Wednesday, December 5, 2012

days 5 thru 7; the end...

Just a few journal entries for you.  If you are an adventurer and thinking about doing the Torres del Paine trek in Chile, or living abroad in New Zealand, then follow this blog over the next few months for some specifics on exactly how we made these trips happen, how we travelled, budgeting before and during our excursions, and a whole lot more!


Today we left Guardas at 8;45 for what we new would be our longest day - hiking to Campamento Italiano.  We ate breakfast (oatmeal with cooked apples from Will) and took off.  Walked along the glacier till it gave way to Lago Grey where the trail turned fairly monotonous.  Nothing to write about.  We arrived at Lago Pehoe Refugio, which is an enrmous lodge, linked to the world by both trail and catamaran, and took a break to buy drinks and snacks and charge the cameras.  Left it's comfort at 3:45.  Torres del Paine's iconic views came into sight.  We hiked closer, nearing Valle de Frances and our camp.  at 5:45, we were hungry and exhausted from our 22km hike.  Arrived in camp (Italiano) at 6:00 pm.  Cooked dyhdrated BBQ chicken.  Ate the snacks we bought, which were hot dogs and crackers.  Ate the rest of our cheese block.  Drank the beer we bought at Pehoe Refugio, and ended the meal with hot Tang.  Finally, we got full.  Italiano is another free campsite.  We will hike Valle de Frances tomorrow, and camp here again as a rest day.

Slept in a little, till 8:00, and ate a leisurely breakfast.  We will use today as a much needed rest day.  I can hear the glacier crashing down every 20 minutes or so, sounding like distant thunder.  Courtney and I got some inspiration and possible new direction this morning.  It is wonderful to think about, and gives me hope and excitement for the future.  

We hiked up Valle de Frances, it was beatiful.  We are lunch while watching glaciers fall.  So cool!  We decided, after returning to Italiano, to hike to Cuernos camp.  It was a two hour hike past gorgeous lake seashores.  We skipped rocks into the lake and re-gained hi spirits.  We at dehydrated lasagna for dinner, enjoyed some wine and beer we bought in the Cuernos refugio.  We even traded one of our extra fuel cans for wine and cookies.  Beer here was $2500 CH ($5 USD) and wine was about $9 USD for a box.  This was the most expensive camp at $6000 CH per person ($12 USD per!).  

We woke up early.  We packed everything and were hiking by 8:00 am.  It was a rolling hike until the shortcut up to camp Chileno.  We decided to hike fast and hard, all the way to the towers, and back in time for the 7:45 bus back to Puerto Natales.  We made it off the trail after over 10 hours of hiking that day!  It was an unbelieveable trek.  

One more thing, we cooked our final bit of food (powder soup) at Hosteria Las Torres while we waited for the bus.  We ate every scrap of food.  Arrived back in Puerto Natales at 10:30 pm, stumbled to Erratic Rock II and got their last room!!  Then, we were so hungry that we went to a local restaurant and ate meat and was incredible!  Slept great that night.

Friday, November 30, 2012

days 3 and 4...

Stayed in the tent, avoiding the rain, until lunch time. We ate some wraps and finally were able to leave Dickson by about 1:10 pm. Arrived at Los Perros @ 5:30. We ate mac 'n cheese and couscous in the rain. Cold, wet, we hope the pass tomorrow goes well. We bought some beer for $2000 CH ($4 USD). So great! Camp cost $3500 CH per person.

One thing I didn't mention in this journal entry is the miraculous story of the tent-pole-fix. Remember the story from day one? Incase you need a refresher (after all, this was a year ago!)...

On our first night in the Andes the wind snapped our tent pole like a brittle twig. Fortunately, a new-found friend had a spare tent-pole sleeve designed to fix a broken pole. He was a lifesaver, but we knew that we would part ways with him soon and he would need to take the part with him. We were desperate to figure something out.

When we got to this soggy, muddy, yet strangely inviting camp, we noticed that there was a small crew of men working on digging a new septic system for the bathroom. It is strange to come across glimpses of modern luxuries when in the backcountry, and this was no exception.

The men had finished for the day, and beers were being poured and consumed in the incessant drizzle.  This is when I approached one of them to somehow ask him if he had a spare tent part. I didn't know how I was going to go about this, seeing that my limited Spanish knowledge had left me high and dry in terms of camping lingo. I didn't know the words for "tent" "pole" "broken" get the idea. My Spanish sucks. But I went over to him anyways, holding our broken pole and the borrowed fix-it part we needed so desperately. In show-and-tell fashion, I held up my belongings and began a game of gestures (or is charades?) with the dread-lock headed man.

He looked at me, puzzled at first, but then realized what I was needing. At least, I think that's what he realized. He began walking towards his temporary work shed and I followed closely. As he walked up the stairs, he happened to glance down at the ground. The ground below the stairs. Let me re-cap: He happened to look down, from the third stair, through the slats in the wood, down to the mud below. He proceeded to reach down through the slats and when he did, he made a sort of "ah-ha" sound. Then his hand emerged, and in it was the exact tent-pole repair piece we needed.

