Writings by Deia Schlosberg
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Writings by Gregg Treinish
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The Flying Condor
By Gregg Treinish

January 20, 2008

We decided to suck it up and walk on the road, after all it’ll only be a few miles, ten at the most.  This was the second time that we'd been on a road in a month.  Somewhere between the third and fourth downloaded "This American Life" episode, a car pulled over.  Could it be?  We had a similar experience only a few weeks earlier, the last time that we were on a road, it would be a great coincidence.  As the day began to fade into night, I couldn't make out who it was, I got closer and it was them.  The fisher-dudes Dave and Sam.  What are the chances, two roads, two entirely different sections, two encounters.  We decided to introduce them to stealth camping, our fire gave us away, the forest rangers came.  "No we aren't from that country, the one where everyone is rude and steals things."  The rangers let us stay, but insisted we put the fire out.  There was plenty of music, beer, and laughter; we needed no fire.  We stayed up entirely too late and said our goodbyes in the afternoon rather than the next morning. With plans to meet for New Year's, we headed to get David, he changed his flight.  Christmas Day is probably not the best time to fly, nothing is open, no way to get in touch. 

We worked it out, everything works out on the trail.  Eggnog and Escudo, what better way is there to celebrate the birth of Jesus?  David needed rest, it was clear, there would be no hiking without a good night's sleep.  I had anticipated his arrival for months, eager to share my life with him, to spend more time together than we had in our adult lives.  I wanted to show him a good time, the most beautiful sights, the feeling I get when we reach a goal that we have been walking towards for a week or more.  I wanted to show him the woods.  We headed for Cochamó, it was the first time that our walk had taken us to the ocean.  It was not the first time nature has surprised me.  I woke up feeling especially wet.  "Strong dew tonight," I reasoned.  Something wasn't right, I opened my eyes, I am glad that I did.  The sea had risen more than 20 feet.  We had gone to bed about a mile and a half away from the beach, propped nicely, safely on top of a small cliff.  I woke up and the ocean had reached the top of the cliff less than a foot away from our tents.  I told David to wake up and look, sure it wouldn't rise above the edge, after all, that had to be the high watermark.  I tried to go back to bed.  Within ten minutes, the water had reached the tent and was clearly rising fast.  David's first night camping in his life found us running from the sea, retreating to higher ground, shocked at what we were witnessing.  Where we were camped was under two feet of water only minutes after we had woken.  We got a late start the next day. 

It is rare that we plan ahead, that we know what to expect, it is better that way, we get to be surprised.  Little-Yosemite Valley is not little. I wonder if it is bigger than the real park.  The three of us discovered an incredible place, a climber's dream, a hiker's haven, a special untouched, and largely undiscovered valley with rock walls over 5500 ft. tall, all granite, all breath-taking.  The locals have named the place after one of the world's greatest climbing areas, I think this is greater.  Telling myself that I will be back was the only way to tear myself away, plus there were miles to make. We knew that the trail we were on would require some not-so-south walking around a large corner in order to make progress towards our goal, what we did not anticipate was the switchbacks, the curves, the rain, the mud.  Progress was less than it needed to be, food was starting to become a major issue.  Reaching El Bolson for New Year's Eve, nearly impossible.  Each night, David pushed until he could go no more, each day we moved less than we'd expected to, our situation was growing more and more hopeless by the minute.  On top of everything else David's feet had begun to develop a pretty good case of heat rash, and the rain was not letting up.   

