Category Archives: hiking

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New Directions : Argentina

I’m so glad that our most southern campsite was close to perfect, it seemed fitting somehow. Stepping out of the van in the morning, our breath was visible in the air and the frozen grass crunched under our feet. It was time to finally head north, the race was on. We had to get Oscar to his new owners in Uruguay, and pronto.

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Back in Argentina, the driving days were relentless.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADriving, driving, driving

Still, we found some pretty nice spots to pop the top.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Bridge camp – Rio Chico

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA gallant effort, but the wine to workout ratio is still about 100:1

The days weren’t without incident. We had our first legit flat tire in over a year. Changing the tire with our tiny jack, in the blustering wind and with trucks ripping past, was a balancing act to rival my high school gymnastics prowess.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALong days

We were ooohhing and ahhhing when we were finally reached the coast again. The startling blue colours of the ocean were a sight for sore eyes, after the monotonous landscapes along the Ruta 3.

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The Peninsula Valdés was a well timed reprieve from the boring miles. The marine animal life in this nature reserve is amazing! The magdalena penguins had just starting arriving for their mating season, so we were lucky enough to catch sight of some of the early birds.

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The elephant seals were a crackup. The big fellow in the photo below was making his move towards the little lady, but it took at least five attempts. He had been cruising past, hooting and hollering and flaunting his masculinity, but no one really seemed to care. He was left to try a more direct approach. From what I could gather though, she still wasn’t very keen. In the animal world, I guess size does matter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Big ol’ poser

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe called these guys (Rhea) ‘moo moos’ because they look like the aussie emu. Not to be mistaken for cows.

After dinner we drove in the dark to a deserted carpark just outside of Puerto Pirámides. When we got up in the night to wee, we could hear a hollow blowing sound coming from the ocean… could it be the whales? In the morning, just as the sun was rising, we walked with our breakfast and coffee down to the viewing platform. We watched maybe 10 southern right whales with their babies cruise past, I have never seen so many whales in one place. It was a very special moment.

There was also a very noisy, and very entertaining colony of seals.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAToo early!

As we were walking back to the van, Mark suddenly took a knee. He was a bit wobbly and off balance, so it was a very cute and funny moment! After I stopped laughing and realized it was actually a proposal (in Spanglish) and not a joke… I said yes. After spending everyday (and almost every hour) together for over a year, I love this guy more than I thought possible. We are so happy and excited to be moving onto the next chapter of our lives.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFiancé’s

As we gradually edged closer to the Buenos Aires city limit, the scenery changed dramatically. After a long night of driving in the dark, we awoke surrounded by the welcomed greenery of the Argentine pampas. We were a bit shocked to see so many people out and about, the Ernest Tornquist Provincial Park seems to be a popular hiking getaway for people from the big city.

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It was hard to believe that we’d be back in Australia in just over a week, and that we only had Oscar for a few more days. I was definitely aware of feeling sad, but we were mainly preoccupied with selling the van and filled with excitement about the things to come.

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On the Road Again : Central Chile

We had been sitting still in Santiago for far too long. And as soon as we left the city we were seeking out campsites in the woods and trails into the mountains. I was on a mission to camp in the forest and cook over an open fire.

It didn’t take long to get back to van life the way it should be. By sunset on the second day, after a day of chasing waterfalls, we were popping the top in the winter woods and enjoying the alpenglow on the snow capped peaks.

But my mission was not yet accomplished… there were no fires allowed in this area.

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We couldn’t have been happier the next morning, brewing coffee  and having breakfast in the van while we planned a hike into the Altos de Lircay National Reserve. Since it’s still winter here, the park was totally empty. Just us, the mountains, and a few local critters.

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For some reason, people around here aren’t that keen to go hiking through waist deep snow. But it was definitely worth it for the amazing views and the beautiful afternoon light filtering through the naked trees. After a long day on the trail, we made it back to the van around sundown and stayed in the deserted campground of the reserve. Enjoying the absolute silence, we had the best sleep ever.

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On our way up to Chillán, we found a sweet spot by the river, just out of view of the highway. In the morning there was a blanket of fresh snow all around us, and it was still coming down. We haven’t seen snow falling since our last winter in Canada so we were super excited. Like kids on Christmas day.

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Our timing couldn’t have been better. There’s a pretty damn good ski resort at Chillan, but they hadn’t had snow for quite a while. We were waiting at the rental shop for the doors to open, and hit the slopes as soon as we could.

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There were only a couple of chairlifts open, but they give access to a lot of amazing terrain. And on a powder day like this, you don’t need much more.