How I left this story out of my journal, I will never know. But I am forever indebted to this dread-locked, Chilean, worker, who reached into the mud and fixed our tent.

We woke up early, excited and anxious about what was to come. at 8:30 am, we said goodbye to Los Perros (the camp that will be remembered as "the one that had a spare tent pole repair brace!"). The hike began climbing out of rain-forest type jungles that gave way to granite spires and glaciers. Truly incredible. We started up John Gardner Pass just as bad weather hit. Near white-out conditions at times. We made it to the top, snapped a photo, and plunged head-first into the wind and the descent. Before long, Glacier Grey emerged from the snow-fall and took our breaths away. We followed it all day, through forests and vistas, down ladders into endless gorges and up fixed ropes lines. We arrived at Camp Guardas at 5:30 happy, tired, and hungry. Free campsite. Dehydrated turkey with mashed potatoes for dinner. Now I sit at the "mirador" over the glacier. It is endless.

I couldn't resist writing a little story about this one!

The wind howled. It was constant, like ocean waves on the not-so-distant shores that act as bookends to the waning Andes of southern Patagonia. It raced up from the valley floor, gaining momentum and power as it climbed ever higher, past the frozen glacier walls surrounding us. I leaned into the storm and looked up for a moment, making sure I was still on track and in line with Courtney’s boot imprints. She was leading the charge up John Gardner pass, the most remote section of Torres Del Paine National Park in southern Chile. We were far. Far from home, far from the trailhead, far from help, far from everything. Blue skies earlier that morning had given way to menacing, blizzard-like conditions up hi on the pass. We had both feared and anxiously waited for this day for months. And we were finally experiencing the sharp teeth of Patagonia. This is what we had signed up for.

We hiked on, slightly slower and more methodical now that we were going downhill. A twisted ankle or broken leg here would be catastrophic. The ground on this side of the pass was more ice and less snow, so we made our way carefully down, down, down. Looming large in front of us was Glacier Gray. It emerged from the white-out, a massive expanse of ice and water and snow, bleeding out of the mountains and all moving as one down the canyon until it broke off, piece by piece into the lakes far below. It was magnificent and took our breaths away.

I caught up to Court’, and we turned out of the wind to gaze back down from where we had come. In just a few short hours, we had risen over 2000 ft, kicking steps in the perpetually frozen snowfield. Rock formations and towering peaks engulfed us, except for the silver-white path of snow that we hoped was guiding us to the top of the pass and then down the other side to safety. We watched the tops of the mountains disappear, and re-appear, over and over again as clouds whisked by so quickly you couldn’t help but wonder, if the wind was this bad down here, what was it like on the knife edge tips above? We would save finding that out for another trip.

I kissed my wife in the driving snow, long and slow, taking in the moment of peace amidst the chaos. We turned back into the wind and continued on. It was my turn to kick steps, though I noticed that there were still the faint boot impressions left from some of our companions who had left camp before us. These had already begun to fill in, only adding to the mystery of our route. Every so often, I would notice a post sticking out of the ground, a simple wooden stake, painted orange, that gave momentary relief from the ever-present fear that we had ventured off-course. We had been following these markers for days now, through meadows, up canyons, and into dense forests that sat below the glaciers, glaciers that dictated the ebb and flow of the entire landscape. These slow-moving giants were new to us, and they demanded respect. I could only speculate as to the enormity of the ice fields and the vastness of the crevasses that scarred them.

Orange marker-post, by orange marker-post, we made our way up. We hiked quickly and efficiently, staying warm even in this frozen land.

Months of planning and preparation, months of reading travel blogs and studying maps, months of excitement, had led us to this moment – the moment when we would crest this pass, marking the halfway point of our journey. I remember one instant in particular, when the wind eased up ever so slightly, just for a few seconds. The sound of my breath, and the methodical crunching of the snow underfoot, was suddenly exposed. I had a near out-of-body experience that sent me hi in the sky, looking down on the whole scene while an unwritten, power rock ballad exploded into existence. The mysterious and unknown music rang in my head and propelled me forward, even after I returned to earth. By now I could see the top of the pass and I marveled at the shrine erected there, made up of mementos and trinkets left behind by travelers from all over the globe.

Courtney reached the high point first while I fished for the camera to snap a few photos. But, it was so cold that the camera powered up for one shot, and then died, leaving the moment a memory known only to us. From the whiteout emerged another young couple coming from the opposite direction. We exchanged a few words, yelled “good luck” at the top of our lungs over the roar of the gale, and went our separate ways. I love times like that, when your path crosses with someone else’s at a certain instant in time that will never be repeated by you or anyone else…ever. Adventures are cause for many experiences like this. Courtney and I and our hiking buddy, Will, embraced at the top, but didn’t linger. We were still facing into the wind, and had been all day, and it was beginning to take a toll. We needed to descend, to find shelter.

We continued down until the snow ceased and the wind calmed. The trail led us into steep, slippery, mud coated chutes that we clamored down trying to avoid injury. All the while the glacier was in front of us, always in sight through the trees, daring anyone to step across its dangerous yet enticing boundaries. The day stretched on. We hiked past the point of exhaustion to reach our destination.

