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  • Fly to: Santiago, Chile

  • Internal Transfer: Santiago - Cohaique

  • Visa required: Not if British

  • Currency:Chilean Peso

  • Time Zone:-3hrs GMT

  • Journal:Click here

Day 12, 15/11/07 - Patagonia Northern Icecap

Up at 3:30am this morning, Nic & myself packed up the tent leaving Ariel to just concentrate on packing her backpack; Ben then came up and suggested Ariel re-pack her bag, this then progressed into him repacking it for her.

Ian was telling me how him and the lads had heard the start of our 'conflict management conversation' during the night and that they'd all stayed quiet to try and hear what was being said. Good-oh guys I'm sure they soon regretted listening in so hard when snoring resumed.

The day started with a steep climb up a snow slope, we'd started out without snow-shoes and this soon proved to be a bad choice. I punched in to about my mid-thighs, obviously with the weight of my pack this meant I couldn't get myself back out, Nic came up to lend a hand and then she punched in to just above her waist; a slightly un-nerving feeling to say the least, especially as you have no idea as to what's underneath you, if anything!

We then progressed, traversing right to left up the slope edging in with our boots as we went, really, really enjoyed doing this, you could feel the burn in you calf muscles; the views here were breath-taking & the odd snowball whizzing past added a nervous edge to proceedings! This is my kind of walking, building up confidence as the exposure increased - great!

The upward ascent continued Dale, Ben & Evans had been taking it in turns with Ariel at the back, as once again her pace was too slow. Ben then made the call to move her up from the back & position her just in front of me; thanks a bunch! I had previously been loving the pace, loving feeling the burn, loving the views & drops, and now suddenly the pace had almost altogether ceased. Ariel would tentatively take about 3 slow, drawn out steps & then stop. The woman was clearly uncomfortable in this environment but any sympathy or patience I may have originally had for her had been long exhausted; this was now adding to my frustration.

This lasted about 15 minutes with Ben repeatedly shouting, 'Arja walk slower if you have to but DON'T keep stopping!' It seems I wasn't the only one frustrated by this stop start ascent. After an infuriating hour we then started our descent, Nic & Dale were at the back chatting when we heard, 'ZERO' Dale had managed to fall down a small slope on his face; glad he was ok, but then again I'd expect nothing else from Dale 'the machine!'

We traversed horizontally, edging in as we went; Ben & Jaya told us to de-pack and sit down whilst they went ahead to scout. What a view, magnificent. I was sat next to Ian, we were both admiring the views, chilling, watching the odd tiny snowball race past, when all of a sudden he appeared to become quite nervous about his surroundings; almost as if the realisation of where we were had just hit home.

By now my neck & ears were feeling quite sunburnt but I was too hot & bothered however to do anything about it. From where we'd stopped to view the map we had the most unbelievable clear view of Mt Valentin, beautiful! A big part of me was thinking, 'jeez we're so close, couldn't we just climb that'. How I would love to have more time to properly explore one of these places, it always feels like you spend the most time in your life on the boring things and leave virtually no time to do what you love, hmm I'm gonna have to really give some thought as to how I can combine earning money with doing these sorts of things.

From this point we continued our descent; the snow conditions were rapidly deteriorating, and we were encountering some random patches of harder icy snow, the sun was still extremely hot and it was becoming apparent that we urgently needed to get off the snow; again this was easier said than done! We began by kicking our heels into a steep slope as we descended, this started off great fun, pretty unproblematic by all accounts. Then we each began to punch through too deep - now depending on the speed of descent this would cause your body to move faster than your legs forcing you to lose your balance and fall. Having done this several times before in Greece and at various ski resorts, this went fine for me; again I was quite enjoying myself. Then Ben slipped and had to arrest, when he got back up he had quite a bad graze on the underside of his forearm. Then whilst showing off Evans took a fall on the same section and had to arrest - I think that may have scared him a little. Then we heard a noise from above us and Nic had fallen, she seemed to travel a long way before she arrested and it appeared as if the axe only dug in enough to stop her on the second attempt. Man that was intense, you could see the shock in her face - flippin' scary by all accounts, especially bearing in mind we'd only learnt how to arrest the previous day & that was without the packs on.

The atmosphere amongst the group had suddenly changed, becoming quite strained. While Nic re-composed herself and the appreciation of what she'd just done had hit home, our attention was again lifted to above where Ariel seemed to be having problems. This concerned me slightly as Ben had asked me to hold onto his pack whilst he went up to her and I now appeared to be positioned directly in the womans' fall line! Argghhh not good as I have zero faith in her ability to do anything bar knock me off the side of a mountain!

Suddenly one of her legs sunk into the snow (only knee deep); all's we could hear was, 'ah la la blah blah de blah - ring di di ding'. Whilst Jaya was shouting, 'Speak English Arja, I can't help you if you don't speak to me in English!' Ha ha shouldn't laugh as it was obviously serious and scary for the woman, but it was so funny - reminded me of that bit in 'The Goonies' when the Spanish housekeeper's petrified by mouth translating to her. Both Ben and Jaya then had to help her as her backpack was twisting her knee & further knocking her off balance.

Ben carried her backpack and both he and Jaya had to coax her down the slope. The conditions were now rapidly deteriorating, and it was apparent we had to get off the snow, this meant that descending further was definitely not an option, so instead we put on snowshoes and had to traverse horizontally mid way up the slope. I stayed at the back; I was still feeling pretty good about the day and conditions; Nic was in front of me & it was becoming increasingly apparent that her fall had affected her bottle, the pace had slowed and she'd developed 'Elvis-leg' syndrome. I really wanted to be more help to the girl but all's I could really do was tell her to take her time, not worry about how long it takes to get there and just concentrate on each step.

We arrived at the spot selected to pitch camp, this meant off with the backpacks and out with the shovels! My feet at this stage where burning on the bottoms with the friction of damp wrinkly feet against socks/boots & I really didn't want to get any blisters. I guess it was going to be a medicated talc job in the tent tonight.

Dale cooked the groups' food and the rest of us took to work building a snow wall (protection for the tents). This was the 1st time we'd ever had to build one and it seemed an endless task, eventually when we'd finished, we pitched the tents (with snow chutes), gobbled our bowls of cold plain pasta and then rushed to get into our sleeping bags (10:30pm). It'd certainly been a long day!!