In high mountain ranges

Our next project was to cross the “Serranías de Famatina”, the highest American mountain range outside of the Andies.
Again we left with little information but enough food to deal with some obstacles on he way. Our hike started from a walnut tree plantage close to the village Famatina, who’s owners had invited us for a short stay.
They had explained us to follow the gravel road up to a shelter which was called “Tres piedras” and was supposed to be located close to a pass to the other side of the mountain range.
We followed the road for a while until we were close to run out of water. Having seen a river more South at the beginning of the trecking we left the road, following dry ravines towards this direction. Again we found rock carvings of the indigenous tribe “Diaguitas” showing similar patterns as we found along the Río Blanco in San Juan province. I was amazed but also I felt restless and stressed as we had no water anymore in a hot, dry, pathless and unknown environment. We climbed up a slope to gain a better view and from there we finally saw the river valley not far from us. With great relief we made our way down there, directly jumping into the refreshing water when we arrived.
The next days we followed the river upstream, being rewarded with surprises like color changes of the water, beautiful canyons, hummingbirds flying around, eatable plants which added up to our diet. Amazed but worried we felt by various waterfalls. They formed serious obstacles and made us walk bigger and bigger detours until there was no way around them any more.
With all bottles filled up we left the river and headed upwards to the high mountain range. There we found another small stream which we followed until its spring. Next day we climbed slowly but steadily the rocky slopes until we arrived breathless and proud the 5000m high pass beside the Overo Negro, the second highest peak of the range.
Continuing towards the West we soon found a spring again. That stream we followed downwards for several days. Also there waterfalls formed serious obstacles and made us search long ways around them. After two weeks and a long final march through a desert like area we finally arrived to he village Vinchina. Here we spend some rest days including a very quiet night into the year 2017.
Happy new year to everybody!!!

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San Guillermo – The forbidden national park

Back in Argentina my partner Gerardo and I were interested in going to remote places close to the Andes mountain range in the North of the country.
The National Park San Guillermo was calling our atencion.
Starting with 25kg backpacks we left Angualasto, the last village, walking North. Our expectation and mood was a bit depressed about what we got told of the local people, the gendarmes and the national park guards. Restrictions and obstacles in many ways. The water of the river would not be drinkable for its high salt and arsen content. The river carries too much water to cross it by foot, which would be necessary at one point. Anyway, the entrance into the national park was forbidden. Only in a 4×4 and with a guide permission was given. Walking there was obsolet for the high altitude and the great numbers of pumas. And as a local said: “With this heavy backpacks you anyway not gonna get anywhere”

We still wanted to face our project. Maybe we would find solutions which brought us further.
The water of the river we depended on did not cause us problems at the end. Slightly salty and very cloudy. We sedimented it overnight to gain clear water for the next day. The burning sun let us spend several hours per day the bit of shade the landscape offered. To reduce he number of blood sucking flies we often made fires even though it was quite hot already. So we managed.

We walked up the valley of the Río Blanco until it joined with Río de la Palca where the national park started. Even tough it was tempting we decided not to directly enter it. We did not want to face troubles with the park guards on our peaceful hike. Their restrictions we found quite nonsense though…
Following its limits North for a week we were astonished by the colorful rock formations and impressive shaped rocks the valley had to offer.
The mountain peaks seamed like sand dunes, cliffs often like cathedrals. Some rocks had carvings by the indigenous people, displaying hunting scenes and abstract arts. On a few spots we found ruins of the inca imperium. In the desert dry environment we could observe many animal trails on the ground. Pumas, guanacos, foxes, birds, many of them we saw active as well. Only the Puma we missed out. But one night one passed our tent as close as 2m without us noticing it.
At one point we left the valley behind to climb the highest mountain of the surroundings. We were surprised to find a stone tower marking its top in such a remote area. From there we had an amazing overview over “La meseta de leones” the huge, 3300m high plateau of the national park. Also we saw the 5000-6000m high peaks of the mountain ranges Colangüil and Brea.
As our food ran out slowly we had to head back. Walking with lighter backpacks we covered longer distances per day. On my 30st birthday we arrived back to the first settlements after exactly 4 weeks. On the back of a pickup we made it until Rodeo where we celebrated my birthday and the return to civilisation with a huge pot of pasta and some butter breads. That was all we had been dreaming of, being on limited portions of food for many weeks…