We wore every layer of clothing that we had, and still the icy blasts cut through. Courtney’s hat and jacket were covered in a thin layer of ice. Flakes of snow that settled on her outer layer quickly melted from her body heat, and then instantly re-froze. My beard grew icicles that formed and grew with every exhale. We trudged on, for the most part un-phased by the climb. Our training was paying off, not to mention the fact that where we live in Denver was higher in elevation than where we stood here, buried in the mountains. We were so close to the coastline; the Andes were just getting started in their skyward climb. We felt great, strong, and seemingly able to conquer anything.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

it's been a while...

Friends, it's good to be writing to you today.

Yes, it has been over a year since our trip to South America.  I am amazed by the whole lightning-fast-passage-of-time thing.  It just doesn't seem that long ago.  But since that trip, much has happened in our lives, much has changed, all is good.  I hope the same is true for each of you!

I want to take a moment to give you an outline of what you can expect in the near future on "Life of Zach and Court":

1) In the next two posts, I am going to briefly finish the saga of our back-packing trip in Chile.  I won't drag out the process with lengthy stories and tales, like I did for the first couple of days of the trip.  Instead, I am giving you my personal journal entries from the end of each day on the trail (possibly and most likely with a few amendments, add-ons, and/or deletions).

2) In the posts to come, I am going to fill you in on the happenings of our lives here in New Zealand (did I mention we live here now?!).  You will read stories of adventure.  You will read stories of our jobs we recently acquired and the house we just moved into.  You will read stories of climbing and biking, beauty and pain, accomplishments and frustrations, community and those times we just can't seem to find it, and God's presence in all of it.

3) Over the past months, I have been working on a series of essays, and even some short books, designed to help anyone - maybe you? - pursue adventure through travel, and I am hoping to start sharing these musings soon.  These writings are the compilation of much brainstorming, trial and error learning, many early mornings and late nights, failure, success, mistakes, and a whole lot of excitement.  Court and I have learned so much in these few months spent on the road and the years leading up to where we are now.  We now have a bit of knowledge in van-living, cheap existence, simplicity, camp-stove cooking, and finding free campsites.  We know what it's like to dream of adventure and travel.  We know what it's like to create a tight budget, save money, and then take the plunge and say yes to extended world-travel.  We are still in the thick of it now.  And we are passionate about helping others give themselves permission to say yes.

Stay tuned for a crash-course in adventuring with purpose.

I hope you enjoy the final stories from South America.  I apologize for not having any pictures.  All of the photos, I just realized, are on my laptop which is in the United States.  And I am no where near there...

Thursday, June 21, 2012

summer and beyond...

Dear Friends,

I hope this letter finds you well and enjoying life! Can you believe that another summer is here?! I am currently three weeks in to my fifth summer of guiding for Dry Bones’ summer program, Elevations. By the end of this year, I will have guided on this particular mountain about 40 times, built 120 or so fires (well actually a little less since we are STILL under a fire ban!), and wrapped approximately three thousand blisters. Haha, not really...but it's a lot! This year, I am excited to talk with the kids about themes like going beyond what is normal, seeking community, and wondering at the beauty found in nature and people. I have an amazing co-guide who is returning for a third summer, and I am so excited to get to work with him again. All in all, it’s looking to be a great time! We have had some wonderful groups so far!

It will also be a bittersweet season for me. I would like to take the rest of this letter, which may turn out to be a couple of pages (sorry!), to tell you about the upcoming and exciting changes happening with me and Courtney. So, grab your favorite beverage, kick up your feet, and get comfortable, because this might take a while. It may get a little sentimental, too, which I tried to avoid, but I was finally able to accept the fact that my emotions in all of this can’t and shouldn’t be suppressed. So here it goes.

When I first came to Dry Bones in 2006, I had no idea what was in store for me. Sounds like such a cliché phrase, and I suppose it is, but in my 20-year-old mindset, I really had no clue what I had signed up for. It is no exaggeration to say that that week changed my life. A few months later, I was back in Denver for a summer internship. Summer ’06 was a whirlwind of emotions, lessons learned, and changed lives, mine first and foremost. During that summer I saw and experienced love in action like never before. I saw God’s relentless pursuit of hearts, and felt the freeing call to simply show up and join Him.

Two years later, I was given an incredible opportunity to take a year-long internship, and once again the future looked hazy, but that excited me. This was a formative time. I met my wife that year, thought I didn’t know it yet! I experienced reliance on God and His people (all of you) like never before. And I even got a staff position offer from Dry Bones in November of 2008. I took the job without hesitation, honored to be given the chance, and thus began my staff journey. In 2009 I experienced loss, many losses, that shook me and continue to influence my life and perspectives on God. I will never forget that year and how I cried with, and was comforted by, so many of my friends on the streets and my friends on staff. But God was there, and I know that He is still good. 2010 can be summed up in a word: Courtney. The adventure of life became all the sweeter with her. In 2011 I had hit a stride that felt good. I was making friends with kids, visiting jails a lot, and dreaming about what was next for Dry Bones and me and Courtney. And then in 2012, here I am in transition again. After five years with Dry Bones, I have decided that it is time for something new. My job of Outreach Minister will come to a close at the end of the summer in August.

