Today was the day of reckoning we all knew must come eventually–the John Gardner Pass. Waking up once again to rain didn’t help get any of us motivated. The guys left around 8 a.m., wanting to give themselves as much time as possible. I, however, wanted to try waiting out the rain and went back to my tent for an hour or so. The rain let up and I set off around 10:30.
Almost immediately, the trail swung upwards and I got sweaty in a hurry from the climb. This portion of the trail was definitely not as well maintained and was an absolute mess after the rain. Some parts were soupy and I was again grateful for my trekking poles that helped keep me from falling. After working through the slop, I stopped by a small stream to fill up on food and water so as to have as much energy as possible for the Pass.
From here the path entered and exited the woods several times, eventually dumping me on a field of rock. Above I could see the obstacle before me–a direct climb up between two mountains. Relatively speaking, it was a low point, but would still be quite a climb. The rain picked up and I stopped to put on my rain pants and gloves. The wind here was howling as it was either coming off Glacier Gray, the mountain, or both. This was definitely a “welcome to Patagonia” day.
Fortunately, the route up was well marked and was simply a matter of following the orange spray painted rocks. I wasn’t exactly hauling as I went up, but made no stops to rest either. I wanted to keep going and finish ASAP since the rain and wind made conditions miserable.
About two-thirds of the way up, I stopped to check my camera bag. Things were still dry, but, to be safe, I moved my other lens and batteries to dry bags and into my backpack. The rain cover on my camera bag was performing valiantly, but couldn’t prevent rain from soaking the sides of the bag. At this point I said, “Oh no.” I had left my point and shoot camera in an external mesh pocket on the waist belt of my backpack. I tested it, but only got a flashing orange light. The thing appeared fried, as would be confirmed later.
Finally I reached the top of John Gardner Pass and was greeted by a mighty wind unlike anything I had experienced. Even with my sunglasses on, the wind drove raindrops into my eyes until they stung so badly that I couldn’t tell were the rain ended and the tears began. I wanted to take off my sunglasses to improve visibility, but I couldn’t sacrifice even the mediocre protection they offered. The rain on the lenses made the rocky ground look psychedelic, but I buried my head and plowed forward.
At the top of the peak was a small Chilean flag, anchored by a pile of rocks. I didn’t want to stop, but had to get a picture as a souvenir of this challenging day.
Continuing on, the look over Glacier Gray defied explanation. I would have loved to have stood there and admired it, but had to get down and out of the wind. I headed for a hill of rocks, yanked off my raincoat, put on my fleece, and put the raincoat on again. I was freezing and this helped a lot. I wrung out my gloves and was amazed by the quantity of water they had absorbed. Wet gloves were miserable, but they helped mitigate the chill of the wind.
The conditions on the descent improved dramatically. I took a few pictures of the Swiss couple ahead of me on the descent, with the glacier in the background. I knew they wouldn’t come out great because of the conditions, but wanted to have something. The Swiss had stopped to take a few pictures and I joined them.
Upon reaching the edge of the rock, where the path then swung left, the wind was minimal and the rain had almost vanished. From here we did a slow, careful descent of a mixture of stairs with railings and a winding path. I almost fell 3 or 4 times, but regained my balance just in time. The combination of mud and gravity were extremely treacherous and I couldn’t imagine doing this stretch without trekking poles to dig in before taking the next step down. Even with poles, I slid a number of times and had no idea how I managed to stay vertical. We stopped to take a break and eat. Down lower, we were in a much different setting of mud, trees, and warmer temperatures.
This was the first time I really got to talk with the Swiss couple. He had asked me about my camera bag back at Camp Serón and we exchanged a few comments here and there, but nothing more. I learned they had been traveling 10 months and had done much of their trip on bicycle. They were very nice and offered me bread and salami–the first meat I’d eaten in a week. We also talked about photography since he was an enthusiast and had a Canon 30D, which was in poor shape after all the rattling and dust from their travels.
We had already descended quite a bit, but the trail continued downward. Thankfully, most of this stretch had better traction. At 4:30 p.m. we arrived at Campamento Paso, relieved to be done. I pitched my tent right away in case of further rain and tried to dry out my things. They didn’t dry much though because of a lack of sun and the wind protection of our camp.
I spent that evening at a lookout point taking pictures of Glacier Gray. The cloudy conditions weren’t ideal, but the glacier was still beautiful and mind boggling in its immensity. On the way back to camp, I spent a few more moments with Reto at an outlook he had found. Back at camp, he gave me their email, website, and a few camera setting suggestions for capturing star trails. I didn’t feel much like cooking and had some cereal as it got dark, and went to bed.