Visiting my country

I was up to the mountain range around Cordoba in Argentina when I received a message from my father that my aunt had died on a stroke this day.
All the family would come together for the funeral which was going to happen in 2 weeks.
Feeling sad and longing to be with them I decided spontaneously to skip all plans for the next weeks and fly to Austria. The Argentinian man I was with at that moment through over his plans as well to join me. We bought the tickets and celebrated the decision to go to Europa with pizza and wine.
Weeks later, when the plane was about to land in Vienna, I still couldn’t believe to be there. And even less, that Gerardo was at my side. How crazy!

What followed was an intense month. After the funeral it was full of visits, activities and joyful exploring the city, countryside and food.

In the beginning everything seemed overly perfect, artificial. After a short time for me the strange feeling passed and I purely enjoyed the company of my friends and family members. For Gerardo it sometimes still felt like a journey in the future.

Time flew. Coming back to Argentina a month later we were grateful for the experience we have had.

Where the road ends

I was cycling southwards on the Chilian side of Fireland and have seldom seen remote areas like this. It was almost winter so there was even less traffic going on. One day there passed 3 cars, another day not even one.
I had a weird, exited feeling when I crossed the last pass to Lago Fagnano. When I finally had a view over the Cordillera Darwin (Darwin mountain range), the enormous Lago Fagnano, (lake Fagnano), the untouched forests, only crossed by a slim white line – the frost covered road – I was speachless.
35km further I reached the end of the road, where its gravel unite with the limpets of the beach. I was standing in a bay, surrounded by glaciar covered peaks . North of me “Los dientes de dragones” (dragon touth mountain range), south the Cordillera Darwin.
In front of me I saw the Pazific ocean, full of island. To my back side the wide valley of the Azopardo river, which connects the Lago Fagnano with the sea.
I could not think anything else then:
“This is the place for me to be!”

And so I stayed there.
The place is called Caleta Maria, an historic saw mill, now in renovation. The owners are ambitious about conserving the history, nature and spirit of the place.
They use it as a platform for ecotourism, arts and other projects.
In my six weeks there I explored the surroundings, hiking valleys and the coast, studied about plants, animals and history. I learned to chop wood and to use a magallanic oven.
I experianced that keeping the laundry in a bucket outdoor over night is a bad idea at -5°C.
I went ot to collect the last calafate berries of the saison, having deep blue coloured hands for 3 days afterwards. With a wheelbarrel I helped the men to carry water from the river. I cooked lentils and beans, bread and potatos over and over again.

I just absolutely fell in love with this place.

When I finally left, everything was a bit different. Plans had collapsed and have not been replaced yet.

I got the invitation to come back after the winter, after the visit of my mother which will stay with me in South America for 6 weeks.

The future is open, I have now idea, what will come.
Life is exiting!

Exploring food

In the far south of fireland, Chile

Me:Do you like Luche? (A marine algae, Ulva rigida, Porphyra columbiana)
Him: Yeah, it is delicious!
Me: Today I went to collect it. I have a lot. Would you like to have some?
Him: Yes, great! But how to prepare it?
Me: You can fry it in a pan with onions until it is soft and then add preboiled potatos.
Him: Do you have Luche in Austria as well?
Me (laughing): No, we don’t even have a coast!
Him: But how do you know about it then…?
Me: A fisherman of the region showed it to me.
Him: That means, when you go back to Austria, you will never eat Luche again?
Me: Probably not…

I thought of so many delicious meals I had tried and probably never will have a chance to eat again.
But then I remembered that I read somewhere that Luche is exported to Japan. There they use it to wrap sushi.
So probably I will eat Luche again later.
The Chilian algae in a Japanese restaurant back in Europe one day.
Globalised world…

Cycling “Fireland”

Tierra del Fuego – fireland – is the name of the biggest island south of the continental mass of America.
The name was given for the countless campfires which the explorers could see on land while they were sailing along the coast. Magallan, Darwin, Fitz Roy and other famos sailors found their way through the southern waters here.
I agree fully on the name as every single day since I arrived to the island ended in front of a fire. Either a campfire beside the tent or a fire run oven inside of a house.
It is getting freezing cold and the days are short. Sunrise around 9am, sunset not later then 6.30pm. Temperatures during the day -5 to 10 degrees. Night temperatures I don’t even wanna know.
It is very remote down here but the few people I meet offered a heart full of hospitality. I made friendship with almost every person I met.