When I think about the years I have spent here, there is no way that I can express the ways my heart has been changed and molded and challenged. I have gotten to see kids take incredible steps forward. I have seen kids take heartbreaking steps backwards. I have found friends and lost them. I have worked with my best friends, and I know that our lives will continue to intersect. I owe a great debt of gratitude to Dry Bones, the staff and the board, and every single one of you. Ever since that first spring break I have learned from my co-workers and watched as they poured love and value and worth on our young, homeless friends. I have learned from you, my incredible and faithful supporters, that the kingdom of God is indeed a beautiful thing when we all come together in our different roles to spread love and to share the incredible grace Jesus offers. My perspectives on life and people are constantly in motion, and constantly being challenged, and I blame Dry Bones for this!

And so, I am leaving Dry Bones. But only in the sense of career. I am not leaving the things I have learned. I am not leaving a life defined by love and relationship. I am not leaving the call and challenge to get up close, and to live out of my comfort zone. And I am not leaving my relationships with the staff, board, and street kids that I have come to love so much. I can picture staying involved with Dry Bones to whatever extent is appropriate, riding out the ebbs and flows of volunteering, and helping implement new and exciting initiatives.

My eyes get a little hot (which is my favorite term for that stage right before crying begins) when I think back on the past four or five years that we have spent together. You have been with me every step of the way. God has used you, all of you, to advance his kingdom. He has used you in his quest to convince the world, and more specifically the homeless youth in Denver, of His incredible love. I am so honored to have partnered with you these past years. It was certainly my privilege and my joy to have been on staff with Dry Bones. Thank you for being an incredible team. Thank you for always showing up prayerfully and financially so that I could show up on the streets. I absolutely could not have done it without you. I love you all very much.

So what is next for Courtney and me? Well, ever since we got married, travel has been on our minds. Actually it has been on our minds well before that, even before we ever met. I have always wanted to travel for an extended period of time, and so has Courtney. We have both dabbled in it, having been to several countries together, and a few more separately. So when we got married, we were excited to gain life-long travel partners! We have been saving every spare penny and working hard at multiple jobs to achieve this dream. In September of this year we are going to embark on a year-long adventure!

We will be living in New Zealand for most of the year, with a couple of months spent in Australia and Thailand before we head back to the U.S. Our plan is to experience New Zealand for about four months without working, simply living and playing together in a new environment. Then, we will spend the next 6 months or so in one place, working whatever jobs we can find, and meeting people in a brand new community. We have been approved for visas that allow us to travel and work part-time for a whole year. It truly is a once in a lifetime opportunity, and we feel so blessed to be in a position to take advantage of it!

We are in search of new experiences, new views of the world and the people in it, new perspectives on God and love, and inspiration for what is next. This is a grand experiment that will no doubt shape us, change us, stretch us, and add an awesome chapter to our story together! We are even being “sponsored” by a local marketing group that is helping us gain a following for our travels, and giving us a platform to share stories, writings, videos, and inspiration from around the world! We are really excited! If you are interested in following us, stay tuned on the blog ( for how to do that!

I realize this is a lot to take in all at once. You are all a vital part of Dry Bones, so I understand if this catches you off guard. God has used you in incredible ways; ways that we have seen and experienced, and ways that we may never know. I pray that we all continue to seek ways to join God in His kingdom’s work. I would like you to know a few things. First, I am forever changed because of Dry Bones. Second, I am forever grateful. And third, I promise to carry the vision of love and getting up close to whatever and wherever is next.

If you are interested in continuing to support Dry Bones even after I am gone, please let Nikki Wallace know by emailing her at Or, you can simply keep on giving of your finances and your prayers. Dry Bones is moving forward and dreaming big, and it is an exciting time to be involved! Among other things, there is a brand new, start-up non-profit entering the scene. It is a sister ministry of Dry Bones existing to offer employment to young people who are living homeless. So cool! This venture is called Purple Door Coffee House, and it is projected to open in the fall of 2012. Two past Dry Bones interns, Mark and Madison, are taking on the challenge, and they are doing an amazing job. If you would like more info about this exciting new coffee shop that will be filling the employment gap, get in touch with me and I will get you in touch with Mark and Madison! Or you can visit their website, How’s that for a shameless plug?! Thanks for giving me moment to share.

Thank you, all of you. Each one of you has been a vital part of my life these past years. I love you, and I will continue to pray for you and your continued ventures in the Kingdom. Stay in touch, and may we all keep loving well!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

the odd mix...

The following story is an odd mix of beauty and heartbreak.  It is a picture of the messiness of life, relationships, and God's tireless pursuit of our hearts.

I had not seen or heard from her in over a year.  We would frequently search for her, driving the streets that had been her home, her place of work, her place of entrapment.  But I had nearly given up hope that I would ever see my friend again.  I prayed that she had escaped her demons and broken the chains of addiction; that she was living clean and sober somewhere in a whole new part of the country.  That she was thriving, not merely surviving.  Then one day I decided to look her up in the prison system, one last time.  One last effort to find her.  And there she was.