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The snow was so deep and heavy that we had to zoom back into town so Bec could get some bigger skis. Then she really started ripping. We couldn’t wipe the smiles from our faces.  It’s times like these that we really wish all our friends were here with us. Carpark lunch breaks and after-ski beers just aren’t the same without them.

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And what better way to end a day than cooking over a camp fire. It took a few days, but finally… mission accomplished.

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All of this in just five days… it’s oh so good to be back on the road.

Posted from Bariloche, Argentina.

Into Thin Air : Climbing Huayna Potosi, Bolivia

We have some regrets about not attempting to summit Volcán Cotopaxi in Ecuador, but at the time we were definitely not fit or acclimatized enough. After seeing the amazing photos taken by some friends, I suggested that we try and climb Huayna Potosi, a summit of 6088m near La Paz. Mark of course agreed right away, and ever since then I’ve been trying to back out. We often get into disagreements about my ability to do things. I think I can’t and he thinks I can.

Along the shores of Lake Titicaca we pulled over to chat to some cyclists. Tristan and Avalon are an awesome Canadian couple, who seemed ready for any adventure. They had canoed the entire Mississippi River, then sailed across the Caribbean before cycling from Colombia to Bolivia. Before long, they were also up for attempting the climb.

After a lot of research into the different guiding companies, I bit the bullet and booked the tour (and purchased some travel insurance for mountaineering up to 7000m, which is not easy!). We really only like booking guided tours when we don’t have the experience or the gear to do it ourselves. Crossing snow covered glaciers and climbing ice walls, definitely fits this criteria.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHuayna Potosi in the background. Not feeling confident, I was totally out of breath after this little jog, post pee stop.

We booked the three day tour with Climbing South America. This gave us more time to acclimatize. It turns out we really needed it, as Mark got sick the night before we were scheduled to leave. This was after bragging to Avalon and Tristan that we haven’t been sick since Mexico. He was up most of the night with some serious tummy pains, and well, you can imagine the rest.

The extra day also meant we could practise the different skills that we would need with equipment we’ve never used before, such as crampons and ice axes.

IMG_2774 IMG_2753Going up, no problemo. Coming down, eeeeek.

IMG_2762Marky reaching the top. Our guide Augustin, pretty much always laughing…..probably at us.

After our skills day we felt a bit more confident, but still nervous as hell. Staying at base camp that night, the setting sun illuminated Huayna Potosi and highlighted for us the mess we’d gotten ourselves into.

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The next morning we hiked with all of our gear up to high camp. The local ladies put us to shame, hiking in their skirts and carrying everything in their mantas (blankets), slung across their backs. We spent the rest of the day just sitting around chatting and drinking tea, this is definitely the part of mountaineering I could get used to.

The butterflies in my stomach went into overdrive as the sun set. This meant bedtime, which was about 6pm, in preparation for the 12:30am wake up. Needless to say, no one slept much at all.

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We hit the trail at about 1:30am, with our headlamps and a full moon to light the way. We spent hours just watching the rhythm of the feet in front of us, breathing hard, and in my case concentrating on not vomiting (I think the altitude medication helped). This is one tough climb. We had to jump crevasses, scramble up ice walls and walk along a narrow ridge. All the while I felt completely safe though, roped between Mark and our guide.

I definitely had initial doubts, but once we hit the trail, turning back didn’t seem to be an option. It was just one foot in front of the other, with the conditioning from our Huayhuash hike definitely kicking in.

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The sunrise was magnificent, and definitely helped to lift our spirits and warm up our toes. It was also crazy to look out at the terrain we had just hiked over.

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The only downside to this climb was the crowds. We were there in peak season and as this mountain is close to La Paz, it’s easily accessible to hoards of tourists. It is also marketed as one of the easiest plus 6000m climbs and suitable for beginners.

Huayna Potosi 25 Waiting in line for the ridge.

All four of us made it to the peak, which was amazing. The view and the feeling of accomplishment were unreal. I was holding back tears when we got there. Mark on the other hand could not hold back the contents of his stomach, and had a celebratory spew right there on the summit.

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The landscape was spectacular and the snow was blinding in the light of day, the heat of the sun quickly warming everything up. We had to start moving to get down off the mountain before it got too hot, and the snow became unstable. It was easy to see why most mountaineering accidents happen on the way down, we were all absolutely exhausted.

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We made it back to high camp safe and sound, nursing some serious headaches, and more than ready for a cup of tea and a bowl of hot soup. Afterwards, we somehow managed to hike back down across the loose rocks to base camp, where even more snacks and our ride back to La Paz were waiting for us.

I hated and loved this climb all at the same time, and with the altitude this was definitely one of the biggest physical challenges we’ve faced. This time I guess Mark was right … I can climb mountains.

Posted from La Paz, Bolivia