Ryan's Journal

"My life amounts to no more than one drop in a limitless ocean. Yet what is any ocean, but a multitude of drops?" — David Mitchell

Ushuaia, Argentina

Posted at 6:10 pm, February 3rd, 2004

I’m most likely going to be in Ushuaia for the remainder of this trip, so provided the server again agrees to speak to the internet I should be a bit better about uploading the journal entries and answering email. Nothing too exciting to report for today, it was mostly just a travel day. Tonight will be the first time in ten days that I’ve eaten a decent meal — no idea how much weight I’ve lost, but I’m very much looking forward to gaining some of it back shortly.

Laguna Capri, Glacier National Park, Argentina

Posted at 12:00 am, February 3rd, 2004

There was a small part of me that was hoping for rain this morning so that I could stay in bed and rest, but luckily the weather is again perfect and I’m enjoying a clear view of Mt. Fitz Roy from the shore of Laguna Capri. The body is complaining, but I’m slowly moving along nonetheless. From here it’s a relatively easy eight mile loop past Cerro Torre and back to town, although once I return to town it will unfortunately be time to leave this amazing place.

El Chalten, Argentina

Posted at 6:30 pm, February 1st, 2004

It rained in El Chalten for the five days prior to my arrival, but for the past four days the weather has been perfect — I fear that I may be burning up what good karma remains to me in this lifetime. Slept in until 7:45 this morning and then set off on a trail with unbelievably beautiful panoramas of Fitz Roy, Cerro Torre, and each of the surrounding mountains, lakes and glaciers. In addition to being scenic the trail was also a quiet one, and I saw less than ten other people all day.

While the body is close to meltdown, it hasn’t yet given up on me despite the long hike and 3200 feet of elevation change. It is even more unbelievable that the body and I are still on speaking terms when you consider that I missed a fork in the trail and had to retrace a mile uphill, and also took the scenic route for a half hour on the return trip before again finding the main trail. Tomorrow night I return to El Calafate, and hopefully the corresponding day or two of downtime will provide an opportunity to recover from the recent burst of activity.

El Chalten, Argentina

Posted at 6:15 pm, January 31st, 2004

Another 4:30 wakeup, and with stars blazing I hurried off to the Fitz Roy overlook, covering the route in just over an hour instead of the normal hour and a half. I arrived drenched in sweat but in time to see the first hints of purple light on the glaciers. After filling another roll of film I moved down the trail to Cerro Torre, spent most of the afternoon braving insane wind gusts at Lago Torre, and finally returned home to a much-needed dinner.

Despite hiking nearly five miles further than yesterday my body seems to no longer be angry with me — I’m sore, but presently in no danger of collapse. If the weather holds I’m going to attempt one of the tougher trails tomorrow, so the battle of willpower versus manpower may yet come.

El Chalten, Argentina

Posted at 5:05 pm, January 30th, 2004

The weather gods have blessed me, but my body is convinced I’m trying to kill it. High clouds when the alarm went off at 4:30, but after the long hike to the overlook the mountain was visible with the clouds above it. Unfortunately the light was flat, but when the clouds finally burned off I went through a couple of rolls of film pretty fast. I love this mountain.

My legs were hurting from yesterday, so rather than killing myself by hiking back to the lake (1300′ of elevation in an hour…) I took a different trail towards Cerro Torre, which is another amazing set of rock spires that blast up from the surrounding mountains to an elevation of 10,177 feet — even if Fitz Roy wasn’t here it would still be worth visiting just to see Cerro Torre. The alarm is set for tomorrow morning at 4:30, so if the weather holds out I may find out just how much the body can take before it quits on me.