She was in Denver Women's Correctional facility, a higher security prison that seemed to be her second home (or maybe her first).  Her picture on the offenders web-page was close to terrifying.  Freshly inked face tattoos, spiked hair, and eyes that stared daggers at anyone who dared to meet her gaze, had taken the place of the beautiful, blond girl that I once knew.  The streets are hard.  And the drugs are harder.  I, and many of you who have never even met this young woman but have prayed for her for years, have gotten to walk through life with her for some time.  Her roller coaster of an existence has taken her through addictions, pregnancies, rehabs, homelessness, and myriad of other experiences that would threaten to break even the strongest of human beings.  The picture I saw was exactly that.  Broken.  Heartbroken.

Needless to say, I was thrilled that she was alive, and I wrote to her immediately.  Weeks later, I finally got a letter back.  Her loopy handwriting gave away the point in time of innocence lost, the point in time when her development stalled.  The "I's" were occasionally dotted with hearts as if the letter had been written by a middle-schooler.  The letter was beautiful.  She wrote about God, going so far as to tell me that He was, in-fact, "what she had been searching for this whole time."  Years earlier we had given her a copy of a book called Redeeming Love, a book I highly recommend.  She told me that somehow that book had followed her into prison yet again, and she has read and re-read it over and over.  "It gives me so much hope," she wrote.  Tears filled my eyes and the eyes of my co-workers as we poured over her words.

She told us in the letter that she was going to be imprisoned for a long time.  Possibly life.  I couldn't believe my eyes, and I couldn't believe that she would have done something so heinous to deserve this.  My friend.  Whatever she did, she didn't say.  She isn't ready.  But she told us that she had a court date soon, and pleaded with us to come.  We put it on our calendar, and I couldn't wait to see her.

The day finally came for her to sit in front of a judge for the preliminary hearing.  I sat and waited as the men went first, one by one, to the podium for sentencing.  They rushed through them quickly, and the room cleared except for the five armed guards.  The back door creaked open, and in walked my dear friend.  She wore the red jumpsuit indicating a threat of some kind and segregated housing.  She had been on 23 hour-a-day lockdown, which means no communication, no interaction, no life.  There was no fear in her eyes, only disdain.  I had only seen her like this once before, when she had protected my life the day I wandered into a potentially bad situation.  She didn't notice us sitting there, so we just watched.

My heart broke with every passing minute.  I began to realize the permanence of this situation.  She was on her way to being sentenced for a lifetime in prison.  And there was nothing I could do about it.  She had broken the law to such an extent that it warranted extreme punishment.  There was no protecting her.  There were no answers.  This was it.  Years of relationship and love, years of victories and defeat, years of walking through life together, had culminated at this moment.

Just as she was about to take the stand, and just after a particularly terrifying glare to one of the police officers standing by, she finally saw us.  Her harsh exterior melted in an instant, less than an instant.  She wept, and smiled, and wept some more all at the same time.  That was the girl I knew.  She mouthed "I love you guys" over and over again until she was told to stop, which she did for a moment, only to pick back up when her accusers turned away.  She tried to tell us what she was facing.  32 to life in prison.  "But it's ok guys, I have God.  He's with me" she whispered, comforting us when we had nothing to comfort her.

The next hour is a blur.  They read some of her charges, I will leave the details out, but they were indeed horrible.  She had been consumed in the past year, having been overtaken by the fire of a life that was hijacked by horrendous circumstances and poor choices.  They led her away, her hands and feet were chained.  She cried.  And as they led her through the door, she yelled at us over her shoulder, "I'm so sorry!  I love you guys!"  She said it over and over until we could no longer see her.  And that was that.  We walked out of the room, not to return until the final hearing when she will be sentenced officially.  That date is June 7, 2012.

Friends, you might be thinking that this is one downer of a story.  There is a tension here that is inescapable.  And the tension is this: our efforts didn't "work".  Plain and simple.  The love that we got to show her didn't "fix" all of her "problems".  And let me tell you, this is difficult for me to come to terms with.  Over the years, I have maintained hope and excitement in her story.  And I still do hope, but there is a certain feeling of closure now.  There is a feeling of finality.  Do you feel it too?  But for there to be tension, there must be an opposing force, another side to the coin.

Allow me to encourage you with a few things.  Number one, God is still not done with her.  I have seen this time and time again.  He is always in pursuit and I believe He always will be.  In-fact, she is in a place of surrender and peace like I haven't seen her in  before.  Number two, though she may be incarcerated for the rest of her days in this world (and maybe not, things can always change), she still has choices and she still has opportunities for reconciliation and rescue.  What a good God we get to live life with who chooses to give us the gift of choice and the ability to execute decisions.  Our friend has these opportunities, in or out of jail.  And number three, maybe her story is a lesson to all of us as to what love looks like.  Maybe it is a lesson as to why we choose to love someone.  Is it to fix them?  Is it to come up with a formula that "works" and saves them?  Or are we choosing to live a life defined by love because it is the best choice and because it is what Jesus did and told us to do?  I have come to believe that it is as simple as that.  My friend has taught me this: that love is powerful and that it can indeed change hearts and lives*.  We have all seen this!  But even if our efforts in love change nothing, to love is worth it simply for love's sake.  Thank you for having gone on this journey with me and with my friend for these years.  If you would, keep praying for her.  I pray for you often, that you may be encouraged to continue loving in your own circumstances, whatever those may be.

