2017, Chaitén, Expeditions

Christmas Beach

“I saw sunlight on some rocks over near the river” Josie says from somewhere close behind me.

“Yeah…I’m gonna try to work down this sidehill and get over there” I say, gesturing forward with my machete. “Can’t wait to get to those flats…now there’s two things we haven’t seen much of recently: flats and sun.” I continue moving; the only response to my comment is the soft ting of Josie’s machete cutting through the dense understory.

The steep, slick, hillside has me on high alert, as if the machete in hand wasn’t enough to warrant the attention, though the gashes in my boots tell another story. I do not want to make a quick descent: each downed log, cane of colihue or mossy slab is a potential purveyor of a quick trip to the bottom. While it would probably not finish me off, and mostly just be really inconvenient and arduous, the thought of falling with an 18″ blade in my hand doesn’t add much enticement. We hack downward, turn, face in, and down climb, butt skooch, tunnel, weave and finally dangle our way down the slope. Ferns, bamboo, branches, logs and roots all provide some sort of hand or foot hold.

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Good thing I wasn’t wearing approach shoes!

Around us rays of sunlight spear through the canopy and flash brightly off slashing machetes. It is another few minutes before we are able to hack a path across the flats and emerge through a stand of Jurassic-esque giant nalca plants.  This huge relative of the rhubarb plant is a siempreverde forest staple, having fleshy green stems, small spines and leaves over a meter square in size. We emerge onto the sunlit rocky shore humbled and relieved. “Break time” I say as I drop my pack and gaze intently upstream at the expansive faces of granite that grace the sides of the valley.

The sun and clouds play peek-a-boo with our emotions, none-the-less we immediately junk show it, spreading all our belongings out onto the pleathora of warm, dry, water polished stones.  My puffy jacket hasn’t been dry in 36 hours so I take it out, put it through one more wring cylcle and lay it in the spotty sun.  We do the same with our other clothes and wet accoutrements.

Junk show on the Christmas Beach
Junk show on the Christmas Beach

“I only want two things for Christmas” Josie had said this morning. “My gaiter back and a view of some rad cliffs.” I had found the gaiter earlier in the morning, not far from where she had, yesterday, pronounced it missing. Its blue patches helped it stand out amidst the leaves, branches and mud. Now as we embrace whatever the sun graces us with, she enjoys her second Christmas wish. We scope the cliffs with the binoculars (a Christmas gift from my mother!), mentioning the obvious lines. We take pictures and suss the map as we pass the mate back and forth, all the while letting our long damp bodies rejuvinate in the warmth of the periodic rays of the sun.

Blue sky flirts with grey, wet cotton balls that are coming in from the west. They both come and go. A drop of rain falls here and there but they are of no consequence. We smile and talk. We will walk higher, scout further, cut more-all that stuff, but later. Right now we sit and enjoy our Christmas.


Featured Image: the Rio Alerces’ cold, clear water.