I recall feeling pretty good as we rose and began the breakfast routine on our 7th day in the park. We were past the halfway point! It was both an exciting thought as well as a sad one…simply because we were that much closer to having to leave this wild paradise. I recall thinking how I wanted to be sure I cherish these memories now as I will look back on them often in the future.
Little did I know how right I was, being as this was our last big adventure before having to return to the US to quarantine and then hunker down for an undetermined amount of time. Isn’t it funny how poignant (and ironic) a moment can seem in retrospect? I feel like that happens more and more to me as I get older. Maybe that’s what elder folk (all you with the silver and white hair!) feel like every day.
Anyway, back to our trail. After breakfast, we bought a couple important items at the camp store of Paine Grande – espresso shots, 2 beers to have with lunch, a can of sour cream and onion Pringles, and a bird identification guide. Treasures, all! The hike to our next campsite, Frances, was 5.9 miles Northeast. Onward, baby.
The view looking back towards Paine Grande as we climbed up and away from it was really great! The higher we got, the more we could see the wide and expansive scale of the lake we’d be on.
This day was 100% cloud cover all day – just another variety of your classic Patagonian weathers. You never know what you’re going to get! At a couple campsite check-ins, they had a sign hanging up that said “Don’t ask about the weather…Live the Patagonia.” It always made us laugh. I am going to have to get that on a shirt at some point.
The clouds covering the mountains and views up high had the effect of keeping our eyes and focus more at ground level all day. Which was definitely interesting in itself – your daily dose of streams and waterfalls, autumn color in the leaves, blooming flowers, and winding trails was all we needed. The first half of our trail was still through a lot of the burned area from the wildfire in 2011, so we did see many scars of that as the ecosystem continues to heal itself.
I like to think of waterfalls like snowflakes…each one is completely unique, no other like it on Earth. Oftentimes on this day, we’d come across distant waterfalls seemingly pouring from the clouds themselves! It was both mystical and quite enchanting.
We came to a lake called Lago Skottsberg, which seemed a good stop for lunch. As luck would have it, we didn’t have too much of a crowd hiking this day, so we were pretty isolated for lunch which was really nice. Of course…I say isolated and I mean people. We of course still had our now-expected Chimango caracara pals, always looking for some type of munchies. But because they hung around us, David got some fantastic close-ups of these raptors, and even made me run at one of them so he could get some shots of it in flight.
From our lunch vantage point, we could look down into the lake water and actually SEE the shelf dropoff, which made for a captivating and lovely color contrast, even without the sunlight. It never ceased to bring me wonder how clear and clean the agua is.
The second half of the hike went beyond the extent of the forest fire from 2011, so we transitioned back into more lush greenery and grasses of the Andes lowlands. For a bit, our trail was just hiking through a small stream, which was really cool because you are able to see all of the runoff from rains and meltwater up high trickling into where we were walking.
Some of the blossoms we saw this day were just so striking, and unlike anything I’d ever seen.
For a brief 5 minutes, a cloud moved out of the way and we saw some of the Los Cuernos formation to which we were getting closer! It was a swift and very cool moment – felt like a gift in the mist, like something out of a spooky movie.
We crossed another river, the Rio del Frances, and the Frances Valley stretched North into cloud cover. Our hike tomorrow would backtrack slightly and head up into this valley to the Britanico viewpoint/mirador, which makes the middle of the “W.” It was such an odd feeling crossing that bridge, looking Northward, and not being able to see anything of where we’d be hiking! We crossed our fingers that tomorrow would be a bit clearer for us (remember, don’t ask park staff about the weather, live the Patagonia). HA
For now, we braved the bridge that said “capacity: 1 person” and walked the last 20 minutes to our campsite, Frances.
Such an interesting campsite! The whole thing is under canopy and on a mountainside, so it’s pretty much impossible to pitch a tent on the ground except for a few level spots. Everything else is on such an incline, so all the tent sites are wooden platforms sunk into the mountainside so you have a level wooden square on which to pitch your tent. Here’s the kicker, though – the bath house with straight downhill from the platforms, so you got a mini-workout coming back to your tent every time!
Not just that, but if you wanted to go down to the store/refugio/spot with the cliff view, it was an even further and STEEPER incline downward, and you had to walk that much further uphill coming back from it to your tent. Normally, this wouldn’t bother me, but it does make it tougher when you’re trying to rest your muscles for the evening after already having hiked the entire DAY! Needless to say, Frances campsite is not for the weak of will.
We stayed 2 nights at Frances, as tomorrow’s trek was not a thru-hike – up the valley to the mirador and then back to the campsite. For that reason, we opted out of walking all the way down until tomorrow. After hot showers, we cooked a quick dinner because the Frances cooking area was way too small and everyone was elbow to elbow. Played some cards by lamplight in the tent as an evening rain made it way through the canopy above us. But droopy eyes were bound to come soon.
Let me tell you…if anyone out there is having trouble sleeping at night and looking for a way to get some solid, restful, and all-through-the-night-sleep, a multi-day hiking trek would help you immensely! I would fall asleep faster these nights than most any other nights I can remember, and it is a recharge in every sense. Even just typing this makes me miss those restful nights….