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Argentina Musings Snapshot Travel

A Snapshot of…Patagonia, Part II (And a Chat with Fear)

November 19, 2015

"Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”
- Steven Pressfield

[Continued from Part I]

That night, I met Tony at my hostel. From Wisconsin, he had just arrived and was itching to see Fitz Roy straight away. I told him about the weather forecast, and he merely shrugged. He was going no matter what. When he invited me to join him, I realized that it wasn't the fog that was holding me back. To be honest, I was intimidated by all of the stories I was hearing from other hostel guests about the last hour of the hike - ice and rocks, straight uphill, wind and snow, slippery, exhausting, scary.
Was I in good enough shape? Would I hold back whomever I was with? Would I disappoint myself?

So I told Tony that I would hike the first portion with him and turn around at Lago Capri, which is about 2 hours into the 4-5 to the summit. The next morning, the weather was mild as we set out on the trek. When we reached Lago Capri, Tony asked if I was going to continue.

"I don't have any gloves." We had both heard the top of the mountain included crawling and using your hands to maneuver the ice and rocks.

"I have an extra pair," he said.

"But I don't want to slow you down." Another excuse.

"It will be nice to have someone to hike with for once; it's been awhile."

I had run out of excuses. The weather was actually quite nice, he had extra layers with him and he wanted a partner. And then it dawned on me. Here before me, knocking on my door, was that little bugger called Fear.

Anytime Fear arrives, I know that there is some opportunity - though not always obvious - for personal growth, however big or small. But I think what we gain from this visit all depends on how we greet Fear when it comes a knockin'.

The default, and the easier way, of dealing with fear is to meet it with brute force and blindly push through it. To just put your head down, close your eyes and hope for the best; coming out the other side with pride and perhaps an attitude of "I just kicked Fear's ass." But if you simply push Fear out the door it came in, without even looking at it, you will never understand its origin or purpose. Where is it coming from and what is it trying to teach you?

The other way is to greet Fear at the door, invite it in and ask it why it has arrived. It is in understanding why it is there that you will likely uncover that opportunity for growth. Because Fear has likely arrived to teach you something about yourself - your insecurities, beliefs, expectations; what you are projecting or what you are avoiding. Providing you an opportunity to chip away at your fears, revealing a more confident and authentic you. 

Now, I'm talking about fears that are more threats to our ego than our life. If I were climbing Mt. Everest, for example, Fear is more than welcome to let himself in, make himself comfortable - hell, he can light up a cigarette and put his feet on the couch if he wants - and tell me about the possibilities of frostbite, avalanche and high altitude pulmonary edema. No, I'm talking about things like a fear of failure, a fear of standing out (or not being noticed), a fear of judgement or criticism. For me, it was the fear of failing the climb, not being in good enough shape or that my age may have started impacting my fitness level. As ridiculous as this might sound to others, it was indeed what was coming up for me.

So once I identified the fear, I asked myself:
What is the worst that could happen?

In this instance, for me it was having to turn around and head back down the mountain, feeling out of shape or not tough enough. That was it. A fear of feeling out of shape and weak was going to stop me from seeing one of the most iconic views in Patagonia!

The next question was:
What is the best that could happen?


So I found myself following Tony to the summit to see Fitz Roy and complete the 20K hike. I don't think there was a moment of silence as we chatted the whole way until we reached the last stretch. That last hour was indeed challenging - the ice and snow, the steep incline on the rocks and the altitude had my legs and my lungs working hard.

It. Was. Exhilarating.

I loved every second of it. The feeling of my legs burning, but keeping them moving regardless. Slowing down and drawing out my breath to keep my heart rate in check. The complete concentration as I had to carefully place every step I took. Feeling exhausted, but filled with adrenaline knowing the top was coming and the views would make it all worth it. Keeping pace with Tony and being able to share the triumph of our journey together at the top.

I had sat with Fear, had a chat and then showed it to the door as I realized that I was stronger than I remembered. It wasn't a new revelation, but one that I believe we get the opportunity to be reminded of again and again. It will certainly come back in one form or another, and I will again invite it in. Because I know that no matter what, it comes bearing unexpected gifts that I will benefit from.


The summit was freezing cold and snowing, as Tony and I waited for the clouds to part so we could get a peak at Fitz Roy. We huddled against a big rock to protect us from the wind and waited. We took some pictures and waited. We put on another layer and waited. Once my fingers and toes were frozen, I decided to start my descent and Tony continued to wait for the clouds to part.

Within 10 minutes of my descent down the very steep and slippery decline, I met John, from Canada - who suggested we descend together given it was a bit treacherous. I was thrilled to find another hiking partner who was clearly more experienced than I was. We had a chat on the way down and once we got through the challenging part, we stopped in a little hut and pulled a snack from our packs. Tony met us there and the three of us descended together as the weather got more beautiful the further down the mountain we got.

That night, we all celebrated with wine and dinner. Joined by Liz and Molly we played cards and other games late into the night. It was by far one of the highlights of my journey thus far!

Coffee: none
Food: primarily cooked at hostel
Accomodations: Calafate, America del Sur Hostel; El Chalten, Patagonia Hostel 



Argentina Snapshot Travel

A Snapshot of…Patagonia, Part I

November 19, 2015

My fascination with Patagonia began when I saw the documentary 180 Degrees South, just a couple of years ago. It is most definitely worth watching if you are interested in hiking, travel, climbing or anything to do with mountains, nature, and conservation. The footage in that movie was incredible and not like anything I'd ever seen before. And beyond the beautiful, picturesque shots - the movie has a deeper message about the importance of our connection to and preservation of nature. Go see it!