Cycling out of Povenir, the port village I had arrived to, I came across a group of about 100 soldiers marching fully equiped on both side of the road. “Hola…” I said hesitating “HOLA!!!! Vamos, vamos! Good morning!!!” was the overwhelming response, comined by applause of douzents hands while I blushed and presented my silliest smile.

I passed the humble house of a fisherman around lunchtime. He looked at me in surprise and asked: “Do you want a coffee?” While he boiled the water he prepared omlette for me. Later he showed me his vegetable garden and his books. He is interested in any topic and use to educate himself during the long nights of winter. We were talking until the late night, in the morning I helped him with the catch of the day – more then 30 seabrasses! He asked me to stay and work with him. I was tempted to…

I cycled on, following the coast. Empty, silent. For hours I saw neither a car nor a house. Thouse which passed mostly slowed down to ask if I needed anything. A truckdriver almost forced me to take a lift with him. I agreed. I felt like chating and we enjoyed each others company until we reached his destination. I cycled on, surrounded by red forrests as was is late autum by now.
The landscape presented itself incredible beautiful. I sat in the middle of the quiet road and ate the bread and vegetables the fisherman had given me. A campfire kept me warm as the sun went down and the sky filled up with shining stars.

Next day the carabiñeros stopped while my lunch break and asked if they should give me a lift to anywhere. They were the only people I saw that day.

One morning when I had just loaded the bike and was ready to leave a bus came by and stopped. It belonged to the military and an officer asked: “Do you want a coffee?” They had marbel cake as well, an amazing top up to the breakfast I just have had. Before they left they handed me cranberry cookies, a cereal bar and a yoghurt drink as proviant.

Same day I arrived to the fishing lodge at Lago Deseado where my friend Moritz had stayed for a while a few weeks ago. The cook came out of the house, asked me if I’m the friend of Moritz and welcomed me warmly. Later the workers came home from the construction side – a wild but warmhearted group of 5. Next day I went with them to the house they were constructing at a magical place on the lake side. I explored the surrounding, learned how to deal with a fishing rod and drank lots of mates with them until we went home. Jose ,the cook had prepared a delicious meal for us in the meantime. They asked me to stay. I was tempted another time..

Next day I cycled over a pass. The road was partly covered by blanc ice and the tires slipped away once. After that small crash I manoeuvred the bike very carefully further downwards, always ready to jump off. Nothing happened any more and soon I was rewarded by an incredible view. The ice covered road was leading in serpentines through the red forest down to the enourmus lake Fagnano. On the opposide throned the Cordillera Darwin covered in ice and snow. This beautiful mountain range forms the south end of Tierra del Fuego.
As I approached the lakeside I passed a military camp. A man came out and asked me in english: “Hello! What are you doing here so far from home?”
The next two nights I stayed in the military camp, but that is another story…

To the end of the continent

Hiking is addictive!
After controlled and infrastructured trekking in Torres del Paine I searched for another, more remote project.

By now I was taveling alone and I would go on the next hiking trips solo as well.
I wanted to reach the “cruz de los mares”, a white metal cross which marces the most southern cape of the american continent.
When I hitchhiked to the end of the road, 60km South of Punta Arenas, I passed a monument which really amused me.
Called ” The geographical centre of Chile” it is the centre of this long country if you include Antarctica to the mesurement. Basically at the “End of the world”, or at least at the end of the continental mass…

Being dropped of at the final parking area of the road my next trekking adventure started.
After 10km walking along the beach I reached the Faro San Isidro, an old lighthouse inhabitaded only by Rudolfo, who takes care of the place.
Continuing along the coast I felt like leaving civilisation behind another time.
Wandering along the Magallan Street I could see the islands all over the horizon.
Tierra del Fuego, the grand one which I would visit later, Dawson, used as prisoners island during the period of Pinochet and many more which are part of storys and myths of seamans history.