*For an encouraging story about what can happen when we choose to show love, check out the beginning of Mark chapter 2 in the Bible. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

day 2, Seron to Dickson...

The most beautiful and wild and huge hike I have ever been on.  We got up at 6:30, had an OK breakfast of oatmeal with walnuts and fruit.  Not all that good actually, the oatmeal we picked up in Puerto Natales is pretty tasteless.  Left camp Seron at 8:45.  Hiked on and up a small but REALLY windy pass.  Put our full weight into it.  Lunch overlooking an enormous glacier that, according to the map, is still a dwarf in comparison to Glacier Grey.  Lunch was peanut butter tortillas and snacks.  We hiked on.  

After many more incredible views and vistas we made it to camp Dickson at 2:45 pm.  Cost $3500 CH per person (about $7 USD per).  Set up camp.  Ate dinner of dehydrated chicken enchiladas we brought from home.  Delicious!  Our friend Will caught up to us that night at about 9:00 pm, just before it got dark.  Had a great time hearing his stories of travel.  We drank Gato wine into the night as the rain came on.  Some rain as I write now; all in all an amazing day.

I wrote in my journal this morning, just before we began hiking, "The wind, like ocean waves on the not-so-distant shores that act as bookends to the waning Andes, remains constant."  It was so powerful to be influenced and affected by such a strong force of nature.  At every turn, with every step, the wind dictated our movements, causing us to make tiny (and sometimes not-so-tiny) adjustments in our strides and body angles.  Places I had been in the United States, like the Wind River Range, known for intense winds, paled in comparison to what we experienced in Southern Patagonia.

We left camp at what we thought to be fairly early, but realized quickly that our campmates had already set off.  Let me share just a bit about our fellow travelers.  First, there was Alex, who I have already written about.  Alex, the savior of our tent.  Alex, the inexperienced Dutchman who hiked fast and seemingly with ease.  Then, there was Yen and Corrine.  They were a couple from Belgium, I believe.  In their 50's (I think...), they dominated the trail and relished every bit of adventure.  Mariella and her friend whose name we never did get, we'll call her Natalie, were two fiesty, middle-aged women from Switzerland.  They travelled in style, calling ahead to each camp to reserve comfy beds in the refugios along the way, or to request that a tent be set-up and waiting for them upon their arrival.  Mariella didn't carry a tent and hardly any food; she ate the delicious-smelling food at the refugios the entire trip.  With enough cash, this trip can be quite luxurious.  She made it happen.  There were two or three others that we saw every now and again along the trail or at camp at the end of the day.  We really came to enjoy the company of our small band of hikers.

Eventually, we caught up to everyone and we all gathered at the base of a substantial pass.  The trail shot up quickly, without the luxury of switchbacks to take the edge off of the incline.  Sometimes, I actually prefer it this way.  No meandering, no wasting time; just getting to the top and getting to the views.  About half way up, we felt the full force of the wind that had blasted through our camp the previous night.  Up here, unencumbered by trees and miles of empty space that dilutes wind's full strength, we were hit hard with gusts that I can only speculate as to their speed.  Several times it knocked us off the trail, or into each other.  It was such a rush!  We all re-grouped and took on the final meters of the pass, up into the wind.  At the top, we yelled at the top of our lungs with excitement.  We were heard by no one.  We all laughed, and in that moment it seemed that the five of us had been destined to experience this together.  All of our paths converged right then, and nothing else mattered.

Courtney and I began hiking again, passing the rest of our crew and advancing down the trail fairly rapidly.  As much fun as the wind had been, we were ready to find escape.  We descended back down into the forest, skirting along a rolling ridge-line that overlooked an expanse of grey/green glacier run-off that sliced through the valley floor far below us.

We stopped for lunch in a small clearing just off the trail and watched clouds pass over ominous peaks that towered above rippling glaciers.  It was surreal, and yet at the same time we knew there was no where else that we should have been right then.  We were well rested after lunch, and we shouldered our packs for another few hours of hiking.  Here on day two, our hips were sore from the weight of our packs, but we were beginning to find a rhythm.

The trail rolled on, up and down and around, until we reached an enormous bog.  There was no way around it, and we had read about this bog, so we trudged through it, stepping as lightly as we could.  We emerged out the other side muddy and wet, but happy and eager to reach camp.  We saw one more rise that we believed was our last climb of the day, hoping that at the top we would be able to see our camp.  This is a dangerous hope, as any of you with trekking experience know, that can leave you sorely disappointed and discouraged when camp is no where to be seen.  Fortunately for us, when we made it to the top of the outcropping, we looked down on Camp Dickson, and what a sight it was.

