My life changed dramatically beyond all recognition when meningitis took my 43year old husband in 2012. In the blink of an eye my life had changed. As my new life evolved I knew I needed a focus and challenge. With two small boys and full time work I needed something for me. At a family support meeting mention of a trek in Patagonia was made and the seed was sown – I had my focus.
I had every intention to get training and a weekend in the English Lake District was a tough introduction to walking up hill. This was great for group bonding but not so good for my poor muscles. I had a lot of work to do in the last few weeks before departure.
When the time eventually arrived it was a long journey from London Heathrow to Bariloche in Argentina where we would start our trek. Bariloche is a beautiful lakeside town with hints of an Alpine village and a huge skiing scene in the winter months. After a day exploring Bariloche we prepared our bags for the next four days. A complicated combination of our walking day bags, 5kg overnight bag with sleeping bags and essentials and a third small bag to meet us at the end of day 2 to change clothes. Preparing bags before breakfast became a ritual and a lasting memory.
The first day of trekking took us from the outskirts of Bariloche to the mountain refuge at Laguna Jakob. A short 18km through varied terrain to break us in gently. The start was following a dust track surrounded by wild flowers, matching the river running down the valley. The path left the dry valley floor and headed into woodland, always heading upwards with switchbacks through the dense woodland. The track became rugged and eventually Refugio San Martin and Laguna Jakob came into view. Watching the stars above the lake was the end to a perfect first day.
Day 2 was an early start. We departed the Refugio at sunrise and headed toward Paso Schweizer. The landscape was stunning with the meadows full of wild flowers and snowberries. Clouds skirted along the top of the mountains contrasting beautifully with the blue sky. A short break at the perfect Laguna Los Témpanos gave time to reflect of the adventure so far. Little did we realize that reaching Paso Schweizer and the beautiful Cerro Cuernos del Diablo was the start of a very long and difficult trek through the Arroyo Casalata. This river valley was a 12hour trek through bamboo groves, mountain beech woodland before reaching Lago Mascardi. Fallen trees, bamboo stumps and river crossings all added to the trauma and by the time the beautiful Lago Mascardi came in to view we were all beginning to question what the rest of the week would bring. Arriving at the hostel at Pampa Linda in the dark too tired to eat and emotional was not a great end to the day.
Day 3 however was a change in emotions. The first half of the day was uphill though a woodland. Slogging up switchbacks with views of the mountain and its glaciers was tough but the goal of our night at the glacier was enough to keep us going. Glimpses of condors soaring overhead and the waterfalls tumbling from the glacier kept us moving. Heading ever upwards the path became rugged with snow lying in the sheltered alcoves of the mountain. Eventually Refugio Otto Meilling came in to view. A stunning location at the base of the mountain peak this very very basic refuge served malbec and had a bed for the night. An amazing meal with a beautiful sunset and night under the stars was the end to the most stunning day.
Day 4 started with a 2km traverse across Glacier Alerce. A lovely crossing until the final stage where we discovered the only way off the glacier was an abseil down the ice face. Not what I was expected but there was no other option and this was supposed to be a challenge. Reaching solid ground with views over the mountains in all directions we began the downhill walk through Paso de Las Nubes and our bed for the night at Refugio Rocco. This was a steep slippery downhill slog. We could see where we were headed but it never seemed to get closer. The sun was harsh and the condors were circling overhead, almost mocking us in their home. Eventually the ground leveled and we had a final easy walk into Refugio Rocco for a night in a very new and efficient refuge. Showers, real beds and more malbec – perfect.
The final day of trekking was another early start at sunrise. This was the only day with a deadline. We had to meet the ferry at Peurto Frías to ensure we had time to cross Lago Frías and get to Peurto Blest for the second ferry back to Bariloche. Everything was downhill through beautiful woodland. The flora changed as we headed down the valley. Starting with choisya everywhere filling the air with a lemony scent and then heading into a damp fern filled deep woodland. Eventually the path flattened and we followed the Frías River towards the glacial lake at the head of the valley.
Coming around the bend to see our champagne reception and the ferry to the end it was an emotional end to the five days. Sitting on the shore of this stunning lake with the mountains all around I had a sudden realization that I had completed the hardest thing in my life in memory of the most important person in my adult life. It had been a challenge that I had completed and I am now in a different place emotionally ready to take on the next challenge that life will throw at me.