I could observe lots of birdlife, some sea lions and find tracks of pumas and foxes.
All kinds of berries were ripe by now and ready to be eaten. Colourful algees covered the tideline along the rocky beaches which made walking quite slippery.
The countless capes at the corners of the bays had to be surrounded on forrest trails, marced by ribbons on trees. In one area there was swampland to cross on a muddy trail.
Cloudy, rainy weather created a mystic atmosphere. The three river crossings, which had worried me while the preparation for this trip, turned out to be easy. Even though two of them were up to hip deep and wide, there was almost no current.
More complicated was dealing with the tides. Quite a few times I found myself wandering in underpants through the knee deep sea at high tide, my upper body covered in winter clothes.

On the fourth day I reached the cape Froward. Up there I approached the shiny white cross, high above the surrounding seas. To my left side the Atlantic, to the right the Pacific I had reached the end of the American continental mass!

On the way back the temperature dropped and rainfall turned into snow. The beaches were covered in white, Patagonian snow storms reduced the visibility to a minimum. In its beauty I started to worry on the second day of constant snowfall.
All my stuff was wet by now so it made no difference any more to cross the rivers fully dressed up.
That was faster and reduced the risk of getting too cold… As weird as it sounds!

There was one shelter on the trail which I ugently wanted to reach this day. I did.. And when I approached I found four persons standing around a big campfire. What a relief!
All 5 of us slept inside of the tents inside of the old wooden hut, still freezing.
As it continued snowing next day they decided to return as well and we went as a group back to the lighthouse.
Another night we spent there, helping Rudolfo with logging for a bit, cooking together and drying all the stuff.
The next day we continued in rainy and cold weather until the beginning of the road. There was basically no traffic and we kept on walking to keep ourselves warm.
At one point we all could catch a ride back to Punta Areas, the next city.

Imagine the pleasure of a hot shower after that adventure!!!

Attacked by a sheep!

Moritz and I were about to separate. We had the last few days of cycling together, spend long evenings sitting and cooking infront of tent, talking, watching the dark sky full of star constellations of the southern hemisphere.
Finally we approached to the junction which would lead us to different directions. It was a sentimental moment after cycling, hiking, living together for four months.
It was lunchtime and we were not in a hurry. Eating, chatting, having mate together the time passed. Then a sheep appeared and Moritz and I found it quite cute, fluffy and trustful as it seemed to be.
Not minding to be cuttled it kept standing there looking around. Then it started walking towards my bicycle, scratching its head at my front rack. I got slightly nervous as the bicycle seemed tiny and fragil compared to the big sheep.
It stepped back, lowerd the head and in a fast movement pushed it aggressivly against my front wheel!
“Hey!!!” I shouted and lead the sheep away from the bike as it seemed to attack it further. The whole situation swtiched in a moment and aggressively the sheep started to attack Moritz and me!
After an itchy minute we made it into the bus stop hut, laughing in disbelieve. Everything cooled down as we hid in the house observing how the sheep started to feed on grass. We were relieved for the moment.

But then it came towards the bikes again, attacking with pushes of its heavy head and chewing the tires.
We had to get out of there! To rescue the bikes, our loyal partners of our on-the-road-lifes, from a crazy sheep!
I made it to jump on the bike and push it away even though the chain has fallen of. Moritz bike was laying down and he had no chance to be fast enough. He was swiching between rescuing himself and protecting his bike. I heard him shouting, left my bike in safe distance and ran back to him, the trecking poles in my hands as the only weapons I found quickliy.

Attracting the sheeps attention, keeping it in safe distance with the poles I gave Moritz the moment he needed to jump on his bike as well.
Full of adrenalin we escaped the situation.

200m further we looked into each others eyes and hugged for a long time.
It was time to say goodbye to a close friend another time. I felt sad and sentimental. Our friendship had comforted me and teached me a lot. It will go on of course. But it would change from him being around all the time to some messages which we would type every now and then if the internet connection allows it. Everything comes to an end one day. I feel happy, strong and confident, travelling alone.
Farewell still hurts. That is the real price of travelling!

