“I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.” – Steve McQueen.
I am awakened on day 3 by the warmth of the rising sun caressing my tent. It was a cold night and I’m in no hurry so I lay in my tent and listen to waterfalls roar in the distance and the occasional thunderous crack of a glacier somewhere above me. I hear Andy breaking camp and poke my head outside my tent and he is ready to take off up the trail and we arrange to meet further on or at the next camp. It will be a ten mile day so I eat a healthy breakfast of oatmeal with nuts and apple and have my all important cup of coffee and break camp and hit the trail. It’s a warm, calm, sunny morning, perfect for hiking. I start out across Cerro Castillo creek and the trail ascends rocky open hillside, with Cerro Castillo lake dropping below me, glittering like liquid turquoise in the morning sunlight. I’m climbing to Station Six, the highest point in the trek. We were cautioned about the notoriously high winds at this point and along the steep, rocky descent on the other side, which can exceed 100 miles per hour. There are six rangers roaming the park and when winds pick up they send hikers out of the park on an emergency route down mountain. I delayed my hike for two days and sat in camp in Villa Cerro Castillo looking up at clouds and rain swirl and corkscrew and rage like a wild river over this very ridge, and now I cross it in the perfect stillness of a warm summer morning. Then down and down the long steep rocky slippery mountain side to the valley bottom, looking impossibly far below me. I arrive at campground Porteadores hot and exhausted. I take a bath in the ice cold stream next to the camp and start the last part of the hike up the valley to campground Neozelandes, where Andy should be by now. I’m really beat and almost turn around several times but focus on the beauty of the wild forest that surrounds me and make it to camp in late afternoon and there is Andy resting in his tent and Ullrich has set up next to him and he’s napping and I put up my tent and collapse into a wonderful siesta. Evening finds me just above camp walking in a large, verdant meadow with a glacier above me, pouring icy water into a stream that seems in quite a hurry to visit his sister, the Pacific Ocean. The plants that grow in the meadow are so unique! I tiptoe around its perimeter, careful not to disturb the green residents of this Eden, taking pictures and honestly, just totally tripping out on the miniature jungle that I find myself a part of. Then back to camp. I’ve decided I’m too sore to make the morning hike to lake Duff with Andy and Ullrich. It’s about 2 miles up mountain and I think I have just enough mojo left to make the hike out tomorrow. As it has always gone on this journey, I change that plan after talking to Andy and Ullrich. They have helped me dig deep and understand the wisdom in making the lake hike after coming this far. A quick dinner and I’m in my tent falling into a deep sleep. It’s still light out (sunset is at 9:30, darkness at 10:30) but most in this campground have turned in, understanding the importance of regeneration that a good nights sleep provides. In other words, we are all exhausted! Next morning Andy, Ullrich and I are on the trail to lake Duff, about a two mile climb up valley and across talus through alpine terrain. The lake is a turquoise jewel set in a rock bowl and is fed by two glaciers. It’s a cool, crystal clear morning and three trekkers have just come out of the lake and Andy and Ullrich and I have been joking about their aversion to cold water baths but I can tell Andy is on the fence so I strip down to my shorts and jump right in and what a rush it feels fantastic! So I come out of the lake and the fair skinned Scotsman from Glasgow strips down and jumps in! Whaddya know! We enjoy the Andes-Mountain-High for awhile, I call out my best yodel and we listen to it circle around the bowl back to us and head back to and pack up camp and it’s down the long, long trail to Villa Cerro Castillo. I stop at the stream at campground Porteadores to water up and meet Diego (from Villa Cerro Castillo) and a couple from England that he is guiding through the park. We greet with the traditional Chilean hug, it’s great to see him, and he hands me a crystal that he has dug from the mountain above us, a piece of Cerro Castillo to take home. We say goodbye and then it’s the long walk to Villa Cerro Castillo. Andy and I have a congratulatory beer in town and I find a small cabin next to a herd of horses (no significance but it sounds nice!) on the edge of town and get my trail weary self into a shower but you know, it doesn’t even compare to that jump into the lake, and I dive onto a bed for the first time in five nights and swoon into a deep, wonderful sleep.