However, once putting Patagonia on the bucket list, I had to address one major hiccup: I really hate the cold. So I decided that when I go - it would need to be in spring, when it wasn't frigid but not quite summer when the scene would look a lot different. After a bit of research, I settled on two primary areas of Patagonia that I wanted to visit (the region is immense), both on the Argentinian side.

El Calafate: Big Ice
The first stop was El Calafate, where the primary attraction is the Perito Moreno Glacier. I arrived late afternoon and booked a guided tour to hike the glacier the following day.

The Perito Moreno Glacier is one of 48 in the Southern Patagonian Icefield, a landform shared with Chile that contains the third largest reserve of fresh water in the world. It is one of only three Patagonian glaciers that are not retreating. The glacier is 18 miles long and three miles wide, with an average height of 240 ft above the surface of the water of Lake Argentino. The depth of the ice can reach over 550 feet! (Stats provided by Hielo Adventura, the company who led the tour.)

Early the next morning, I set out for a long day - a 7 hour tour. The bus first took us to a viewing point where we could see the enormity of the glacier amongst the breathtaking surroundings of Lake Argentino and the Andes. What a great tactic for newbies - because seeing the glacier from that point of view made the idea of actually walking on it that much more spectacular. It was truly surreal. As if on queue, while we were admiring the glacier from afar, a giant piece of ice along the edge broke off and fell into the lake. The sound was astounding. Imagine the crackle, roar and BOOM of thunder as if it were right below your feet. It shakes your bones and vibrates throughout your body. And then just as quickly as the sound and vibration filled the space, it became eerily quiet and still again. It's like she just wanted us to know she was there and very much alive. Perhaps welcoming us and showing off the magnificence of nature.

We lucked out with an incredible day - not a cloud in the sky. We set out on a boat to cross the lake and deboarded on the shore. Given the sun there is so strong, it was warm enough to shed a few layers as we set out on a one hour trek along the lake to the entry point of the glacier. The group was split into two groups, and I'd say I lucked out with my guide as well. A bit of a renegade, he would end up taking us further out into the center of the glacier than the other group, noting that this could be one of the last days it was safe to go out so far given it was warming up and the surface was starting to soften. He was determined to get us some amazing views.

We strapped on some crampons and had to put a harness on (in the event we fell in, it was meant for an easier rescue). Our guide led us out onto the ice, and we trekked for about 3.5-4 hours. The surface was not what I expected at all. I had visions of being on an ice skating rink-type of surface, but it wasn't at all so smooth. There were mounds of ice and snow, completely uneven and then, of course, there were the expected crevasses and sheets of ice. There were points where we had to step over large cracks in the ice, where you could see down into the depths of the glacier. The crampons could keep you from slipping, but couldn't save you from falling in the water! And while I never felt unsafe, I definitely had to watch each and every step carefully.

At one point we stopped to sit and eat our lunch while admiring the view. Sitting in the middle of a glacier surrounded by ice, snow and enveloped by mountains - I couldn't think of a more unique experience. To accompany our lunch, we all refilled our water bottles right from the crevasses. The best water I ever tasted. It literally disappeared as soon s it hit my mouth, without a trace of any taste.

After lunch, we walked around for another hour and half before reaching the land along the lake and hiking back through the woods. Exhausted and feet hurting from the cramp ons, I slept very well that night!

El Chalten: Finding Fitz 
The next day, I left for a 2 hour bus ride to El Chalten and sat behind two girls who I had met in the hostel in Calafate. Liz and Molly are both traveling nurses living in Seattle, and invited me to join them on their hike the next day. We all agreed it would be a good idea to start "small" and warm up before tackling the big hike we were there for - Lago de Los Tres. This was the hike that would give us the best view of the iconic Fitz Roy, the mountain that is the basis for the Patagonia clothing line logo.

So I spent the next two days with them, first hiking to Laguna Torre and then to the Huemel Glacier and Lago del Desierto. Now, these girls are true hikers (and 10 years younger!) Living in the Northwest, they have their choice of hikes on a daily basis; and as they both like to travel, they have met many mountains. So they hiked at a fast clip, and I was relieved I could keep up with them! They were also incredibly sweet and down to earth, so we had some good chats and lots of laughs.

The Laguna Torre was an amazing hike, as we passed multiple types of landscapes on our way to the lake - dense forest, grassy land, open space, rocks and sand. All the while being looked down upon by the big sky and wrapped up in the mountains. The following day, we took a short bus ride to Lago del Desierto with another girl from their hostel, Kim, where we hiked through a forest to get to the Huemel Glacier. But this wasn't just any old forest...
It was straight out of a fantasy-type movie and should have been called the Enchanted Forest. I am convinced that this forest comes alive at night - the trees having a chat and a giggle about all of the tourists that tramped throughout them that day. You'll see what I mean when you look at the pictures. Apparently, the birds pick off the the moss (I assume to either build nests or maybe as food), and let's just say they have quite a sense of humor. 

With Lago de Los Tres left to complete, we were disappointed to hear that the following day was going to be cloudy and foggy, as we would likely not have a good view of Fitz Roy. And while Liz and Molly had a couple of more days to fit that hike in, I had a flight booked the day after. So I mentally prepared myself to accept the fact that I may not see Fitz...
(continued here)