El Chalten, Argentina

Posted at 5:15 pm, January 29th, 2004

When the alarm went off this morning at 4:30 the weather looked like it might be decent so I strapped on my pack and set off in the pre-dawn darkness through town and up the trail towards Mt. Fitz Roy. An hour and a half later I arrived at an overlook as the clouds were clearing and the light was getting dramatic. I reached into my pack, took out my camera, and realized that all of my film was back at the hotel. The eleven shots from the roll that was already in the camera will be all I have to show for the absolutely perfect weather today — I could have easily shot ten times as many photos, but with luck the mountain will show itself again at least once in the next four days.

After my photographic debacle I hiked the remainder of the trail (round trip about fifteen miles) and the views were mind-blowing. The final uphill stretch was a killer (1300′ of elevation change in an hour), but was absolutely worthwhile as the trail ended at a turquoise lake surrounded by an awe-inspiring cathedral of stone and ice. Fitz Roy is most definitely a mountain like no other.

El Chalten, Argentina

Posted at 6:25 pm, January 28th, 2004

I’m physically exhausted and going to bed early with plans to be up before sunrise — this feels like a vacation again. I’m back in El Chalten, although this time with a room and a tiny bit of sun. It was raining when I got here, but blue sky has appeared from time to time so I did a four hour power hike to see (some of) Mt. Fitz Roy. Pictures weren’t taken due to the clouds, but if Fitz Roy is just a mountain then most other mountains should be demoted to hills — this thing is a monster that practically defies the laws of physics with its giant, razor-like towers and sheer faces. The trails in the area are good ones, so provided the weather cooperates I’m going to be very, very sore and tired by the time I leave here in six days.

Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina

Posted at 2:50 pm, January 27th, 2004

If I had a digital camera there would definitely be a picture of the Perito Moreno Glacier attached to this entry. The glacier is big (by non-Antarctica standards) and it is also amazingly picturesque. Today mother nature made it even more beautiful by providing a clear sky and warm temperatures — the guide says this is the first time in three months that it has been clear enough to see all of the surrounding mountains. In addition, the Argentinians that are here visiting are an amazing bunch — the women are beautiful (as always), and unlike in the United States people are willing to sit and enjoy the scene, rather than just snap a photo and move on. Someone broke out a guitar midway down the trail, most folks brought a picnic, and there were even a few people reading books while waiting for the glacier to calve.

Tomorrow I’m off to El Chalten again, but this time with a room reserved. Hopefully the good weather will continue, and if so I’ll do my best to bring home a few decent photos of the mountain.

El Calafate, Argentina

Posted at 3:30 pm, January 26th, 2004

It looks like internet access may be a bit more difficult than I realized, so I’ll continue keeping a journal but may not be able to upload it very often. Email is also going to be a problem, so if you’ve written in the last few days and I haven’t responded please give me at least one more week.

El Calafate, Argentina

Posted at 11:30 am, January 26th, 2004

I’ve re-grouped after yesterday’s disaster, although I must be getting old as plans have changed from dormitories and shared bathrooms in hostels to single rooms with showers in low-end hotels. The corresponding price increase from twenty pesos ($6) to about one hundred and forty pesos ($42) has absolutely ruined any dreams of keeping to a budget — my father will be disgusted, my mother will be pleased, and my brother won’t understand why I’m not staying in five star hotels.

After arriving in town at 11:15 last night a bed in a dormitory was luckily available (sleeping outside of the bus station was the other option), so I shared a room with four Israeli girls and a German fellow — there are an amazing number of Israelis in Patagonia right now. First thing this morning I found a hotel room in El Calafate and went to a travel agency and reserved five nights in El Chalten. I’ll have one more day in El Calafate to do laundry and rest, followed by six days in El Chalten for trekking. I may no longer be a part of the backpacker circuit, but as long as the weather cooperates at least I’ll still be able to see Mt. Fitz Roy.

El Chalten, Argentina

Posted at 6:50 pm, January 25th, 2004

Utter disappointment. After a long, noisy and dusty bus ride I arrived in El Chalten in the rain and discovered that every room, bed, and piece of rental camping equipment in town is booked for at least the next two days. I’m carrying too much gear to make it feasible to trek without a home base, and a brief hike into the backcountry convinced me that sleeping out in the rain without a tent would be a very, very bad idea. As a result I’m reluctantly returning on the bus to El Calafate, and hopefully the next day or two will provide time to re-group and figure out another plan.

