NATE MENNINGER: As I stood atop the summit of Mount Piltrikitron, bracing myself against the high winds and jagged peaks of the rocks beside me, I finally felt like I a traveler.
It only took me a week full of strange experiences to get there.
On Tuesday, I joined forces with a Scottish girl and an Argentine man and together we rented a car for the day. For hours we weaved through the mountain roads of Patagonia, admiring the whitened mountain peaks and the crystal clear lakes that lined the famous ‘Siete Lagos’ or Seven Lakes drive. We stopped every hour or so to snap a few postcard-pics and enjoy a cookie or two. I’m convinced that the beauty of Patagonia will never grow old, but that long, monotonous drive certainly did — especially when the courageous Scottish girl took the wheel. I can’t blame her though, their people aren’t used to driving on the right side of the road.
At one point while I was driving, I popped an illegal U-turn in a city center — like any self-respecting Bostonian should. As luck would have it, a cop pulled me over seconds later.
“Only speak in English,” Said Gerardo, the 38 year old Argentine native beside me.
Sure enough, the rouse worked. The copped laughed, waved his hand ‘no-no’ then walked away without charging me anything. I guess sometimes it pays to be a tourist.
I spent the next two days working back to back 10 hour shifts at the hostel — gotta love the commitment for vegan meals and a bunk bed….
Just to give you a better idea of my workplace, picture this: Last Thursday night, four of us sat down to dinner – only workers and no guests. Just before I got up to clean my dishes a sudden symphony of sounds erupted around me: first my boss with a squealing beat and then the two volunteers beside me. Together, they formed somewhat of a Wolf of Wall Street/Grateful Dead tribute band.
I can honestly say I didn’t join in. Do I regret it? Eh, maybe, but they’ll be plenty of more opportunities in the future. Plus, I figure it takes time to assimilate to the Hippy lifestyle. If I have any fighting chance of converting, I’ll have to take it slow.
Luckily, working back to back shifts granted me four days of freedom. My boss recommended visiting our partner hostel in el Bolson, a small city only a few hours away. I figured a free bed was worth the trek, so I packed some clothes and set out for the town.
Ana, another volunteer who accompanied me, suggested we hitchhike. Sounded interesting, so I jumped on board. To my surprise, within just five minutes of holding our thumbs in the air, two heavenly women offered us a ride to el Bolson.
Nearly three hours later, our kind transporters dropped us off in front of our partner hostel, otherwise known as the ‘Earthship.’ The hostel garners its name from its nature as a completely self-sustainable and off the grid establishment. I guess now I know life can get a whole lot crunchier. Although I must admit, the building’s engineering really was ingenious.
After a few quick introductions, I sneaked out to a local fair in hopes of finding some cheap empanadas. What awaited me when I returned home was a dream come true — Cordero asado: one of Argentina’s most famous meals.
For the next six hours, ten of us sat by a bonfire, cooked meat, smoked weed and drank distilled apples – also known as Apple Jack in the states. I nearly fell in love with the Hippy lifestyle, but then I discovered my sleeping quarters: a small, isolated hut with no heating, no insulation and no warmth. Just a shit ton of blankets. Needless to say, I slept amazingly in the frigid, winter air….
Despite all odds, I gathered the courage to emerge from my blankets around noon the next day. I scrambled for the nearest bowl of mate, and after I warmed up enough to gather my thoughts, I decided I wanted to summit the tallest mountain in the area: Mount Piltrikitron. Foolishly, I expected to complete the endeavor in just one day and even more foolishly by biking straight up the 7,000 foot ascent.
I stopped at the super market for some rations, then began my journey up the mountain. At 2 p.m., after getting lost for an hour, I finally found the summit road and began my ascent. Unfortunately, the road wasn’t what I expected. A better description might have been a rock path filled in with sprinkled dirt.
Despite that tiny voice in the back of my head, I rocked out of my saddle and barreled up the mountain.
Here is my journal entry from just after I arrived to the top of the mountain:
“Well shit, here I am. On top of a mountain in the middle of absolutely nowhere Patagonia. I wish there was snow so I could fucking ski, but it’s still so beautiful.