Torres del Paine

Apperantly “A must have” if you are in this part of the world…
Trekking the world famous Nacional Park Torres del Paine. Overflouded by people in the high saison…
Moritz and I arrived at the end of the summer when the temperatures drop and the days are shorter.
Honestly we were really not sure if we should go, but the only way to find out is trying.
Also we decided to go seperated ways soon and the 150km trekking should be our fairwell tour.
We brought limited food for about 10 days, packed minimalistic and took the afternoon bus from Natales to the administration.
We walked in the less used trail to the camp Paine Grande where we entered “the O” the O shaped loop surrounding the mountain range. Our first few days we spend in the part where “the O” and “the W”, the shorter trail overlap. Hundred tents shocked us, even in low saison!!!
Our moral suffered from the party feeling, crowded campsides and restricted areas. We even fell in a bad habit of toping up our food by buying over priced pasta or cookies just because outhers did it as well. I was woundering about myself.
Still I have to say that the loop was extreamly beautiful natural wise and the people we shared time with turned out to be very nice.
I understand that it is necesary to control such a crowded national park close. As well for nature as well for hikers.
That makes it the safest place for non experianced wanderers which I have ever seen, in a beautiful environment and with options of one to 10 days of hiking. A paradise for beginners!
But it was hard for me to get the vibe of nature…
Next time more remote again! 🙂

Into the wild

Moritz and I are in the South of Chile by now. An amazing landscape full of mountains, glaciers, rivers and waterfalls surround us. 

Cycling along the Carretera Austral, the only road here, is amazing. But my mountaineerer spirit was calling for more!
We arrived to Puerto Rio Tranquilo which is the gate to “El Campo del Hielo Norte” – “The Northern Land of Ice”. It is the third biggest ice mass of the world, including some of the most famous glaciares.
Here Moritz and I wanted to leave any kind of civilisation behind us and cross the pathless wilderness between Leones and the Valle Exploradores.
We planned and packed carefully. Camping equipment, clothes, crampons, food for 7 days at an absolute minimum of weight.
We hichhiked down to Leones where we camped another night close to the road.
On the next morning the adventure started. What we were priviliged to experiance is hard to describe in words. Same for the hardshifts and obstacles we had to deal with every single day.
I will still try… It turned out to be one of the huge adventures of life and I would like to share e story with you!

