The weather since our return from Easter Island had been lousy.  Cold, rainy, grey.  Late fall.  Fortunately (?), Mary and I both were quite busy during the week so it didn’t have much impact.  However, Friday dawned clear and bright even if it was pretty cold, for Santiago.  We did a quick tour of San Cristobal and Costanera Center.  I plan to write that  up in a closing post on Santiago.

Saturday was colder and sunnier.  We headed out to hike in the mountains to the east of the city in Parque Natural San Carlos de Apoquindo.  I’ve written about this hike before and I’ve shown some pictures of the mountains.  The nearest peak to the city is Cerro Provinicia which attains a height of around 9,000 feet.  That is well above the snow line now and pretty much all the peaks near us are now snow capped.  When it’s clear, they’re stunning.  Further to the east, about 50 miles away, is Cerro Plomo, which stands over 20,000 feet and is snow capped year around.  It’s always a great looking mountain but it’s rare to see it.  Because it’s so far away, it’s lower in apparent height and so buildings and trees block it.  Also, the air in Santiago is rarely clear.  I should write more about this and, no doubt, will in the coming winter months but the air here is bad.  I’ve advised the students to get out of the city as often as possible and I plan to take this advice.  Unfortunately, many of them have blown their travel budgets figuring, reasonably enough, that it would be better to travel in the summer/early fall than late fall/winter.

To access this hike, one must take the metro to Los Dominicos, which is the eastern terminus of Line 1.  Then one takes the C02 bus to its eastern terminus at the Universidad Catolica (a professional soccer team, despite the name) stadium.  One then follows the signs for the park.  This was my third trip to the park and I had always more or less just walked in.  You have to pay 2,000 pesos and register but it never took much time even when the park staff wanted to practice their English a bit.  If you need park info these guys are great and will give you a map.   The park closes at 6pm – too early in summer months when the sun doesn’t set until almost 9pm but just right now with sunset a little before 6.  This time, there was a long line of backpackers.  There is a hut at the summit of Cerro Provinica.  I couldn’t figure why there was so much more traffic on the trails, and overnight traffic to boot, when the weather is so much colder now than my previous hikes.  I obviously still don’t know but I suspect it is because now there is water available, in the form of snow.  When there is no snow, there is no water anywhere in the park.  The hut and camping area is now above snow line so you can melt the snow and have water to drink.  Carrying all your water is tough business on a dayhike.  Carrying enough water for an overnighter is really unpleasant.  Or maybe these guys just like being cold.

Our goal on the dayhike was the saddle point on the Alto Naranjo trail where one can get a view of Cerro Plomo and the higher Andes to the north and east of the city.  We started off at exactly 10am and I told Mary it would be nearly two hours to the saddle.  She looked at the distance and scoffed but, as expected, I beat her to the saddle point by at least 15 minutes.

Yes, you read that right.

Those who know Mary and I both read that with skepticism or worry about Mary’s health.  Those who only know Mary will assume I am young and fit.  Those who only know me will assume Mary is not fit.  If you’re reading and know neither of us you either assume you can’t know who should finish first or, in a fit of subconscious sexism assume I am the stronger hiker because I’m a big, tough guy.  Those with a keen analytical mind who have read the whole blog will remember Mary’s boots are old and trail above snowline slippery. In my mind, as events unfolded, I had in mind a NASCAR race where the leader risks skipping a late pit and then has tires blow out in the last lap.

We began together and I clearly have gotten in better shape living outside the United States where I am unable to eat fried food at will and must walk at least a couple miles a day.  However, in my absence, Mary eats only baked squash and has added a third workout to her normal day and, so, after 20 minutes or so of ascent she asked if I wanted her to wait.  I knew if I said yes I would be unable to stop “to admire the view” as often as necessary to keep my lungs in my body and so I said, “no”.  Off she went.

The author, photographed by his, probably bored, wife from far above.

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On the way up, we encountered a cow that had wandered into the park from neighboring grazing lands.  She walked all the way down the mountain and was headed back up as we were leaving hours later.  The life of a cow.  I told the cow I was from Oklahoma and she let me pass.

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I made better time than I’d thought and came to the last little flat bit below the saddle in less than 90 minutes.  I found her sitting on a rock looking pissed off.  At first I thought this was directed at me which is unlike her.  She is very non-judgemental against the ascent-challenged.  I said, “When you see how close you are to the view, you’ll be ticked.”

