Day 3 – Dickson to Los Perros 9km/ 4.5hrs
I woke up at Dickson to notice that the disagreeable souvenir I had picked up over the last couple of days was still there. What started out as a hot spot on the bottom of my right baby toe on day one had progressively grown throughout day two to a water bubble nearly covering the pad of my toe. It was incredibly tender to touch, and even more painful to take the first few steps of the day in my shoes. Luckily, Marco donated to the cause; he offered me a blister pad. I didn’t want to break the blister, in fear it would only make things worse, and I felt I could deal with it for what was to be a short day. So I accepted the donation.
After my foot was patched, a few sun salutations to welcome the day, breakfast and packing up camp, we were off. For the first time since our trek started, we felt light and could breathe easily. Our pace was consistently disrupted though as we were forced to watch our footing and dodge mud puddles and marshy sink holes which covered the first quarter of the trail. Once we were through the mud, with the exception of what was caked on the bottom of our shoes, the trail climbed steadily and then descended in elevation, making it the most interesting path so far. We were in the forest for the first time and enjoyed the richness of the air and shade that the trees provided. Crossing over streams and rivers, and making short, steep climbs, the trees opened and we looked back to see where we had come from. The view was spectacular. We could see the glacier which sat behind our campsite from the previous night, as we stood on a peak gazing down into the valley.
We were making good time. I ignored the constant burn that radiated from my right foot, as if I were stepping on a hot coal with every plant. After 3 hours, we passed a small altitude lake, fed by a glacier on the back side of the Torres. Again, beautiful. Once we hit 1300m, in another 30 minutes, we hit Campamento Perros, an hour ahead of schedule, where we would stay for the night.
Our site was well protected from wind, which meant large trees also negated the warmth the sun could provide at 1300m. We bundled up. With no rain expected, we made one small adjustment to our set up by wrapping our bags in plastic and leaving them outside our tent. Now, we could fit somewhat comfortably in our tent, and without the plastic, it could breathe. As I peeled my socks away from my feet, the blister pad went with them. It had let me down, and the bubbles had now grown to engulf nearly my entire toe. I had no other choice, I needed to relieve the pressure and let it breathe overnight. I would wait until just before bed to release the geyser.
Over the next 90 minutes the rest of our fellow “circuiters” strolled into camp. Since Dickson was out of beer the night before, we made up for it and celebrated our finishing Day 3 with a little social gathering by the river. Here, we met Shani, Ortel and Hila, an adventurous group of Israeli girls. We were now a family of 10. The “Germans” (a very nice German couple, whose names we never did catch), the 3 Israeli girls, Marco and Leatitia (Swiss), Laura and the two of us. We shared stories from the trail, and life, along with Laura’s narrative of chasing mice from here tent, over a few beers that we kept cold in the glacial river. Around sundown, in a foggy, beer induced stouper, we made our way back to camp for dinner. It was only night 2 of lentils and rice, which meant we were still jaded by our hunger enough to accept it as delicious – we also renamed it “trail food”, certainly not something either of us would request to eat outside of this experience. After dinner, as planned, with the aid of our swiss army knife, I pierced the thick layer of skin on my toe. Dale ducked as it squirted like a super soaker, giving me temporary relief. Tomorrow we would have to MacGyver some sort of cushion for it.
Day 4 – Los Perros to Los Guardos – 18km/ 9 hrs
Even with a dry, warm night, we woke up with sore, tired and beaten bodies. But it was nothing that a substantial breakfast and positive attitude wouldn’t cure. We didn’t have room to pay attention to the fatigue as we anticipated one of our longest, toughest days. This was the day we would clear the Paso John Gardner . The pass is an unyielding climb and an extreme backside decline through an unstable glacier moraine field, with a 6 hour posted time (4 hours up and 2 hours down). I patched my toe with Kleenex and duct tape, we slung our packs and headed off as the second group out, 45 minutes behind the Germans. Our pace was incredibly athletic. A half hour in, we could see the trail open up to the moraine field, and far above in the distance we could see the orange trail-markers climb, then disappear into what seemed to be a never ending incline. We had reached the pass. By now, we had grown accustomed to the weight on our backs, and apart from small breaks to readjust our packs and refill our water, we made it up the pass without any problems – in 2 hours. We were well ahead of the clock. As we hit the summit, we said hello to our German friends and we turned around to acknowledge the path behind us. We celebrated by dropping our packs for a short break at a mound of trinkets that had been left behind by other hikers. A chocolate bar reward went down well and we faced forward to peek at the downside of the trail. Our eyes met the large rocky moraine route, then as they rose to the horizon, were greeted with an awesome panorama of Glacier Grey.
Snow-capped peaks lined the far edge of the ice field, as far in the distance as we could see. It wasn’t until we got about half way down the moraine that we could appreciate the magnitude of Grey. We had seen many glaciers in Antarctica, but this was the first we could see from above. Its crevasses molded the ice to resemble meringue peaks and whipped cream folds; it seemed to go on forever. We could not make out a starting point, or an end point. To give it a little more perspective, we spent the next 4 hours walking along side Glacier Grey, and barely reached the lake it poured into.
The hike down was relentless. With each descending step, over the two hours of steep pounding, our bags got a little heavier. It may not have been so bad, but with the very little tread left on our shoes, our strategic foot placement failed and we found ourselves sliding a couple of meters, only to be saved by our pole or a tree. By the time the trail started to even out, the jelly-like feeling in our legs and sheering sensation on our knees had given way to little feeling at all. The trail down, for us was much more of a physical challenge than the climb. It beat our bodies and tested our minds. We wore exhaustion obviously as we arrived at Campomento Paso. Here, we took a well-earned 20 minute break to refuel and let our feet breathe. Reluctantly, we trudged on for another two hours to Los Guardos, to set up camp for the night. Though completely spent, we felt good. We had completed the entire trek of the day in 6 hours, instead of the posted 9. The remainder of our friends arrived periodically over the next 3 hours. We cheered as the last of us shuffled in; we had all conquered the pass and made it our planned distance.
It is at Los Guardos where the backside of the trail (the circuit) starts to connect with the “W”. It was an odd feeling running into new faces there. The ten of us had been hiking and camping together, with the exception of running into a couple of other circuit hikers heading the opposite direction, without anyone else around for the past 4 days. This was OUR trail, and it was being invaded! There were more than double the people at camp then our previous three nights. Most of the W trekkers were on Day 1, complaining of exhaustion and how hard the trail had been that day…. If only they knew.
Along with our routine nightly baby wipe bird bath, we enjoyed the small luxury of washing our feet in warm water (which we boiled over our stove). I would equate that 5 minutes to the best hour foot massage you can get! The warmth filled my body and relaxed my brain. It was a little piece of heaven. Though our feet were clean of surface dirt, the grime of the trail and stench of our sweat was well worn into our socks. For the first time since we started, they got a rinse. After a double wash, they still left the water black. We left our socks outside overnight to dry so at least now, we wouldn’t have to close our eyes breathing in the acrid smell of concentrated sweat and dirty feet.