Thursday 10 February

Hungry caterpillars

We are back to the serious walking today. We leave the campsite and turn left down the road. After a short distance we make a right turn into the woods, along no particular path, heading upwards. It soon starts to become rather steep, and there is an infestation of black hairy caterpillars. They have a nasty sting if you press hold of one, so we have to be very careful what we grab at for support. They are also in the trees above us and frequently fall as we brush past. Many of the bushes here are stripped clean of leaves by their combined voracious appetites.

Underfoot the ground turns to loose scree as we struggle on upwards. The trees become increasingly stunted and finally we scramble up onto the ridge.

(magnify) View from the ridge
(magnify) On the ridge

We are rewarded with a splendid view down the valley that leads back to Chalten and on the other side of the ridge far to the south-west, Mount Fitz Roy. We turn right and continue up the ridge towards Loma de Diablo, the Devil’s hill. Celia, one of the group’s senior members, found the ascent to the ridge rather hard, so she, Ian, and Walter (Luqui’s assistant guide) stay behind to follow a shorter route back.

Wind-sculpted clouds

It’s nearly half-past twelve and the summit looks a very long way up. But Luqui has the bit between his teeth and is clearly on a mission. I could really do with some lunch, but we have no option but to follow on. We all become quite spread out as we toil up the hill, and I hear Don behind me verbalising my own feelings of hunger. We skirt around a small patch of snow, and then, joy of joys, I see that Luqui has stopped on a smaller summit a little below the peak and has taken off his rucksack.

I scramble up, find a seat among the rocks, and get out my sandwiches. All around is scree, broken slate, and boulders.

(magnify) From the summit

I’m re-energised by the food inside my stomach and, leaving the rucksacks behind, we make the final push up to the top. It doesn’t take long and the view is breath-taking. To the south is the valley towards Lago Viedma. West and north lie craggy peaks and the start of the ice field. Across the immediate valley to the west are vast scree slopes down which run thin cascades of melting glacier water.

A group photograph is definitely in order. Ron offers one of his trekking poles, which has a screw in the top to take a camera, so that we can all be in the picture. Wedged in between some rocks, it has an annoying tendency to swing round and seems to prefer the view down the other valley rather than the group posed patiently in front of Ritz Roy.

(magnify) Must do something about those knees (magnify) Another one to prove we made it

The descent is long and tiring. As we come down off the ridge, we encounter some tricky scree slopes. Just below, the menace of the caterpillars starts once more. David slips, puts down his hand, and is rewarded with a nasty sting. It fades after about 15 minutes, but is nevertheless painful at the time. He is not the only one.

We finally roll into the camp at around 6 pm, tired, hot, hungry, and thirsty. Our total ascent today was 1250 m, which is quite respectable.

The campsite is on the edge of the River de las Vueltas, which flows down through Chalten, and a swim seems to be in order. The river itself is a bit too vigorous, but Pam mentions that there is a lake just through the woods. I go to investigate with Helen and we emerge from the woods onto a flooded meadow. It looks a bit polluted with cattle dung, so we try the river itself on the edge of a bend where the flow is rather weaker. I get in as far as the bottom of my shorts and can no longer feel my legs. It seems prudent not to push things any further.

Pasta for dinner, followed by chocolate cake and an early night.