First week of June

First week of June

Things are going to get really busy soon; I have two more people joining me to photograph out here. Unfortunately, Nagesh Mahadev wasn’t able to get a visa so I have his two friends arriving on the 12th. Neither of them has been to Patagonia before so I’m looking forward to showing them around. We’re getting some great weather; the mountains have been visible nearly every day for the past week or two. Many a time Fitz Roy will be hidden in cloud during the day only to appear late in the afternoon shrouded in low but extremely photogenic clouds. We also had a dump of snow and more is forecasted. Thankfully we’ve had no high winds, so although cold it’s been quite manageable even hiking at night, in fact, night hiking, especially under moonlight has been nothing short of magical.

A few days ago I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the great grandson of the original settler in the town. Fitz Roy Madsen – or Roy as he prefers to be called – lives on his families land. Their house is on the far side of the river that runs through the edge of town. He was kind enough to invite me to visit his home and he spoke at length about his family history. His great grandfather built the house on his own in 1903, he was supposed to be helped by a friend, that friend left one day to go and get supplies but never returned. So Madsen senior got to spend his first winter alone. In recent years the family has had problems trying to hang onto their parcel of land. The Madsen family thought the National Park were pushing them out and so due to these fears they were swindled out of 99% of their land by a corrupt lawyer. Roy actually lost the home for a time and had to live in Rio Gallegos, which is such a miserable town, it has one of Argentina’s highest rates of suicide. Roy now has the house back and lives there on his own but shows it to tourists during the busier seasons. Roy thinks I’m mad staying here over winter, I think he assumes I’m a wanted man. He’s going to spend his winter in Paris!

Fitz Roy Madsen great great grandson of the original settler

Fitz Roy Madsen great, great grandson of the original settler

Back in April, the park had its highest rainfall in 15 years, the park was flooded. I was fortunate to be able to get a great photograph. I shot a normally dry lakebed flooded with a lovely view of Fitz Roy, the fall colors were still just clinging to life in the scene, so it was a very lucky shot. Unfortunately, the park suffered quite a bit of damage especially from people trekking on the muddy trails. Since that flooding, the park officials have had a meeting and discussed issues surrounding the increasing numbers of visitors to Los Glaciers. They won’t tell me their plans in full detail but it looks as though certain restrictions will be placed on visitors in the future. For the time being, they are insisting that everyone who hikes past the 5km point must fill in a form to tell the Rangers their plans. Typically you don’t know this until you reach the 5km point. So if you were to hike into the park now you’d get to the 5km point and be threatened that if you went further you’d get fined.

To top off these issues I now have to tell the rangers if I want to go off trail. Officially even if you step off the trail by one meter you’re breaking the rules. I think I’m going to have to get a VHF radio to contact the park service, by radio I can request permission. This brings with it further problems, it seems the park service operate a radio frequency that is outside the scope of radios purchased outside Argentina. So I’d have to buy from an Argentine dealer at more than double the Amazon price. I suppose having a radio is a good idea, I do have the security of knowing that in an emergency I should be able to get help.

Arroyo del Salto after a break in the clouds

Arroyo del Salto after a break in the clouds

Just a slight change in water flow created these gorgeous fingers as the water falls over the rocks.

Just a slight change in water flow and it all looks so different

The polariser cuts through glare to show lovely detail of the river bed

The polariser cuts through glare to show lovely detail of the river bed

Hiking and photographing within mountainous countryside require an ability to recognize weather patterns and adapt accordingly. We had a pressure system that brought a few days of clear weather, it obviously wasn’t photogenic but when the forecast predicted a rapid change I decided to set off into the mountains. On my way through the high street, I bumped into my landlady and I casually asked her if she might know someone who had a VHF radio. She got on the phone and ten minutes later I was given a radio on loan from a local climber. I did well; the following day both climber and landlady were leaving El Chalten for the winter. I’ve now got a heavy radio to lug around but at least I have a level of security.

Added safety for me and those who choose to visit

Added safety for me and those who choose to visit

Once back out on the trails, I found the snow to be quite deep and it only got deeper the higher I went. My plan was to scout out an area I’d visited a month earlier and hopefully use snow detail for my foreground. When I’m scouting on my own I try to always take a different route and so I went off the trail just before the tree line, out here the trees and bushes have adapted to high winds and so they can be almost impenetrable. You might find a way into a grove of trees but the bushes – as I soon found out – make A-B travel immensely difficult. Top this off with thigh deep powder snow and not quite frozen marshland and you’re heading for some very difficult terrain.

Shooting sunset wasn’t what I’d hoped for. I got a pretty good red sky but wasn’t able to find a worthy composition. Faced with the options of a night bivvying in below freezing temperatures with a storm due, or hiking out in the dark I opted for the long hike back under headlamp. The hike in had been tough, the dense underbrush had really slowed me down so I attempted a to return via a different route. After all there’s no exploration if you take the simple route every time. It turned out to be quite a lot harder than I’d expected. I switched on my GPS noticing that there was a hiking trail only 1km away. That kilometer ended up taking about two hours as I was continually caught up in some of the thickest bushes I’ve ever had the misfortune to come across. I didn’t like to look at my GPS too much so I was keeping my eyes peeled for signs of a hiking trail. Obviously, it was buried under snow so I just went by dead reckoning and watched for signs; sawn tree branches, hewn logs or slashes on trees. In the end, it was a pool of yellow snow that signified the trail. I pulled out my GPS and I was right on the trail. I couldn’t help laughing at the absurdity; the happiest part of the hike was when I found a streak of piss.

Later when I loaded my route into my GPS mapping software it showed I’d done not one but several figure eights as I’d worked my way through the bushes. I think it’s clear I won’t be going back that way.

Deep snow but no composition

Deep snow but no composition

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