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Racing the Storms down the Rio Blanco to El Pilar
A Patagonia Experience

El ChaltenEl Chalten (Daniel Kramer)
I woke up early this morning hoping that there would be a partial clearing to get a decent shot of FItzRoy as the sun rose. This meant setting the alarm at 5:00 AM and crawling out into the freezing pre-dawn chill. And of course it turned out to be for naught as clouds had completely enshrouded the mountain range off to our west. So it was back to my tent and sleeping bag to try to catch a few more Z's before breakfast.

Back up around 7:30 AM, and over to the dining tent to get some hot tea and breakfast. Packed up and got ready to move out. Walking back over to the lookout there is a faint rainbow radiating against the small hillside on the opposite side of the lake. FitzRoy and company are still lost amidst the clouds; in fact I would not catch a another glimpse of Cerro FitzRoy or Cerro Torre on the trip. Seeing the rainbow I wondered where the rain was falling as at this point it was not raining at my precise location. But somewhere there were water droplets in the air to cause the light refracting into the rainbow. And all the clouds surrounding me made me wonder if this would not be the day that we would get wet on the trail. Put the rain cover at the top of my pack to have it handy - just in case.

As Susan and Jim finished gathering their gear we departed the camp to make our way to the trail junction for the Mother/Daughter lakes and the Laguna de los Tres climb. A fabulous juxtaposition to look at the photo taken today and compare it to the one taken yesterday. In one the majestic FitzRoy massif with its multiple peaks and in the other a bank of clouds. How frustrating it must to be to come up here if the mountains are obscured for several days in a row and not get a chance to see anything. I realize again how lucky I have been with the weather on this trip.

We take the only path from the junction that we have not previously travelled. Today we followed the Rio Blanco as it flows from Laguna Sucia down to the Rio Electrico. On the way we had views of Glaciar Piedra Blancas that according to David is quickly retreating from its past grandeur. It was still a magnificent view but one that was less intoxicating after all the sites of the previous two weeks. We continued trekking downstream and the clouds continued to thicken. Looking further northward as we trekked it appeared that you could see the rain already falling. The race was on. Would we arrive before the rain or would we get drenched.

What was worse was that I was just not feeling motivated today. Even though the clouds obscured the majestic landscape views, there were still the quiet and close in views of the trees and flowers and rocks that we could see and explore. But my mind wasn't in it. All I really wanted to do was get down to the hosteria. But I patiently waited while Jim and Susan explored and took pictures and enjoyed the area. And all in all I still enjoyed everything as well.

Shortly after 1:00 we descended down to the same elevation as the river near where the Rio Blanco merged into the Rio Electrico. From there it was just a short walk (less than 1/2 mile) to Hosteria El Pilar. We passed the tiny power generating station built along the river to provide power to the hosteria along the river on our way into the hotel. Some employees were out doing some maintanence and welcomed us to the humble sanctuary. And what a magnificent location it was. See accompanying review for more details, but this little hosteria is amazing, expanded from an old estancia in the area is situated on the road heading north from El Chalten and there is nothing around for miles in any direction. We had beaten the rain although not by much. Some light sprinkles started as we checked in and spritzed off and on for a while. Unfortunately our main luggage (that which we did not carry with us for the trekking portion) had not yet arrived from El Chalten so I could not shower yet and get into fresh(er) clothes. So I waited by the fire in the main seating area and enjoyed the warmth with a cup of tea. It wasn't long before our gear arrived and a warm (no make that hot - with the propane heating system there was very little middle ground) shower erased 3 days of accumulated grime.

Refreshed, I walked back out to the library and sitting area. The rain had started in full force and was now beating at the windows and the wind had returned full force. No more exploring on this day. I planted myself in the library with a glass of wine and wrote in my journal, paged through some of the books on the shelves and simply relaxed for a while on this epic journey. If there was one thing that El Pilar allowed it was that comfortable feeling of simply doing nothing without any guilt or grief from anyone. I think I napped for a bit as the rain pitter-pattered against the window in a steady drumbeat.

Dinner and desert was very good tonight (although not much in the way of choice out here in the middle of nowhere). After chatting for a while with Jim and Susan and some of the other guests at this small inn the glasses of wine were starting to effect me. Sleepy, I decided to head for my room and finish the recharging process that had been going on since mid-afternoon with a restful night's sleep.

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