Laguna Jakob nestled in the mountains to Lago Mascardi at the end of the valley was another day of trekking. Little did we realise as we left Refugio San Martin and the memories of a great first day of trekking that we would face the hardest day of the entire trek. As the sun rose over the surrounding mountains, Laguna Jakob remained in the shadows. The path followed through the campsite, eventually starting to ascend through rocky outcrops before starting to ascend seriously.
Paso Schweizer follows the ridge of the mountains along the start of the valley to Lago Mascardi. Our first glimpse of 'real' mountains and the clear air of walking at 1400m meant we were almost running along the rugged and barren path. Despite appearing barren the life was everywhere. Flowers coated the mountainside. Snowberries were gorgeous treats and pheasants feeding in the morning sunshine were an added bonus.
Following the path was easy, small cairns with painted flags showed the way, although knowing the route of the path helped. It was a rugged journey, crossing streams and picking our way across the lower slopes of the surrounding mountains.
Laguna Los Témpanos
The first part of the day's trekking was a real treat and the biggest surprise was the beautiful Laguna Los Témpanos. Hidden in a bend in the path it was a moment of delight as we rounded the corner and saw the crystal blue water and tumbling ice. The water flowed from the lake is clear and cold streams running ever downwards towards Laguna Jakob. The clouds skidding along the top of the peaks took on almost recognisable patterns. This was a truly magical spot for a break and time to think.
Cerro Cuernos del Diablo
Reaching the summit of the pass provided the first sight of the remainder of the day. The peaks of Cerro Cuernos del Diablo to the right distracted our attention away from the reality of what lay ahead. Red in the morning sunlight, reflecting the sunlight and cloud patterns these mountains were magnificent. Forming the continental divide with water to the east flowing into the Atlantic eventually and to the west into the Pacific, this pass was the divide between an enjoyable day and the start of the rest of the day.
Heading down from the pass was a slow and steep descent on loose shale and rocks. Half the time was spent slipping, trying to stay upright, the other half giving in to gravity and going with the flow. At the bottom of the scree the path headed into woodland. Beech trees lined the river. A jumbled mess of trees with twisted branches and trunks twisting across the path. This part of the trek was a hard workout. Climbing over trunks that had fallen, negotiating trees that were too high to go over, but low to the ground. By the time we reached the open space of the river valley for lunch we were ready to hear that the end wasn't far off. Little did we realise at this point that it would be another 11hours!
Heading back into the forest the path continued endlessly. Starting with bamboo, cut off just above ground level the path was boggy and uneven. Determined to trip us up, blocking out all views of the mountains the bamboo became a source of cursing and hate. The trees within the bamboo were high, draped in lichen and full of crawling life.
Forest and River Crossings
Eventually the bamboo receded and was replaced with large trees, some had fallen and were left to decay where they fell. Some had become crossings across the river as the path switched sides and headed ever downwards. Eventually the river was far below and the trees were high, the forest floor tinder dry. River crossings became more adventurous with the height between tree and water increasing gradually at each crossing. Looking up into the trees gave a real idea of how small we were in this huge forest.
Eventually after what seemed like forever, the beach of Lago Mascardi came into view. The boats to take us across to Los Rápidos were a welcome sight, the end was close after 14hours of trekking. The views from the lake were spectacular. Despite being exhausted having pushed myself to the limits both emotionally and physically the mountains raised spirits and made the walking almost worthwhile. All the way along my mind had been coaching me along, as Jake would have done if he had been there. Maybe this was his way of proving to me that I can actually do things alone.
The Arroyo Casalata trail is described as a 'little used trail' requiring good 'route finding skills' and it has certainly lived up to that description!