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A Hike of Unforgiving Rains

Dealing with a climatic alert state, like the El Niño current while on a hike, is not easy if you are alone in the mountains and your hiking and mountaineering experience and abilities are limited. This is a narration of a bad experience that could have ended up much worse, considering how dangerous it became.

It was high Summer in the Argentine province of Córdoba. It wasn’t much hot as it was rainy. The influence of the El Niño current can cause rains of two-hundred millimeters in South America.

Me and my friends, Flavio and Pablo, went the mid-west area of the province to explore the mountain ranges and play with a set of basic climbing gear.

We were left by the bus on a road called El Camino de Las Altas Cumbres, at the entrance of a national park. Little we knew that we should have paid heed to the weather alert.

We were going to go to a place in the opposite direction of the national park, that Flavio had already picked for us, and it was better for us to get down from the bus somewhere with a point of reference, instead of being taken further down the road to the next station. That was why we went down at that spot.

The place looked inviting, yet challenging. It looked open, big, and very rugged. The time of the day was the afternoon. There were cumulus-nimbus filling the whole sky, taking the sun away from view from time to time. It was hot, but there was also a fresh breeze that welcomed us to the weather adventure we were about to live.

 

Park Tax and Rope-play

We walked from the road and ten steps from it we were feeling a whole different energy altogether. We took a few pictures and played with rocks and screamed with roars of happiness as we entered the range. It was a rocky, irregular area. Sometimes a downward slope, sometimes relatively even.

The heights we were going to climb were not far from this area and they looked daunting, even though they were not high.

As we were walking, still not much far from the road, a raider dressed in twentieth-century gaucho attire appeared.

He said he was the park ranger and asked us what was our business there. Flavio told him that we were going to a place called Los Gigantes. The ranger pointed the ranges ahead and told us that Los Gigantes were past them, to the north. He also asked for us to pay the park camping fee.

We shouldn’t have paid it because we weren’t technically inside the park, but at its northern edge, actually across the road from it.

By that road, that went around the mountains, it was a sixty miles trip to Los Gigantes.

The place we were entering was practically hundred percent wild without any civilization called El Condor between us and Los Gigantes.

Going through El Condor to reach Los Gigantes appeared to be child’s play. Especially as prepared as we went on this journey, with binoculars, a compass, and maps of the place.

After maybe ten minutes walking to the north, we entered the mountains proper. Here the ground was much steeper and there wasn’t any marked trail at all. We started using the compass and the map to go to the north.

Flavio was anxious to put his climbing gear to use. As soon as we were some feet high, like say, forty or fifty feet high in relation to the area near the road — when we started seeing precipices — he took the gear out. Then he initiated us in the sport of climbing. He made Pablo and me hang over a void secured by the harness, the eight, carabiners and ropes.

At the point where we started, in the road that divided El Condor from the national park, we were at around 6500 feet above sea level already. As we got higher, the fog intercepted us.

It was quite a novelty to see a group of clouds approaching, and the next thing you know you’re involved in fog and with moisture all over you. Only to have the dense fog dissipate in less than a minute as the clouds wafted away.

The ranger had told us about some trenches and how to reach them. It was very convenient that we found the flat area with the trenches at the top of a mountain just a handful of minutes after sundown.

We built a fire, cooked a meal and ate it. It was decided that we’ll continue hiking before dawn. We spread or insulators and sleeping sacks over the trenches’ stone barricades and went to sleep.

It was early, but it was drizzling. We had been walking by irregular, dangerous terrain the whole afternoon and evening and we were dog-tired. I was fast asleep and my last memory of that moment was the drops of drizzle hitting me in the face.

 

A Colossal Field of Clouds

The following day we walked by a terrain that was high but generally flat only with slightly tilted slopes. I wasn’t as hard as the afternoon and evening of the previous day.

We were about to set up the tent for the first time in the plateau we’ve been walking the whole day. We were about to fix ourselves a meal and we saw a sight. It was a blanket of clouds that extended as far as our eyes could see below us. We ran towards it in happiness, it was just too beautiful.

The image of what we witnessed is imprinted in my memory because it was a vision of sublime beauty. The pictures above don’t make justice to how that blanket of clouds looked like, the clouds in the pictures look almost flat.

 

Feeling Lost

The third day in El Condor was rough. We went down from the first mountain we crossed and walked into a labyrinthine valley. As we walked into a gorge, we found ourselves nearer to a cascade we had already seen. We decided to go to the top of it.

We reached the top from were the cascade fell. It wasn’t easy but we got there by around noon. Instead of going north and continuing our journey to Los Gigantes, we got out the climbing gear and Flavio taught us how to rappel (descend) using a rope.

After that, we hung out in the rock pools below the fall. They were small and deep, and we dived and fooled in the water until we got tired. There was something off about the place. It was so lonely and unpolluted, and vegetation was so lush and handsome that I felt a feeling that everything was too good to be true.

It was because a few hours after midday the sky became overcast and it began to pour. We climbed back the path towards the north and found that there wasn’t a way to the north. We decided to go back down to the creek area where we have been diving.