The Refugio/bunk house sat nestled near the shoreline of frozen lake.  Emerging behind the lake, and feeding into it, sat a glacier of epic proportions.  It soared into the sky, dominating the landscape.  I had never seen anything like it, yet from looking at the maps we knew that it was tiny in comparison to Glacier Grey that we would encounter in the following days.

We scrambled down a steep, loose scree field to the pleasant camp scene below.  As we walked up, a friendly Guacho approached with open arms and a big smile.  "Welcome.  Welcome," he said over and over.  He showed us around the camp-ground, and pointed out the beautiful tent sites.  The sun was shining, and the green, soft grass felt amazing on our tired feet.  Courtney had some blisters that were beginning to take over her entire heels, and the relief on her face when she took her boots off was contagious.  And I instantly felt better too.

Included in our camp fee was a hot shower and access to a small store that sold candy, beer, wine, and crackers.  It was kind of funny.  Here we were in the middle of nowhere Patagonia, sitting with our feet up after a shower, enjoying a glass of wine, and looking out over one of the most magnificent scenes I had ever seen.  Every once in a while, we would simply look over at each other and laugh in disbelief that we were actually there.

We enjoyed the beautiful weather while it lasted.  Eventually, later that evening, it began to drizzle.  It didn't let up for a couple of days.  That night, in the dripping rain, our friend Will caught up to us.  Will had been studying abroad in Montevideo, Uruguay, and when he found out from his girlfriend back in the states (a good friend of Courtney's) that we would be back-packing in Torres del Paine, he was quick to join us!  We were happy to spend some time on the trail with him, and when he finally walked into camp that night, we were relieved to not have to leave in search for him.  We knew he was on his way, but had no idea where he was.  He had left from the Ranger Station early that morning in hopes of finding us.  He had hiked quite a way, and was very happy to be at camp, as I'm sure you can imagine.  We sat with him as he regaled us with tales of his own journey over the ground we had just covered.  He would be hiking with us for the next few days, so our small group of travelers grew by one that night.  

After another glass of wine, we crawled into our tent to the lullaby of the soft, feathery rain.  We were ready for the next day.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

day 1, Laguna Amarga to Camp Seron...

We hopped an early morning bus from Erratic Rock II @ 7:30.  It picked us up right after a great breakfast that was included with our hostel stay.  We stashed a few things at Erratic Rock II in their free, locked storage unit.  The bus ride was beautiful as we neared the park.  The towers came into view; I've never seen anything like it.  The jagged peaks soared into the air, piercing the clouds hi above.  We arrived at Laguna Amarga, checked in at the ranger station, and began hiking at 10:15 am.  Park Entrance fee was $15,000 CH per person, which comes to about $30 USD each.  We skipped the shuttle ride from the headquarters to the trailhead, and were glad we did.  We hiked along the road for a kilometer or so and then too the right-hand trail heading north on the east side of the towers.  We met Alex, a dutchman who has never camped before!  He seems quite capable, though, and we expect to trek with him for the whole circuit, at least camping in the same spots.  

Camp Seron emerged from beyond the burned landscape (not sure when the burn happened) at 3:00 pm.  The 15km hike took us just under 5 hours...incredible headwind for most of the journey.  Alex, Courtney and I, shortly after arriving to the wind-worn hut that served as base for Camp Seron, began setting up our tents.  Our tent-pole, the main stay, snapped.  Our hearts sunk for several minutes as we contemplated options: turn around and rent a tent back in town, use our fly as a cover, somehow repair the pole?  Alex happened to have a tent-pole repair brace from his rental tent, so we are using that for now.  Good thing the guy with NO experience was prepared.  

We share the area with a local Gaucho.  I wish I spoke better Spanish - enough to gain wisdom from him anyways.  Dinner was mac 'n cheese from home, couscous with veggies, chocolate, and Tang drink.  (Lunch, by the way, was wraps with cheese & salami, trail mix, and bars).  Cost at Seron to pitch a tent was $4000 CH ($8 USD) per person.   

The view of Torres del Paine
Once again, with our faces pressed against a bus window so as not to miss a thing, we travelled southwest, deeper into the Andes.  Our stomachs were full from a fantastic breakfast (the usual fare that you can expect anywhere you go in Patagonia are croissants, orange juice, milk, and some form of cereal...pretty foreign stuff), and we had a great night sleep, our first true sleep in a couple of days.  As I wrote in my journal, the towers that we would be circling for the next week or so came into view when we arrived at the park headquarters.  It was incredible to see the iconic views that we had seen only in pictures up to this point.  Photos didn't do it justice.  Though the Torres del Paine peaks stand in between 2000 and 3000 meters at their highest, they are El Capitan sized rock walls.  These enormous granite spires, climbable only by technical means and by the bravest souls, dominate the landscape.  We were so ready to get on the trail.

