The Fitz! The Fitz!!: Stalking the King
Apr 12th, 2006
As the morning sunlight first hits my face, I'm cooking oatmeal with
Argentine dulce de leche (milk caramel) on
a campfire stove. For the last hour, I've been at
a rocky lake at the foot of the peaks awaiting the
"sunrise of fire" on Mt. Fitz Roy, a 3405m peak
in Parque National Glacieres, down here in the Patagonia. For
the hour before that, I climbed from my frozen campsite
1000 feet below on a trail winding through boulder fields
and up frozen streams. For much of it, I navigated
by starlight and the coming dawn.
Mt. Fitz Roy, like many fraternal peaks, maintains a microclimate
as a custodian of several glaciers. To see the mountain clearly
through its companion clouds is rare, and inspires jealous stares
among other travelers. To see it alone from this perch at
brilliant sunrise, even better.
Below me, the sunrise is winding the color dial to the right. Here,
the otherwise barren yellow Patagonian steppe sprouts forests
around the cool blue rivers and lakes from its glacial reserves.
In autumn, squat beech trees blaze red, orange and yellow. Colors
simply too spectacular to flank jagged mountain spires. Further below
the beech forest, my campsite, where new friends, Chara and Alan
are peering out the front door of their tent at the same glowing tower
The couple, a sturdy pair from New Zealand and England are travel pros.
They've trekked all over Asia, and actually met in Vashisht, the same
Himalayan town in India where I met Kailash the ghost dog.
For the entire year, they are camping through Patagonia, Peru and Bolivia.
In gearing up for the trip, they've bought an industrial strength
tent and sleeping bags to match. The net effect: granola gypsies,
lugging all their hemispherical belongings and up to 18 days of
food on the big trekking circuits. Instead of racing towards the exit
before the canned tuna and boxed wine run out like younger trekkers,
they wait out bad weather with pasta and chocolate. Their budget boggles the mind,
at just $7 per day per person, including transport.
After licking the bowl clean, I suddenly remember that I'm just
four hours walk from El Chalten, the base camp town. Unique
to this park, the star of the show receives daytrippers.
Soon, the brazen of small backpack will ascend and spoil my
solitary communion. The sun, lukewarm and blinding, ignores
this realization. The Fitz, in its guile, was listening. He pulls
shut its curtain of clouds, shy for encores.
No Porky to remind us that that's all folks.