Lago O’Higgins

Phil shakes me awake at six. He’d set his alarm for five but I told him there’s no way I was waking up that early and asked him to kick my ass into gear half an hour before our bus to the port at 6:30. I head out to the kitchen and Marion and Damien are there, ready to split. No one’s seen Hendrik yet but he’s sleeping in a private room upstairs so we figure we’ll wait a few more minutes before banging the shit out of his door to get him up.

The bus appears outside around twenty past six and as we all pile out we’re joined by H. The owners of the hostel, a husband and wife, come out to join us and take pics of the five of us in front of the hostel with our cameras. (I didn’t get any with my camera cause it’s an annoying piece of crap but I’m hoping to get one from one of the others later. We’re all exchanging contact info before we disperse.) It’s 6:40 or 6:45 by the time we hit the road but no worries, the boat’s only 7 km away.

As we pass the bridge that was the extent of my walk yesterday we pass an older French couple on bikes. They’re supposed to be on the boat this morning but they’re still a good clip away from the port, maybe twenty minutes or so by the looks of their pace. Yikes. They might miss it.

Not only is the snowline in the hills lower this morning, there are snowflakes accumulating on the windows of the bus as we wind down the narrow road squeezed between a cliff face and the lake. There’s no question we’ll be hiking in snow now. It’s around this time I think it would have been good to have things like:

  1. A hat
  2. Warm socks
  3. Long johns
  4. A long-sleeved shirt besides my hoodie
  5. A jacket besides my raincoat
  6. A four-season sleeping bag, in case something goes horribly wrong

The port and the boat come into view. It’s a small rig, with about ten mountain bikes taking up roughly half of the rear deck.

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(We walk up the boat on the left to climb over the side onto the deck of the right)

There’s a carabinero on board (not sure why?) and as we climb on one of the ship’s crew of three takes our bags and lowers them down a ladder into the hold. It’s time to go but the French family and a guy I haven’t met (but sounds French as well) are arguing with the captain, telling him to wait for the older couple. We’re standing around with snow falling gently around and since I’m in a t-shirt and a vest I get an exclamation or two about how I must be cold – followed, before I can respond, by jokes about how I’m Canadian and this is like summer for me. It’s actually not that bad and I did hold onto my raincoat for an extra layer should I get chilled. The couple show up about twenty minutes late and by the time their bikes and equipment are loaded on, we’re departing about half an hour late.

Yikes. As it stood, we were looking at 7 hours to hike a 5-6 hour trail and deal with two border posts. Now it looks like we’re down to 6.5 hours to accomplish the task. As Diesel would say, “Everything turns into a race.”

We hit the lake and it’s stunning. (I know I say this about the scenery in every single post these days, but it’s the truth. Patagonia is ridiculous.)

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We stick to the west side of the lake and it’s clear why there are no roads here (besides there being no need, with virtually no people living south of here for hundreds of kilometers) – the terrain is steep and rocky. Evidence of landslides are all over the place, as are waterfalls.

After a short while most passengers head inside. There’s a gas stove and several people are taking the opportunity to cook up some breakfast. I stay outside – I can feel the heat from indoors every time the cabin door opens and it’s pretty crowded – and a few more Canadian jokes are the result. I do put on the raincoat for a bit of extra warmth, though.

The sun starts burning through the clouds, the snow mostly snops and the terrain levels out for a bit, revealing a few small coves and pebble peaches, before reverting to craggy rocks. This goes back and forth for a while.

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Some people return to the deck and I strike up a conversation with the French-sounding guy I hadn’t previously spoken to. He’s from France but his parents are Canadian and Czech, so he’s got Canadian citizenship and has spent a fair amount of time there, particularly from his mother’s home in Saskatchewan. He asks me if I watched the Grey Cup, I tell him I don’t really follow the CFL and he reckons he’s the only person in France who does. Bigtime Roughriders fan. He’s hiking as well but isn’t trying to make the boat for today so he’s carrying all of his gear and hiking around Lago del Desierto on the Argentine side tomorrow rather than taking the second boat at all. When I tell him I’m going to make the boat today he says I’m crazy and says there’s no chance.

I don’t pay too much heed to what he’s saying but if I don’t catch the boat, sleeping on the Argentine side could be pretty uncomfortable on account of my thin sleeping bag and lack of any kind of mat. At least I’m in good, grossly-unprepared company though – Damien doesn’t have a tent at all and Hendrik has a summer-only sleeping bag. All three of us have to haul ass as soon as we hit the jetty in Candellario Mancilla.

I hear French-Canadian-Czech dude shout “What the fuck?” and point to the shore. There are a couple of small houses way the hell out here. Surely they must be hunting or fishing camps or something, but the boat turns and we pull into a cove. The crew rapidly hauls several boxes out of the hold and onto the front of the boat where a family is waiting on shore. Two women in the cabin descend down to the beach to join them. All of us have to help as two mattresses are lifted out of the hold, over the cabin and down onto the beach.

Gratuitous scenery pic I took while waiting for us to get moving again:

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As we pull away from the cove the lake opens up and the crew rapidly battens down the hatches (I think that’s the first time I’ve ever used that phrase literally). The wind picks up, the snow resumes and the waves grow in size.

Eventually the other side of the lake comes into sight. Leaning over the side to look around the cabin, I can see Candellaria Mancilla! There’s one large building with a few small buildings around it, then what might be a couple of farms to the west. Yeeaaah, here we go! One of the now-significant waves crashes over the side and smashes me in the face. My raincoat takes the brunt, but the adrenaline’s going now and an old sailing tune starts playing in my head.

It takes agonizingly long to dock – it’s past 10:30 now – and we form a line and start lifting everyone’s equipment out of the hold and up the steps of the jetty to a large pile. The bikes are next but Hendrik, Damien and myself need to go now. We high-tail it up the dirt road.

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