Despite the downward turn of events the day was not a complete loss — the ride to El Chalten was beautiful, with scenery ranging from rolling grasslands to badlands to turquoise blue lakes, and the Andes were always hovering on the horizon. In addition to the scenery, several herds of guanacos (think llamas but with less hair), six grey foxes, and a handful of Andean condors all made appearances during the journey.

Ushuaia, Argentina

Posted at 11:00 am, January 24th, 2004

It seems that the site may have been on holiday whilst I’ve been away. Hopefully things are back to normal, although I fear that Google may have dropped the site since it was down for so long. For anyone who cares, the problem is with the router and the software that tracks the server IP address — if the computer is like a taxi and the router is like the taxi driver, the problem is similar to trying to get across the city when you only speak English and the driver is a recent arrival from Pakistan; the taxi works fine, passenger and driver are fine, but you aren’t going to get to your destination. I’ll see what I can do to fix the problem permanently when I return.

Still in Ushuaia today, although I’m catching a flight to El Calafate tonight with plans of then heading up to El Chalten and Mt. Fitz Roy. Spent the evening at a nice little hostel sharing a dormitory with a South African, a Brit, and a Scottish gal whose accent was absolutely captivating. Dinner with some of the folks from the trip was quite delicious, although the cost somewhat blew my budget for the week.

Last of all for today, Jason found this photo of a brown skua, one of the many animals that tried to kill me while in Antarctica.

Death by Bird

Ushuaia, Argentina

Posted at 6:30 pm, January 23rd, 2004

The M/V Polar Star docked in Ushuaia this morning, and after lunch I said goodbye to most of my friends from the trip. Matt, Hugh, Jim and Ken are in town for a few days, so we’re meeting up for dinner tonight, but after that I’ll be on my own for two weeks in Patagonia. My Spanish is really, really poor, so it may be an interesting time.


Approximate route taken during the trip. Copyright Ted Cheeseman.

Drake Passage, Southern Ocean

Posted at 1:55 pm, January 22nd, 2004

Six to eight meter waves on the Drake Passage — about half of what a big storm would bring, but still enough to send the boat rolling at a twenty-five degree angle. Chairs and glasses were crashing at breakfast, and my brief attempt to get a picture of the waves from the seventh deck ended quickly when one crashed over the bow and drenched me. I finally gave in last night and took some motion sickness drugs, and today I’ve got blurred vision but no naseau. It’s fun to experience a bit of rough weather, but it’s also rather a shame as the waves are keeping most folks in their rooms. Hopefully once we round Cape Horn in another hour or so the seas will calm a bit and everyone will again be venturing out.

A few random memories:

  • “These two fellows washed overboard, so we had a couple of empty seats at dinner; didn’t talk about it much.”
  • “OK, I’ll do it, as long as it doesn’t make me sticky.”
  • The boot wash after landings, dubbed the “de-pooping process”.
  • “Mambo sawa sawa! Fantastic! Good karma!”
  • “You know, it’s not the sea that’s the problem, it’s the god-damned ship that keeps moving.”
  • The disco ball, and the horrified look on Rick’s face as he realized his two roommates were having a Saturday Night Fever moment.
  • “Ryan to the bridge, Ryan to the bridge please.”
  • “I’d like to thank my sponsors, Preparation H and Tucks Medicated Pads.”

Also worth noting is that Doug generously offered to bring me back on the 2005-2006 trip as a zodiac driver, so in addition to Ted’s South Georgia trip in April there’s an excellent chance that I might again be a visitor to this end of the earth. I’ve asked him to let me verify that I’m still employed when I get back to the States, but provided Warner Brothers still needs me then I’ll be signing on for a return visit to this land.