“O Circuit” Day 7 – Frances

Leaving Paine Grande

Leaving Paine Grande

It rained all night, but fizzles out as we wake at 6:30 am. The kitchen area does not open until 7:00 am, so Brian heats water for coffee at a nearby picnic table. A French girl warns us she has been severely scolded for cooking there. A few years ago that is precisely where I was told to cook. These rules are so hard to follow.

Mark picks up a weather forecast: 93% chance of light rain all day. It begins to sprinkle, so we quickly pack up our damp tents before they become¬†completely soaked tents. We put on rain pants and jackets, and get an early jump. Within an hour of hiking, in the now blaring sun, we are near heat stroke. Brian proclaims, “Patagonia sure is hot, except when it’s really cold.” Patagonia weather is very strange.

We make our way to the recently, but now formerly, collapsed bridge. There is new wood, cables, and hardware, yet somehow it retains that “far from perfect but probably good enough” feel. We cross with little fanfare to Camp Italiano, where we stop for a quick lunch. Brian and I mix up powdered humus and stuff it into tortillas and then into our mouths. We ditch our backpacks by the ranger station and begin our significantly less burdened climb up the French Valley. The cliff hanging glaciers put on entertaining shows by pushing their friends over the edge. The thunderous roars and rushing avalanches never get old.

French Valley

French Valley

There is a crowd at the French Mirador, but it thins significantly as we work our way towards Britanico. The advertised 3 hour climb takes us about 2, even with Brian’s non-bending knee. The views from the final lookout are spectacular. It is for me the most spectacular¬†single spot in the entire national park.

We take a variety of pictures, which will clearly do no justice to the spectacle. We work our way back down towards our packs. The down is harder on all our knees, but especially Brian’s. We re-shoulder our burdens and head across the middle of the “W” towards the new Frances Refugio. We check in and begin the engineering adventure of pitching our tents on staggered wooden platforms, constructed on a steep forested floor. Tent stakes need not apply, though a provided hatchet and a handful of nails helps significantly.

French Valley

French Valley

It begins to rain as we cook our meals pitched on our platforms. Brian declares this a far more dangerous fire hazard than the illegal-to-cook-on picnic tables of this morning. Patagonia rules are as fickle as the weather.

Tomorrow we will glide beneath Los Cuernos, and make our way up to Chileno.