Sticking to my over-confident ways, I attempted to scale this mammoth of a mountain on a bike. My journey turned into a combination of walking, biking, and of course several stops. Still somehow I scaled [the mountain] in two hours, half the recommended 4. My goal was to make it to the peak, but my legs won’t move any more. I’ve purchased a night at the Refugio, or refuge. I’ve confirmed that there is, in fact, a bed. Not sure about a pillow or blankets. Luckily it’s warmer than the ‘Earthship.’ Lol.
Tomorrow I plan to summit for sunrise. So looks like I have to leave at 5/5:30 a.m. latest. Definitely doable. Although rumor is that [the trail] could be iced over. We’ll see about that you Argentines! (They laughed at me when I said I wanted to summit for sunrise).
I’ve been eating bread with jamon y queso. Unfortunately, I already [ate] my snack pack of Oreos. It was better than sex. I’ve got 2 more sandwiches left for tomorrow. A day which includes a 3 hour summit, x amount of time to return to town and then a 2+ hour hitchhiking journey back to Bariloche.
Gunna be fun, 47
To better understand the Refugio imagine your grandma’s house, now add the most amazing view in the world, minimal heating and a conglomeration of mountain men and women from around the world. This is a Refugio. A place in the middle of the mountain where travelers can sleep, rest and even cook. Considering it was already 5 p.m. and too late to summit, I had no other choice but to stay the night.
Alone with only the owner and one other traveler, the three of us indulged on pasta, desert, mate and even beer. None of which I provided or paid for. All we lacked was ‘something to smoke,’ said the owner.
Per request of my more knowledgeable friends, I opted out of my sunrise summit and instead left at 9 a.m. the next morning. The sun still hid behind the mountains and the ground still remained frozen, but I had more than enough light to begin my adventure.
As I climbed higher and higher, I emerged into a snow storm. Somehow, through the clouds I spotted a dog: a golden mutt native to the mountain. I followed said dog through the snowstorm, into the highest valley and up the ridge of the tallest peak. I paused every fifty feet or so to either catch my breath or my body from falling to its death.
Before long, I found myself tiptoeing along the knife edge of Pitrikitron. Carefully, I hopscotched my way through several feet of snow, jagged rocks and hidden crevasses. At this point, I started thinking that maybe mid-top shoes and khakis weren’t such a good idea.
I reached a point alongside the ridge where further ascent proved nearly impossible. I would’ve needed some serious mountain climbing equipment, which of course I didn’t have. Feeling dejected and quite cold, I descended into the nearest valley to call it quits. I was out of food and very nearly out of water.
But there was that mutt again. And he was taking off up the mountain side, towards another gap in the ridge. Exhausted, I followed him mindlessly.
45 minutes later, I summited.
There on top of the city’s tallest mountain, buried within the fog of a snowstorm, this dog and I embraced. I named him Guia, the Spanish word for guide. I’ll never forget watching as he sprawled out on all fours and thrust his paws into the snow for stability. I probably should’ve done the same, and I probably should’ve adopted him.
After a few moments, I turned back and began my descent with Guia. I said my sad goodbyes and continued on my way. By 1:45, nearly two hours later, I was comfortably back at the Earthship. I changed my underwear and socks, repacked my bag and set out to hitchhike home.
For two hours I stood helplessly along the side of the road as car after car whipped by me. I had no food, no money and only a bit of water, and to make matters worse the sun was nearly setting and I had already walked nearly three miles away from the city’s center. I was quite nervous…
Just before I lost all hope, an old man pulled up beside me and rolled down his window.
“To Bariloche?” I asked crossing my fingers.
He motioned me in, grabbed a thermos of hot water and poured me a mate.
‘He,’ goes by the name of Alberto: a 75 year old history teacher who saved my life, brought me to his house in the woods, fed me, warmed me and taught me more about Argentina that I ever could have imagined. He even offered me a ride into town, but not before handing me a bag of 25 freshly picked apples.
At 8:30 p.m. Alberto dropped me off at my hostel in Bariloche. With 12 hours of constant travel and trekking under my belt, I was exhausted.
Now all I can do is wait for the next adventure.
Until next time, The Pathfinder