The Forever Tell All – Patagonia Round Two.

I surrendered my forehead to the rattling window. The cold of it felt nice, and over the intercom the pilot was speaking, loud and crackled and full of static, about the land that was being swept out beneath us. I didn’t have the energy to try and comprehend his Spanish, but it didn’t matter. I knew what was looking up at me.

My eyes traced the outline of Lago Puelo, and chased its feeding waters upstream into those dense, green mountains. Two years ago I had felt the rain on that lake, splashing into my enormous smile and inextinguishable eyes as we sped across it. Those three weeks- such a beautiful slice of life we had. Our expedition into the Piritas Valley was simple, challenging, and successful. What a beauty it is, when time passes with such elegance.EP1130367

The plane shook and the cold glass slapped me in the forehead. I needed that. I looked one last time into the Turbio Valley. It was passing by so fast, faster than time should be allowed to go, and faster than that valley deserves. I closed my eyes, frustrated. I resented the version of myself that was on that expedition- calm, stable, singularly focused.

I waited for my bags to come slumping around the caracole. One, two, three, four. Four fricking bags. My climbing partner, Alan, and I had planned for one month in El Chalten, and one month in an area called Torres del Paine. I was confused as to how I could need this many things for two months of my life, but then again I had been confused about much lately. Thinking too much, wanting too much, feeling too much. Sometimes there is nothing to do but stack your heaps of luggage on a trolley and try to rectify your life by ashamedly listening to Maroon 5.

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Photo by Lizzy VanPatten

One week later and Adam Levigne’s ridiculously high yet unnaturally soothing voice was still buzzing into my ears, drowning out the incessant rain above. I couldn’t sleep. I was jittery, excited. I don’t know what it is about El Chalten, but it burns a damn hole in my heart. This year I didn’t care what we climbed; I just wanted to be there, in the presence of those mountains and the beautiful skirt of land that flows out beneath them. And yet, amidst my excitement was also hesitation. Half of myself seemed to reside elsewhere, and that made me nervous.

My life had changed drastically since my last trip here. I was careening down the road of a moderately lonely, diehard expedition climber. Bigger trips were nearly all that seemed to matter to me- saving for them, training for them, thinking about them. I hadn’t felt ‘settled’ anywhere in years, always moving, and that had always been okay. Then last spring, out of nowhere, I got slapped in the face by a tall goofy Australian who showed me what love is. We moved into my tiny SUV together and continued our ongoing lives of travel, from Alaska to the Pacific Northwest and so on.

In the fall we stopped for three months. We lived in a van out the back of a friend’s place. I picked up a job. We started putting down the tiniest inkling of roots. For the first time in a long time, I enjoyed the life that I lived in between expeditions. I even loved it. But we had plans – places to go. Patagonia, Australia, China, so off we went.

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I waited for Alan’s alarm to beep. As far as noises that wake, I actually kind of liked the sound. One o’clock. Tea. Oats. Tent zippers. Morning pees. Shoe laces. Stuffing nylon.

Walking.

Silence.

Thinking.

…too much thinking. I felt guilt in being here, while half of me wanted to be somewhere else. I missed so many things that I wasn’t used to missing. More Maroon 5? No. Early 2000s boy bands? Plug me in.

More walking.

Two Princes. Daniel Powter. Tonic.

So much walking. My legs ached. I had gotten overly inspired a day and a half prior, and accidentally ran twenty kilometers. Stupid. I never thought I would be one of those people. Today can only suck for 24 hours I thought …right? I re-ran the numbers in my head: 7000 some feet of elevation gain, six or eight pitches or something around there, 20 miles of walking? I didn’t know. I should have paid more attention to these things while reading the guide book the day prior, but then again perhaps it was better that I hadn’t.

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Alan and I were trying to climb a peak called Aguja Guillamet, one of the bookends of the Fitz Roy skyline. The window of good weather was only forecasted to be around 12 hours, and carrying camping gear is a buzz kill, so we figured we might as well try the peak in a single push from our camp at the road. I didn’t yet know if I regretted this strategy, but it sure was starting to feel like a heck of a lot of walking.

Twenty-three hours, fifty-nine minutes.

On hour five of the approach we were near to the start of the roped climbing. “I’m so sorry” I told Alan. I felt like I was moving pathetically slow. “I don’t think I’ve been this tired since I was emotionally incapable of being this tired.” He laughed. We both did. Despite feeling like death, I was having a wonderful time. The rain had stopped an hour ago, just in time for us to climb. We spent the majority of the day joking around and plodding along. Alan lead all of the icy couloir, which I was overly thankful for.

 

By the time we hit the ridge of rock that led to the summit, the temperature had plummeted. I began leading up a pleasant-looking corner system when I realized how unpleasant it was to climb it in my big winter boots. I pulled out a cam to place for protection. I tried to squeeze the trigger, and grimaced. It didn’t work. Why didn’t it work? Shit. Frozen. I called it a lot of bad names. I stared at it, and then into my mouth it went. Now unfrozen, I placed it in the crack. How pleasant this climb would be I thought if I didn’t suck at rock climbing. I grabbed the cam and pulled myself up on it. Stupid 5.8 Patagonian bullshit.

Within a few hours we made it to the summit, and later we made it back down, stumbling along the last kilometer of trail just as the light became useless for our tired eyes. Ha! Only 22 hours! And some of that time didn’t totally suck! What a brilliant little trip to the mountains.

 

We hitched a ride back to town the next morning. I relished in our ascent for a day or two, but amongst the empanadas, trail runs, alfajores, cragging days, and occasional butt-spankings in the mountains I soon resumed my state of confusion. My dad says that a good power pop song is composed of tension and release. I don’t know if my life has been all tension, or all release, but the point is that I have been a really bad power pop song for quite some time. And finally, it was starting to make my ears bleed. When our two months were up I left Patagonia not ready to leave, and yet more than ready to go.

Now, after returning to the States and moving to Australia, I’m still traveling. I’m still uprooting and replanting myself. I’m still mildly anxious about all of it. But I love climbing, and I love Barry. I love watching the sun come up in different places, and I love seeing the way that the stars lie in different hemispheres. The only thing I truly hate is using a duffel bag as my closet for the thirteenth month in a row, and I suppose that’s not the worst thing in the world. I reckon even if it’s bad music, I am still making it, and that’s always something to be stoked about.

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PC: Lizzy VanPatten

 

 

 

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