Unsurprising given its location on the map, our journey to Patagonia felt like a venture to the end of the earth. I felt like I had been flying south for days on end – from Boston to Texas, to Buenos Aires, to El Calafate – only to be driven hours upon hours through vast, desolate moonscapes, through nothing.
Where… are we? I found myself wondering. Coming straight from the wintery Northeast, the aural summer struck me as both surreal and disorienting. The air was dry and cool, like Alaskan summer, like home; the sun remained high in the sky late into the night, yet it was late December. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity of traveling, we arrived in the tiny town of El Chalten. And it was paradise.
Nestled at the base of the Cerro Torre and Fitz Roy mountains, El Chalten is a tiny village existing solely to serve the needs of climbers, trekkers, and adventurous tourists. It was built less than 30 years ago, and still appears largely under construction – imagine clusters of campsites, hostels, gear shops, and restaurants, all tiny and new and largely built from wood and metal, lining modest dirt roads surrounded by some of the most spectacular mountains in the world. Everyone walking the streets looked fit, sunburned, and utterly blissful. The town radiated a youthful, healthy, adventurous energy – the majority of people we encountered looked young, dirty, and happy, perhaps living in a campground, or out of a van. For an adventurous, mountain-climbing, Alaskan family, it was the perfect place, and for my brother, probably pretty close to heaven on earth.
The first night, Devin packed his climbing gear and insisted we go check out the fields of boulders that he had heard rumors about. It was late evening, but the sun remained high above the mountains. We walked through town and up into the hills, up pathways that wandered through fields of brilliant grasses, flowers, and ancient gnarled trees twisted and distorted by the wind. It was so beautiful I wanted to set up a tent right there and never leave. Something about the spectrum of colors, the quality of light, and the flourishing vegetation struck me as totally otherworldly. In all my experience being in the mountains of the north, under midnight sun, I have always felt at home – I know the plants and the trees, the smells, the cold air, regardless of where in the the world I am. Now, the mountains around us looked like Alaska, but everything else – the plants, the trees, the vibrancy of the colors, the sweet smell in the air – was so completely different that I felt the sense of having arrived in some idyllic parallel universe.
Off we went.
I made one pathetic effort to climb – I swear I had been lifting weights! – but my fragile art-school hands, weak from months of lazily clicking away at a computer, would not allow it.
Devin, on the other hand, climbs every day, and probably enjoyed showing off a bit. Here he is, hanging out.
We wandered through strangely empty fields, from boulder to boulder, while vast glacial rivers gleamed from the valley below, illuminated by the sun.
This looks… difficult.
I was unspeakably happy. Directly from finals week at RISD, to a mountain landscape of dreams.
Devin climbed on.
I literally jumped for joy. We had come so far, and now, it was time to climb some mountains!