Saturday, December 8, 2007

Not in Kansas Anymore Toto...stories from the WINDY south

Jacked on coffee, I smushed my spaztically packed bags into the back of my car, heading south to Salt Lake City. I had to make it to SLC by 2:30 for an emergency dentist appointment. My new dentist joined the list of the many people who accept my passion and chaos as one in the same. Despite being my first visit, he changed and rearranged his schedule to accomodate my two half day stops in town, between Montreal and Montana and Argentina to sucessfully style me out with two crowns and a relative bill of clean healt to head off to Patagonia for a month.

Leaving in the dark at 6am should have gotten me there in plenty of time. Cruising west the winds began to pick up and spindrift began to swirl like small tornados. The combination of darkness, clouds of snow, and my horrific eye sight left me white knuckled. I was far more gripped than on most alpne cimbs. I cranked the music, some techno Mark Farina, and cracked the window, hoping for an icy slap in the face to keep me alert and awake.

As I turned from west to south the wind swirled straight at me. I quietly relished it, bring it! It was like climbing in Quebec a few weeks ago, when the winds and rain came at me sideways, just as I clipped the rope into the first bolt. Rather than descending, I looked down at Max yelling, ¨This is good practice for Patagonia next month.¨ He chuckled and shook his head, continuing to feed rope to me as i blinked the rain drops slicing at my cheeks and eyes, hoping to find the next hold.

As I turned the corner at the higway junction I saw 25 or so cars and trucks parked at a gas station. Hmm they must not be that tough. I´ll be fine I thought, again perfect training for Patagonia. I made it about 200 feet before stopping dead in the midst of a thick blanket of snow plastered across the road. Not able to see yellow or white lines, side markers or even knowing if i was moving or stopped, I thought, hmmm maybe I should turn back, at least until it is light. All I could think of was my dentist apponitment and my flights. I had to make it.

The sun rose and two brave monster pick up trucks set out, me hot on their tails. i followed the glowing red embers of their lights for the next two hours until I made it, bleary eyed, out of the squall.

Salt Lake City was my normal amount of chaos, too much to do, too little turn around time, brink of exhaustion, brink of tears. Not the romance some would like to assopciate my life with. An hour at the dentist, a list of to do´s and a gear explosion in an unknowing friend´s basement and I was packed at 2am ready to sleep, at least until 4:40am when i had to head to the airport.

At the airport I arrived, sans flight itinerary, or even knowing which airline I was on, though this is relatively normal for me. When I showed up at Continental to check in the attendant told me, Ýou have no reservation. Ok, unphased, I said, maybe I´m on Delta. He didn´t think it was funny. He gave the same look the Boarder oficial had recently, as I headed south, cross the boarder of Quebec and Vermont, with a car registered in Montreal, a passport from the USA, a liscence from Colorado, a mailing address in New Jersey, a home in Chamonix France. As I began to explain, the look said it all. I, for the first time in a long time, relaized my ´norm¨wasn´t so normal for most people. I figured the more I explained the more rediculous the story would sound and the less likely to be made up. The officer just waved me through, like the airline guy, he just kind of looked at my rediculousness, tower of bags, and dark circles under my eyes, with pity pointing me to the Delta desk.

Trains planes and automobiles, well mostly planes, and I arrived in Calafate after 30plus hours of travel and exhaustion. I spent the day wandering wide eyed around town, the equivalent of a Banff, El Calafate is a cute trendy town, a little portal to the Patagonia Mountain Ranges. I relished the struggle of remembering spanish words, the music of r´s rrrrrrolling in a way i´d never be able to shape my tounge, the kind spirit of locals, patiently answering my questions and befuddled attempts at spanish. After my last trip to Pakistan this experience was calm and simple. I revelled in the fact that despite being a woman I could do everything myself, an in a tank top and sparkles.

A few hours later head bobbing and eyes heavy I finally made my way down a desolate road to the town of El Chaletan. Just as I woke, a few hours into the ride, I saw the jagged granite spires of Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy. Hmm I thought, I´m going to be the lucky one who has a month of good weather on my first trip to patagonia!!

Max met me at the bus, having left a week earlier, the tent was set, a plate of pasta waiting, a bottle of malbec, life was good. A brief kiss goodbye the next morning, there were rumors of a short weather window, so he and Colin were off. I lazily unpacked, explored town, panadaria´s, chocolateria´s, and sipped matte and coffee with some friends for the remainder of the morning. A session of afternoon bouldering and that was considered a big day.

The next morning Dave Nettle and I packed bags and headed up hill to make a carry. Just before the tyrolian traverse across the river the winds picked up, slapping me left and right, until we had to dart off the ridge, cross country but sheltered from the beat of the wind. As I tried to put on my harness the leg loops flopped left and right impossible for me to get my toe through, the wind was making its introduction to me, Finally harnessed up I followed Dave hand over hand across the tyrolean. Waves slashing at the shores told tales of what the wind was like higher up. I looked at dave and screamed í have never been here before so i dont know what is normal, you say when to turn around. All i could think was that max and collin were still up there so it must not be too bad. Dave pointed to the swirling tornado of dirt at the glacier´s entrance. That, he yelled, is evidence of the wall of way we can get through that. We will hike a little higher and cache our gear in the woods.

Along the next ridge, i stopped, thrashed left and right by the wind and grabbed a rock so as not to fall over. Dave in hysterics yelled I would love a photo of this, but i can´t get my camera out without falling over. I started laughing, screaming now i know why there arent too many women up here....having two brothers and being the middle child was good training!!

Back in town, beer tasted good. Winds picked up and Max and Colin were cozy in the tent, not giving er up high. They had passed another way and we had missed them. Their night up high was sleepless due to repeated slaps on the cheek from the nylon tent walls.

Yesterday was a no brainer, none of the torturous blue skies that Patagonia dangles over your head, making you feel guilty and unmotivated, only to push a few hours up the trail to find the ever present wall of hate lingering in the sun, quietly laughing at your efforts.

Tent time, coffees, movies on the computer and indoor bouldering. Fingers crossed for a window because I see the beauty that draws people back years on end with hopes of a few hours of luck and calm.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Bozeman Ice Fest

Off and running after a white knuckle drive back from Bozeman to SLC, a heinous dentist visit, too long packing, and too little sleep. No brilliant words here today, just a few photos.