At the morning of the first day a blue sky was standing over the beautiful shaped mountains. We were exited and couldn’t wait to start. In the first bit a small graveled path led us along some houses. At a river we found a bamboo plant of which we cut the four strongest branches as sticks for our tour.
We entered a huge valley formed by the river Leones and followed tracks of horses and cows in the woods. Walking was easy in the beginning. Our first challenge was to cross the Rio Claro, which leads into the Rio Leones. We ran up and down the banks and discuss the strategy to cross the 30m wide river. I had never done anything like that before.We found a range where the river splitted and formed several tiny islands which we wanted to reach bit by bit. The water was cold and knee to almost hip deep. The bamboo sticks helped a lot to find grip and stability in the current. Suprisingly easy we came to the other side, freezing, but proud and more confident.
The further way led us through a labyrinth of spiny bushes flouded by muddy streams, walking was only possible in the knee deep water. So we followed the water arms, shoes hanging around our necks deeper and deeper into the bushland. After a long while we reached a tiny graveled island where we piched the tent. On the next morning all the water was gone so we made our way more easy. Following a horse track we climbed a pass which led to waterfalls and a forest of mossy, old trees and cristal clear streams. It reminded us on fary tales. Climbing higher we came to high vally full of deep blue lagunes surrounded by ice covered mountains in all directions.
The weather stayed amazing as well as our mood. But we realized that finding our way would take us longer then expected. We started to limit our food supply strictly so that it would last for more days then originally planed.
We were speakless for the beauty of the landscape around us. Following the graveled comb of the morene walls we reached further lagunes and passes. We crossed mossy slopes of mountains and labyrinths of rivers and cliffs. Our progress became slower, the way more tricky and dangerous. The hundreds of meters high walls of glaciares were shining bright blue all around us, mountain peaks black as the night and fresh green vegetation framed the picture. Condors flying in cycles over our heads as to observe the intruders into their remote mountain world.
We crossed rivers so cold that we were shivering and screaming in pain, steep forests so dense that they trapped us and we had to fight hard for every single step. We were hungry but happy.
We surrounded two mountains. We enjoyed the views at the San Valentin, with more then 4000m the highest peak of Patagonia and the Glaciar Exploratores which we had to cross for the final part of our tour.
On the 8th day we set our feet on the Glaciar San Valentin. With crampons on our feet and the bamboo sticks in our hands we could make quite some distance over the ice. Without noticing it we walked over more and more rocks which had fallen on the ice until the ground under our feet was a frocen hilland of gravel, difficult and slow walk. This was the area which connected the Glaciar San Valentin with the Glaciar Exploratores, our final part. For the night we found a flat boulder just big enough for the tent.
On day 9 in the mornimg we had an “endspurt-feeling”. We were talking about reaching civilisation, food, some rest. When we started walking we noticed that the gravel would continue for way longer then expected and would turn into a landscape of steep frozen stone pyramides. Navigation turned out to be difficult another time and we realized we would not make it back to the road on at day. When we reached the blanc ice of the Glaciar Exploratores it presented itself in wild shapes. Narrow connections between the gravecentes. Steep climbs and deep valleys. Nothing flat or easy at all. We tryed to enter at a few spots but it seemed impossible. We had crampons but no ice axes or ropes. At a point it seemed ridiculously dangerous and we left the glacier to make our way around and enter again after the slope where its shape might be less hostile.
“The way around” ment crossing steep gravel fields, fighting extremly tight vegetation until we got almost desperate. We lost more and more time and started to run seriously out of food. After another night we stood infront of a river we had to cross. Hip deep, strong current, ice cold and scary. Somehow we made it, freezing and worring what would come next. We wandered along animal trails in a mystical mossy forrests full of colibris, climbed boulders to reach plateous, camped on another gravel field. We had no dinner as we prefered to keep the last bit of food for the breakfast.
The only way forward was to cross the steep slope of a mountain covered with dense primery forest. We were close to civilisation. After another day fighting step by step we could see a red bridge, the road, cars and a house already. We were far above and seperated by dense forest and high cliffs. For the eventh night we found a tiny mossy area underneith some roots to sleep. We did not feel our empty bellies any more. We started to feel scared, talked a lot and supported each other with the difficult emotions until we fell asleep.
On the next morning we went on, hours of hours fighting the forest to find a way down. And we did!!
Almost vertically we climbed down the vegetation along slopes and beside waterfalls. We got deeper and deeper, the red bridge came closer and closer. With scratches all over, woods and stones in our clothes we reached the less steep base of the mountain. We went on, following a stream until we reached a trail. It was more then an animal trail!
It was made and used by humans!! Civilisation…
For the last 3 days in the forest I thought that would be the moment to sit down and cry, let all the emotions out. But it was different. A relieve, but almost indifferent as all the energy and adrenaline faded.
We changed the sweaty clothes which had been on our body for days, removed the self made gaters we wore to protect our legs and ate the last bit of chocolate we had kept. Then we followed the trail which led us directly to the symbol of our liberty – the red bridge.
It was like entering another world. We had been out in the wilderness for 12 days.
We asked for the house of agency which had lend us the crampons. When we reached there all the guides surrounded us and congratulated for completing the tour. Pasta was ready just in that moment and both of us ate a big plate. Then we put on all our clothes, took a beer and some cookies and went in the trunk of their pickup. The ride out of the valley back to the village took more then an hour. Feeling the wind in the hair, seeing the glaciars and waterfalls around us we were eating, drinking, laughing out loud. It was a great way to finish this experiance.
It was one of the great adventures of life. Moments of fear, danger, gratitude, extrem beauty, strong emotions, friendship and the deep part of the soul, which is hidden too often in the organized world, the civilisation.