2017, Chaitén

Rookie Moves

“Well, that was stupid” Josie says. She is sitting on a yellow butt pad and has turned to look at her pack, a couple meters away.

“What was?” I ask after a long pause. One of my boots is off and I am peeling a small leech from behind my ankle. “Slippery little bugger” I say as I try to gain a secure hold on the second or third one of the day.

“I left my pack liner open… rookie move.” She looks back at me. “Did you get it?”

All around us is water. It comes from everywhere. Ten meters below us is the rapidly rising Rio Alerces. Above us water comes down from everywhere. It drips from the trees, the ferns hanging overhead, from the colihue and of course my hood. It comes from the sky in a steady drizzle, slowly penetrating the dense canopy of the rainforest. Every move we make through its thickness brushes more moisture across our already saturated clothing and bodies.

Some jungle bushwacking
Some jungle bushwacking

We are descending back to basecamp after a morning of bushwacking and pushing our route higher up into the valley. Our quick descent has been stymied however by swiftly rising water levels on the river below us. So now it is mate-thirty, that hour in the afternoon/evening where a break and reenergizing is needed. So we stop to drink and refuel. The bright side of the rain, we concluded, was that the quickness with which it rose is indicative of lots of rock higher in the valley. Indeed, that is for what we came searching. Earlier today we had first spied an up close view, through clouds and trees, of the large granite faces that had, in part, brought us halfway around the world to this valley. Because of these walls, their lack of absorbtion of rain and the subsequent runoff, we now have to bushwack back down the north side of the river as opposed to making use of our cut trail on el otro lado.

The day prior we had been dropped off by Patricio, a Chilean who oversees the Puma Fishing Lodge. He and his inflatable powerboat had graciously deposited us five minutes upstream from the lodge at the confluence of the Rios Yelcho and Alerces. Once he and his skiff had departed, Josie and I set up camp then pointed our sharpened machetes up valley and started working our way up river. Remnants of an old logging trail from the 80’s helped speed our progress, though bamboo and deadfall did their part to hinder. Due to yesterday’s work, today’s venture had started smooth and we had made good time over pre-hacked trail.

Josie sharpening her machete in basecamp
Josie sharpening her machete in basecamp

Just before yesterday’s highpoint, a section of steep jungle ‘schwacking (possibly J-4 or J-4+) dictated a river crossing. We found staffs and waded into the deep, cold, clear water. Travel and crossing, both from and back to our original side, proved easy enough and we pushed higher up the valley as a more consistent rain began to fall. We alternated the sharp end, swapped leads if you will, with the leader route finding and doing the brunt of the work while the second trimmed and cleaned up, fine tuning the cut into a veritable super highway. Ocasionaly we would stop and peer through the trees and clouds for elusive glimpses of steep stone peeking through the green and grey. The steady rain and swelling water levels weigh heavy though and we know we won’t want to be crossing back through the river, even if it means a delayed return to camp on Christmas Eve.

Josie sets down the thermos of mate water, stands up and walks to her pack. She brushes the water off the thick, black, heavy duty trash bag, then rolls it up. I sit in silence and work my now leechless foot back into its socks and boot. I feel the ache of new, undiscovered, underused muscles in my arms, ones unused since years ago in the Piritas. I sip on the last of the mate. I feel the damp chill begin to enter my body and start the process of standing up. “Yep, that was almost as rookie as us not bringing alcohol to celebrate Christmas or Christmas Eve” I add, lamenting our obvious mistake. “What kind of Patagonian climbers are we…Donini, for one, would not be proud. Won’t do that again.”

We shoulder our loads and start swinging our blades through the colihue.

Featured Image: Patricio heading back to the lodge after dropping us off on the bank of Rio Yelcho.