busiest, but warmest, months of the year.

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1 down, 9 to go

Its been about a week since I left the states and my mind isn’t used to the idea that I am not done. It has been programmed to expect 7 to 9 day vacations and I’m happy to know that I am only 10% through.

The week was jam packed since we are trying to fit in as much as possible while Ange is here (until 1/24). For this reason, we haven’t had much downtime and I’ve had no motivation to type too much on my Android tablet. Well today we are returning to El Calafate from a short 2 nights in El Chaltén on a 3 hour bus and this seemed to be a good way to pass the time.

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Gauley Season!

Usually the best season to raft/kayak is in the spring when the snowmelt is bringing fresh water down to the rivers. The Gauley River is a special exception. Each year before winter the Army Corps of Engineers drain Summersville Lake into the Gauley, bringing consistently high water levels and thousands of whitewater enthusiasts to the area. Over the period of 30 years, it went from being considered an “impossible” stretch of whitewater to one of the most popular day trips in the country.

There were several ECPers in the campsite next to us, so we joined them on Sunday for a day of climbing.

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Teton Range

The Grand Teton, Mount Owen, and Teewinot as seen from the Grand Tetons Climbers’ Ranch.

When Jeff mentioned a trip to the Tetons, “a classic destination in American mountaineering”, my interest was immediately piqued. I kindly asked Jeff if I could join him and the others to which he was very welcoming. All I had to do was find a climbing partner, and that didn’t take long with the addition of Buttercup to make it a group of 8.

 

The Grand Teton National Park is located in western Wyoming and is often the starting point of many visits to Yellowstone because the closest airport to both is in Jackson, just south of the Tetons. Most visitors do not venture very high into the mountains however, and prefer to stay in the valley with the lakes, amenities, warmer temperatures, and easier access. While there is nothing wrong with this approach (the park is gorgeous to look at and much can be experienced from below, especially wildlife), our trip had one focus: climbing.

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Darlington Quarry

Sometimes I just like to be around climbing, whether I’m partaking or not. So when I had no plans this past Saturday I tagged along with Jeff, Sam, Rick and Kevin to Darlington Quarry where they would be practicing aid climbing. I hadn’t actually seen aid in action (though I’ll admit that I’ve done some “french free”), so I figured it would be educational at the least.

Jeff/Kevin and Sam/Felipe are planning on doing the Direct South Buttress route on Mt. Moran, which goes free at a modest 5.8 except for two pitches of A1 (5.12 free) aiding. This is why we found ourselves at Darlington Quarry on a beautiful Saturday.

 

Darlington Quarry is not a climber friendly area. There is loose, sandy rock all over. It is heavily vegetated. It is not very high. No sign of poison ivy rashes 4 days later but I’ll be very surprised if I escaped urushiol free, since the entire approach was covered with the weed. For these reasons, we figured nobody would mind if we pounded a few pitons.

We only managed to find a few worthwhile lines to attempt, and ended up spending all of our time on the one. Sam did the first lead with no issues. Jeff went up on lead afterwards. A few of them attempted the route free on toprope shortly after without much luck, thus proving how much harder you can climb when you pull on gear. With the main hold already having a hairline fracture in it, especially after already seeing a few chunks of rock calve off, I didn’t even bother to give it a go. While we may not have got as much climbing in as we would have liked, it still beat a day in the ‘burbs.


España

Looking out from the Alhambra to the Sierra Nevadas, towering over Granada.

I could tell you that we went to Spain because it has always been my dream to travel to Spain, because I was fascinated with the culture, food and los toros y los matadores, etc. But that wouldn’t be true. It was as simple as this: Chad saw flights for only $280 roundtrip from NYC.

While its true that I had always been interested in Spain, the only matter of convincing Angela and I needed was the price of the flight. We would go in early April, before high tourist season and right when all of the flowers were blooming. The timing was perfect. Perhaps the Mediterranean was still a bit too cold to swim, but I’ve been to Lake Erie a bunch and figured I wasn’t missing much, right?

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Pacific Northwest

The Oregon coast as seen from Ecola State Park.

It seemed that when all of a sudden our travels starting taking us west, we always ended up in desert climates. Joshua Tree, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Zion, Bryce, and all of the sites in between. Deserts are awesome, but I always felt like I was only seeing a portion of what the west had to offer.

Portland was high on my list of places to visit after hearing about the biking culture, the outdoorsy population, the Cascades, Columbia River Gorge, and Smith Rock. Ange had a buy one get one $99 companion ticket to use, so it seemed logical that the way to get the most bang for the buck was to travel as far as possible in the continental U.S. (to a place we wanted to visit, that is).

Most of our reading indicated that the best time to visit the PNW was the summer. However, we were eager to have a trip before then, and we had to use the BOGO$99 ticket before it expired. We decided to go in March.

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Mt. Washington Winter Ascent

Mount Washington in February.

“Graduation” from the ECP Mountaineering School is a winter attempt to climb the northeast’s highest peak; Mount Washington. From Wikipedia:

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the Northeastern United States at 6,288 ft, famous for dangerously erratic weather. A weather observatory on the summit long held the record for the highest wind gust directly measured at the Earth’s surface, 231 mph, on the afternoon of April 12, 1934. The mountain is located in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, Coos County, New Hampshire. While nearly the whole mountain is in the White Mountain National Forest, an area of 59 acres surrounding and including the summit is occupied by Mount Washington State Park.

Despite being under 7,000 feet high, the mountain must be taken seriously. Even film crews practice here before heading to Mt. Everest to film their latest documentary. EMS offers guided trips up to the summit this time of year, however everyone was in the Mountaineering School to learn how to function under our own power.

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New Zealand

New Zealand landed the top 2 spots in Trip Advisor’s 2008 Travelers’ Choice Destinations list. The #1 spot was taken by Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park, New Zealand.

My home country is a beautiful place. The Pacific Northwest has rain forests, glaciers and volcanoes. Arizona has deserts and the Grand Canyon. Florida has beautiful beaches. The northeast has endless expanses of deciduous forests and rolling green hills. So what could New Zealand have that the United States doesn’t? Consider this: It took 4 separate vacations and a dozen flights over the period of 2 years to visit these 4 corners. I saw the same and more in 2.5 weeks in New Zealand with just a camper van.

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