The plan was that Pablo and I were going to wait and Flavio explore. Flavio went scouting the area to find a way by which we could continue going north. He went out at like 2:30 pm and didn’t return until like 6 pm.

His delayed return was because he got lost scouting. He couldn’t find his way back to where Pablo and I were.

He did find a way through, but we’ve been waiting for him for a long time. While Flavio was having fun exploring we two were suffering the boredom of having nothing to do in the middle of nature for hours on end.

We decided to have a meal break before we moved on. It was still raining, but it wasn’t much of an annoyance. But even though we had a propane burner to cook up the meal, it wasn’t going to be possible to cook with the rain falling down, not comfortable, at least.

Flavio spotted a ledge formation in the rock in the ravine we were. It was like a hole and the upper part was like a little roof. He proposed to climb there and prepare the meal there. It wasn’t high, the floor of the formation was at something like thirteen feet from the ground.

The three of us thought it was a nice idea. Flavio said that he’ll climb first and set up the ropes so we could climb. He said that he would weed the floor of the place so we three would fit along with the cooking implements.

Flavio climbed, did fix all the ropes as he said he’ll do and began weeding and generally cleaning the floor of the ledge. As he was doing it, I did something bordering with the mentally deficient in stupidity. I stood right below the spot.

In a fraction of a second, I could have had my skull cracked. Because Flavio threw a rock of sharp edges the size of basketball down in a direct line of collision with my head! It was silly also of Flavio to throw a killing blow like that without watching. At least, he seemingly had a hunch that either Pablo or I was below when he threw it because he warned, albeit too late.

I saw the rock coming right to hit me between the eyes and I had the reflex of deflecting it. Not catching it, because as I said, it was a heavy-and-fierce-looking rock. The rock made a three-inches cut in my palm that was promptly taken care of with our portable medkit.

But the belated lunch wasn’t going to be free, I had to pay for it with not just one but two Hors d’oeuvre incidents. The first is the one I just related and then something else happened.

Once Pablo and I were already up there I was sitting comfortably, with my back against the rock. We had lit the propane burner and we were heating water for what I seem to remember was some kind of soup.

Flavio was down, he had to pick up something for the meal that we forgot.

He must have taken this picture when he was down.

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As I sat there, quiet, thinking how much late it became and that we finally were having lunch at like seven pm, Pablo did something. A clumsy maneuver not intended for the cramped situation in which we were positioned. He threw the boiling water all over my bandaged hand.

 

A Night at More Than 45 Degrees Inclination

Like two hours later, we had been walking in the twilight for a while, and it became totally dark. Darkness did catch up with us in an area that was at a slope of more than forty-five degrees. It was raining and as far as we could see, there wasn’t a flat spot anywhere to set up the tent.

It was obvious that it was mighty dangerous to venture forward in the darkness. With how slippery the rock was because of the rain we were lucky to have found a spot with what we thought was a relative flatness. We had to stick the pegs of our tent in the crevices of the rock or use rocks to fix them.

The spot of the tent was a flatness of rock without bumps or anything. Things of the sort that can become a nightmare when sleeping on the ground. The kind of things you take out from a camping spot like branches and stones. It was quite tilted and we thought we would be able to deal with that in a better way than we actually did.

As soon as we were inside the tent, there wasn’t a way of staying in place. It was way too steep. We thought that putting our backpacks at our feet against the closed entrance of the tent will stop us from sliding downwards. It didn’t work out.

We had to put our three backpacks in the middle of the tent and kind of sit on them, with our legs hanging towards the entrance of the tent.

I was lucky because I was the one in the middle. Soon after we devised the solution to that night’s problem, I fell asleep.

Sometime before dawn something awoke me. It was Flavio putting on his rain suit.

A storm was raging outside and something happened that two currents of water were running inside the tent. One at each of the lateral extremes. I felt guilty for not having to deal with such a boomer, and without uttering a word I went back to sleep.

 

Giving Up

The third day, when we woke up, Pablo was a mess, and so was most of our luggage. The backpacks of Pablo and Flavio had soaked a lot of rain from the two interior currents of the night’s storm. Mine’s not so much.

The climate did cut us some slack that morning. At around seven or eight the overcast sky opened up. We took advantage of it to dry our clothes to a bare minimum. The sun didn’t last much, and the drying up our stuff was more of an excuse to veg it out and rest a bit from the intensity of the previous days.

By noon the sky was all overcast again and we decided we had had enough drifting by the wild without another direction markers than the compass and map. We began to retrace our steps.

The return wasn’t easy as we expected. We had to sort a gorge that greatly detoured us from the straight line in which we were going to return to the road.

What it took us two days to hike, we retraced it in four, at most five, hours.

That hike in the El Condor mountain range intermittently disrupted by the showers of the El Niño current was a great test. Especially for me that got injured.

But the greatest test of to our patience came when we were back on the road. We had to find a bus stop. We did find it soon, it wasn’t a longer walk, after all. Yet, we had to wait in that desolate bus stop for hours, something like three or four until a bus came and we could leave.

© 2018 Wensley Evolo

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