Along the Rio Manso by which we were walking, there live a few small communities of people.  They told us that visitors were not something they often receive, they also made it clear that they rarely leave.  We asked how long it would take to get to the road.  2 hrs, 6hrs, 8hrs, 1.5 days, 2 days, or 3 days was the best answer we could get.  A sign indicated that it would be 8 hours, we have learned not to trust signs, learned not to even bother with the maps.  The only thing to do, as always, was keep hiking, keep hoping.  We arrived in a small town, by small I mean no more than three houses, and here we managed to encounter a family, a very close family if you know what I mean.  Despite their cross-eyed and rather deformed appearances, they were kind enough to sell us some bread and point us in the right direction.  I think they told us it would be 12 hours until the road, although they promptly conceded that they had not been so daring as to attempt the trip without their horses and really had no idea. Eventually, after six or seven hours we did reach that road, and spent the night camped beneath some very wet cherry trees.  In the morning we began what was perhaps one of the most exciting days of the trip, at least one of the most interesting.  We had a goal, that much was clear.  We had only a day before we told ourselves that El Bolson would be impossible; we decided to try anyway. 10:00am: The only cars crossing in the morning arrive by ferry, we got a hitch to a tiny town in the middle of nowhere.  12pm: We had been walking a half an hour asking every house with a car if they could give us a ride further up the road.  We learned about a green truck that makes the trip, the truck wasn't around until the next morning.  2:00pm:  We reached a house on foot, supposedly the owner had a boat to cross the first of three lakes.  The boat had a broken motor.  We were defeated, not gonna make it.   The green truck heard that we were in the area, showed up at the house.  "Wait for me to eat lunch, I will take you as far as the road goes."  4:00pm:  We arrived at the second lake, we had driven around the first, and were supposed to ask for Maria Angel, we found her at the first place we looked.  "Is there a boat here?" "We were told we could cross the lake with a boat."  "The boat is not here," she said.  We heard a motor, the boat was racing towards us.  6:00pm. We had reached the Chilean border, they told us the only boat across lake three costs $1000 USD and wouldn't be back for an hour.  Running out of time.  The Chilean military found us a local who was willing to make the trip half-way for $10 per person, we accepted.  7:00pm: We hiked through a difficult trail to reach the next lake, we had radioed for another boat to meet us and bring us to Lago Puelo, we got lost.  For a half hour we wandered through the woods bushwhacking and looking for any sign of a trail, "how the hell is this boat gonna find us?"  "How the hell are we gonna find it?"  We followed a game trail and popped out of the woods directly across from a river with class III rapids, there was a boat.  Through the rapids, then back again, we were on board, we were in Argentina, there was hope yet. 8:15pm: We reached land in Argentina; the border was closed.  There was a time change, customs leaves at 8:00pm, we got the finger shake, no tourist may pass.  "It is New Year's Eve, help us out!"  "Okay, but never again!"  We agreed.  9:00pm:  We each had a beer and boarded the last bus out of Lago Puelo headed for El Bolson.  10pm: We were in the plaza waiting for the Canadians.  12am:  Fireworks screamed through the town, stores were closed, restaurants reservations only, we sat with some random guy in the town square enjoying our beers, knowing that it was a miracle we had arrived, thankful to be together and remembering where we were a year before: still on the trip, still with the same goal.  5am: We left the bar and headed to an overpriced hotel, we had found the Canadians, we were tired! 

The walk along the Rio Manso and subsequent New Year celebration, although pretty, left us quite a bit behind schedule, we needed to make up time, and knew that the high desert pampa of Argentina would be the only hope. I have talked about the contrasts of the Andes several times.  It really is outrageous.  To leave rain forest jungle and get to barren pampa only ten miles away is just downright strange.  Four days of dry, heat, chaffing, and exhaustion.  It was the entire opposite of the week before; David calls it "the death section." Many carcasses littered the ground beneath our feet and around the tracks that we were loosely following.  Whereas water cascaded down every possible nook in the previous section, we now found ourselves walking, sometimes ten hours in between sources.  By the end of the fourth day we were all ready for a change, a return to Chile, the land of green. 

