Patagonia! Siguiendo El camino del Tehuelche

Bruno Compagnet reminiscences about Patagonia. A journey to the ends of the earth where skis glide over untamed landscapes under the watchful eye of mythical mountains.

Anxious, clamped to my poles, I wait for the fury of the elements to die down a bit. This morning, I ate strange little yellow mushrooms called “chawchaw” or “Indians’ bread”. I feel strange but also don’t question my breakfast. If it wasn’t for the magnetic presence of Cero Fitz Roy, I would have already gone back down to the shelter in the woods. I carefully lift myself up because the wind had already knocked me down several times and I’m taking up my ascension, savoring the pleasure of being on a magnificent mountain at the ends of the earth. Patagonia is a name that resonates like adventure. How many times have I crossed its wildly beautiful, preserved expanses in my dreams?

Nikolai, Kari and I had been walking our skis and bags for over a week between Qualafate and Chalten. After a little detour to the impressive ice shelf of Perito Moreno, we arrived in Chalten, a little Chamonix of the Andes and the stopping point on the road to the continental glacier. It’s also been a famous place for mountaineering for over half a century. Welcomed with open arms, we are quickly taken aback to be chatting with a total stranger as if they’re a close friend. And of course, after a few days, we became just that. Swamy, who left his native Venezuela to work and learn to ski in Bariloche, was a diamond, lending us a serious helping hand at base camp.

And the rest, without them, I would not be here fighting against the devil’s wind. Merlin, a guide and very good skier, has just come over the ridge with a surrealist aura. My turn to cross, then Kari joins us. The wind drops a bit. Merlin brings out a thermos of tea. Under our feet, the pampa extends as far as the eye can see, a patchwork of colors with rivers snaking their way through, glinting in the cold sun. I could sit for hours contemplating god’s masterpiece and drown myself in my own oblivion. A vision of Patagonia, fragile and fleeting, like a child’s drawing etched onto a fogged up window before the clouds come to reclaim it.
The wind worked the snow like the sand in the desert and we slide on a compact, delicate carpet to reach a steep, enclosed couloir. A familiar scenario but here, the smell of adventure is that of the campfire, the bitter taste of maté and the taste of meat.
Stretched out on the grass after a good old struggle with some bushes to get out of the canyon, we savor our descent. Soon I’d pack my bags for Europe with a great memory of skiing at the ends of the earth and the strange feeling of having caught up with winter.

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