Monday 14 February

(magnify) Dawn over Laguna Torre

Wake up in time to see the sunrise, so I hurry out of the tent and along the trail up to the lake. Most of the peaks are under cloud, but as the sun begins to rise there is a beautiful and continuously shifting crimson pattern in the clouds to the east. As sunrise continues, the snow on the glacier below the clouds is lit up orange, reflected in the still water of the lake below.

We have breakfast and break camp, and are away slightly before nine. The American party started off a little ahead, but we pass them at the tyrolean traverse. It turns out that they are heading for the same campsite as us, and since their leader has not been there before Luqui has agreed that we should go ahead to show them the way. (It’s actually a rather good excuse to go across the traverse in front of them.)

After the crossing, we immediately turn left and start climbing up through the woods, over dead branches, always steeply upwards. We pause a few times, and finally cross the tree line. Below is the lake, and high up to the left of that a fearsomely jagged line of rock teeth sticking upwards.

Goodbye to Laguna Torre
Craggy ridge

(magnify) Crossing scree
(magnify) The Agachonas pass

We are now climbing on scree and rock. Our path takes us diagonally up across the flank of the mountain, slate crunching underfoot, towards the line of the horizon.

We finally reach the col, and not a moment too soon. This is our lunch stop and we can see the American group still toiling up towards us in the distance. It is a jagged landscape of black splintering slate. On the other side of the col is our first glimpse of the next valley. The best views though are from a nearby peak. Lago Viedma, vast as an ocean, stretches into the far distance.

The way down

The way down is less steep. Small terracotta boulders are strewn evenly across the slate surface. It is an almost unimaginably barren landscape, but amazingly a few small alpine plants cling on in this hostile environment.

We continue to descend through meadowland into the valley. Acres of sun-bleached tree stumps cover part of the hillside, and there is evidence of a recent land slip.

The walk along the valley up to the camp site below the lake is pleasant but quite long, and exhaustion begins to set in. Hearing horses behind us, we step off the path to let them past. The tall bushes on either side snag and snare at the packs that they are carrying. It’s obvious how the bags got damaged.

We know that we are close to the camp when we finally spy ahead of us a grazing horse, then a tent.

Approaching the campsite

But not all of the horses have arrived yet and in particular the kitchen tent and food are still to come. I choose a flat patch of ground with Lawrence under the trees in the lee of a steep cliff and we erect our tent. Luqui warns us that it will be very windy later so we make sure that all of the guy ropes are firmly tied onto trees or pegged down.

We’re all hungry and tired, but the mess tent and provisions have still not arrived. I walk over to the river, some distance from the camp, to wash. There is a lively torrent coming down, as near freezing as makes no difference, and cloudy with rock dust. As I crouch down on a stone, I see a white object float rapidly past me, realising too late that Steve has just dropped his soap.

The Americans seem to have fared slightly better and all of their horses have arrived by now. When the last of our horse trains rolls in, we discover that they have forgotten to pack the camp stools. Luqui improvises some benches out of packing crates and a large fallen branch, with camping mats strapped over the top to make them a little less uncomfortable. It is good enough, and we are all grateful when dinner is finally served at about quarter past nine. Pumpkin soup, then spaghetti with tomato sauce.