We found the change we were looking for in the the Futalefú river.  The Futa is known throughout the world for its incredible class V whitewater.  I was a rafting guide a few years back and still remember how the elder guides would talk about this place with a certain reverence that made you know it was big, really big.  Being within 20 miles of the put in and not rafting would have been a mistake I don't know if I ever could have lived down.  The choice to advance the 10 miles by river really made itself.  I owe Chris at ExChile and Andreas at Sol Azul a special thanks for making it happen, and they did make it happen.  By noon we were on the water, and almost immediately wowed at its power.  Solid class five really have the ability to help you appreciate the power of nature, so much water, so much force.  That force is unfortunately what will ultimately lead to the destruction of the river.  As the government of Chile works to continue the "advancement," very little aside from money is important.  Patagonia is one of our world's most pristine places, until 1982 it was largely impenetrable except by ocean.  In the last few years, dams have flooded the valleys, roads have polluted previously undisturbed lands, and power lines have begun to crisscross the land.  They say that within two years, the Futalefú will be no more, there is more money in foreign investment than in protection.  By the year 2010 a paved road will reach three-quarters of the way down the region bringing with it new forms of pollution, logging, and devastation to one of the last virgin forests on earth.  While there are currently many protected areas in Patagonia working to protect their endangered species of both flora and fauna, they are constantly threatened by the development of a nation overcome with a desire to advance without any regard for the consequences. 

From the Futa Valley we would attempt to continue on foot via the Sendero de Chile, if we had read ahead a bit, we would have found that the trail was not crossable on foot as the rivers are often too high, even for horses to cross, there is too much snow on the passes, and a landslide has recently wiped out part of the trail.  With the only other option a road walk, we decided to walk the Rio Palena valley sacrificing southerly progress for beauty, and more importantly, trails. Crossing the river on a ferry and walking through yet another advancement project road, we finally reached the trail.  David insisted on falling off of it.  Almost immediately as the mountains closed in around us, jaws again dropped.  Glaciers towered overhead, jungle giving way only to moraine fields.  Again the appreciation for what we have come through, for the amount of time that we have walked to get to valleys exactly like this one, the knowledge that it has all been worth it, filled our minds.  Patagonia is so special, but oh so wet.

We were huddled in the barn, having hurried across the open field only moments before.  Lightning had be striking close enough that we grew more than a bit concerned, the stories that Jim had told us only days before still resonating through all of our minds.  We knew that there had to be a house nearby and were debating whether or not the promise of a wood stove and a dry night was worth going back into the rain to look for it.  As we could no longer hold off the shivers, a man came around the corner.  Hugo Reyes was not in the least, or he didn't appear to be, startled by the three strangers taking refuge in his barn.  He told us to wait there and took his horse from the stable behind us.  We waited as we were told what to do, admiring the new-born calves with their umbilical cords still dangling.  "I would like to invite you to my house," it had been a good idea to hold off on unpacking.  We ventured out into the elements once more, only momentarily this time.  We soon found ourselves sitting next to a wood burning stove with three members of the Reyes family who where more than eager to strike up conversation with the first travelers to come by in more than two years.  The youngest Reyes, I think she was 8, was home for summer break from school where she lives most of the year.  All the children in the region live at their schools as the 6-10 hour daily commute would otherwise become a bit much.   We had a family dinner as if we were part of theirs and spent the night in their house, safe from the storm, thankful that people are as great as they are. 

David left us only yesterday, I haven't had too much time to reflect on his visit, but I know that he was pushed, that he experienced a lifestyle entirely foreign to him.  I admire his willingness to come so far from home and to attempt something so different than he has ever done.  Growing up, our relationship was strained to say the least, I am happy that he has given me another chance to be not only a friend, but a big brother too.  Thanks, for coming Dave. 

We are now right around three months away from finishing this awesome journey, I cannot really comprehend that thought.  We continue to inch further and further down the map, and have some of the world's truly great sights ahead of us.  In the next month and a half we are looking forward to The Patagonian Icecaps, Torres del Paine, and possibly even penguins. We have now covered around 45 degrees of the globe and are in great spirits.  You can read more about Patagonia and how you can help at www.patagonialandtrust.org

Do something you normally wouldn't this month, push yourself a bit!

Also, Please write!