“Oh, I know how close I am but I can’t make it.”  I worried she had pulled up lame somehow and asked if she was okay.  It was then she told me she was unable to make it up the iced over trail.  Sure enough, the remaining quarter klick of trail, having about 50 meters of ascent, was almost entirely ice.  I had scoffed at those carrying hiking poles – I find poles more of an encumbrance on reasonable ground – I realized they would be a huge help on such icy terrain.  I should back up to explain that she had left her very old boots here when she left in February.  This formed the basis for an early blog.  These boots were very nearly done.  However, when discussing what she should bring on her trip down this time, it seemed silly to bring her new boots, purchased in the United States for a couple of hiking trips done in my absence.  It didn’t seem a silly idea as she sat on a rock watching scores of slower, some much slower, hikers continue up the mountain she could not climb.

Now, a chivalrous man, having caught up to his lady who could go no further, would have stayed with her and descended without continuing to take in the view.  What I did was take her camera, kiss her on the cheek and go on without her.  Her last words were, pointing at a short, ice-free hill that overlooks the city, “I’m going over here.”

My boots are not young and I only made it up the iciest 50 meters at the start by straddling the trail and driving each boot into the ice/dirt mix on the sides.  It was really slippery and I will not tell you how many times I fell and or ripped up my hands in preventing a fall by grabbing at the frail plants on either side of the trail.  I wasn’t alone.  Pretty much everyone else on the trail went down a couple of times on this short ascent.  There were some little kids making an art of it.  I made it up mostly by using my great mass to drive into the ground beneath the snow.  Mary, much lighter than I, had no chance.

But, finally, I hit trail that was getting some sun and was quickly at the top.  Over the saddle the sun was bright and the trail its normal dry, sandy self.  I climbed to the left, leaving the trail and its crowd of overnighters to find some peace and a much better view of Cerro Plomo.  It was beautiful.  I felt bad, though, leaving Mary alone, without the view so I headed back down quickly.  I will not disclose how much of the descent I made on my ass but it was not zero.

The view north and east from the saddle.

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Arriving back on the flat, I found no one.  Not even Mary.  I climbed the hill where she said she was headed.  Nothing.  I went to the right and thought I found her bootprints – they were alone – and followed it a little way until the ground dried out and I lost the trail.  I thought and tried to imagine the scene.  There were two options: either she bushwhacked her way up or she got pissed off and headed down. I knew she’d want to climb but I’ve done a little off-trail climbing in the area and I saw no way up.  I knew, also, watching less fit individuals beat her on a climb would annoy her and I knew she was not fast downhill.  I decided I might catch her if I stopped dawdling and headed downhill.

It was the wrong choice.

I realized this when I hadn’t caught her in 20 minutes or so (I’m much faster on slippery downhills) and so I started asking people if they’d seen a sola mujer en azul.  They hadn’t.  Fortunately, Mary had actually watched me take off downhill from the saddle where she had arrived after some fine bushwhacking just as I stated my descent and these fellow hikers were able to confirm to her that I was headed back to the gate.  I actually pulled up at the first fork in the trail and only waited about 15 minutes for her.

We made short work of the rest of the descent, avoiding mountain bikers hurtling down the mountain at unreasonable speed and were soon back on the bus, stopping only to document the dirty city air we were rushing back to.  I hate to document this about my temporary home, which I have grown to really like.  Santiago isn’t any more emissive than any modern, western city but, like Los Angeles, Phoenix and Denver, among others, in the United States, geography conspires to keep emissions on top of the city.  And, in late fall and winter, the inversion layer lowers, pressing our pollution right back in our face.  I will continue to make a point of leaving the city, at least for a few hours, every chance I get.

The murk above Santiago.

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Back at Los Dominicos we walked through the market on our way to the artisan’s center where we had some empanadas and watched large cats beg from diners.  There is a place in the center which is the only one I’ve found in Santiago that sells carne empanadas without no olive or egg.  A nice treat at the end of a long hike.  We had planned to go to the store back home for a stir fry but realized as we walked back through the market which was closing up at 3pm that we could just shop there. We bought some good stuff but, despite a guy yelling “Cebollas, cebollas, cebollas,” over and over failed to buy an onion.  Ah, well.

The last out of the ordinary event was on the metro back as a older father and his 13 or 14 year old son asked us where were from.  Normally, people don’t talk to strangers on the subway but, as Los Dominicos is the first stop heading west, it wasn’t crowded.  The father thought we may be Australian because of my hat but the son insisted we were Americans.  Score one for youth.  Mary would say the last out of the ordinary thing was the young couple that made out basically in our laps but she’s new here and that isn’t out of the ordinary at all.

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