We paid our entrance into the park, which was actually pretty expensive at $30 USD or $15,000 CH per person, shouldered our packs, looked back once more at the park headquarters station, and said goodbye to civilization for a while.  The trail begins on a dirt road that is possible to skip by paying for a shuttle.  We opted out of the paid shuttle so that we could take in our surroundings and breath the fresh air for a while.  Courtney, and I and a few other European folks we met on the bus, all began together.  There is a branch-off trail about half a mile up the dirt road that meanders away to the right of the road.  It was quite pleasant, well marked, and allowed us to look out over grasslands that eventually gave way to the mountain ranges of southern Patagonia.

We hiked through a recently burned out forest that was just beginning to show signs of new vegetation pushing up through the ashes.  The trail meandered through rolling foothills.  We breathed deep and long, allowing the new and foreign smells to enter our lungs and purge us of the stale airplane air we had been inhaling for days.  Eventually we crossed into private land and walked past herds of cattle and an occasional group of lamas (actually, I think they are called "guanacos", a relative to the lama and alpaca).  The streams and rivers flowed seemingly on all sides.  There was water everywhere.  The glacier run-off had a particular look and texture it, it even tasted different.  Amazing, actually.  It was almost pastel in color, gray/green, beautiful.  There was no need to treat the water here; the land was perfectly pristine.  We rarely hiked with full water bottles, but instead, shaved weight from our packs by hiking with near-empty bottles and taking sips at every river crossing.

After about 4.5 hours of hiking that afternoon, we caught up to Alex and hiked alongside him the rest of the way to camp.  Alex was a friendly Dutchman, traveling in South America for his 3 month vacation.  Europeans know how to vacation!  He told us that he had never camped before (!) and figured this was as good of a place as any to learn.  He assured us, however, that he hikes all over Holland, and felt prepared for the trip.  He rented all of his gear, from his pack to his tent to his stove, and hit the trail.  Turned out that he was very competent and a quick learner.

We arrived at Camp Seron after about 5 hours of hiking.  The map you receive upon paying your park entrance fee is fairly accurate at time estimation.  The maps show distances and approximate times, and our hiking times matched theirs nearly spot on, nearly every time.  So, if you are wanting to calculate times and distances, the park map is a great resource.  Camp Seron was comprised of tent spots, all on soft grass, and a small shanty where you could buy a hot meal if you wanted.  The hut was run by a man who shared the area with a Guacho, a South American "cowboy".  We watched him handle his horses, working as a team with his trusted dogs.  It was beautiful to watch.  Time felt as if it had slowed down, and that we had entered a different age.

Setting up our tent turned out to be quite the experience.  We have set it up many many times before this trip, we knew what we were doing.  As I pulled a clip that was attached to the body of the tent towards the pole, a hard gust of wind swept through our little meadow.  In an instant, it grabbed the tent body and snapped the pole like a twig.  We stood there, shocked, and speechless.  A broken pole on a trip like this means several things.  It means the trip could be over.  It means we would be sleeping under the stars...or in the rain.  It means we had no shelter.  For a few minutes, we literally just stared at the pole, trying to erase what just happened with sheer will-power.  But the pole remained broken.  Next, we freaked out.  All of the planning, the travel, the money it took to get to where we were!  We had covered all of our bases...except this one.  Since we had bought the tent used a while back, and had used it many times since, I didn't think to check if it came with the simple metal tube used to temporarily "fix" a broken pole.  These metal sleeves simply slide up the pole to the broken section and act as a brace, and they are essential to have in windy conditions.  We had no such piece.

After we freaked out, we went into fix mode.  I tried tape.  Courtney looked for anything sturdy enough to splint our fractured pole.  Nothing.  So, we walked through the camping area and asked our fellow hikers if they had any ideas or anything to fix it.  Everyone was so helpful, so friendly.  We got to know all of our hiking friends that night, a total of 7 people who we would spend the next week with on the trail.  Alex, the inexperienced but capable dutchman, ran to his pack yelling back that he had just the thing.  "Is this what you need?  It came with my rental tent."  He emerged from digging in his pack holding a 4 inch long, shiny, metal sleeve.  It was a tent pole repair brace, worth more than gold in our present situation.  I have never been so relieved.  In an instant, our trip had been saved, or it at least became more comfortable and convenient than it would have been had we not been given the sleeve.  I pleaded with Alex to take the part back if we ever parted ways.  I knew that for the next few days we would be camping at the same areas.  In the north section of the park, campsites are few and far between.  So, even if we weren't actually hiking together, we would at least be camping together.  But, I told him he must take the fix-it part back if he ever decided to hike farther than us.  I hated the thought of his pole breaking somewhere along the trail, while we stayed comfortable with his pole repair.  He promised.  Our tent was saved for the time-being.

We lounged around on the lawn for hours, searching for the perfect spot to avoid the wind that incessantly cut through our camp.  Our mac 'n cheese with couscous tasted great, but the smells coming from inside the cabin of grilled steak and fresh sautéed vegetables detracted from the greatness of our meal!  We had planned on purchasing a meal or two while on the trail, but because of some ATM difficulties, we hit the trail with much less money than we had planned.  We had enough to pay for our campsites and to buy a beer or some wine at a couple refugios along the way, but not enough for meals.  Camp Seron cost $4000 CH per person, NOT per tent.  Keep this in mind if you plan on doing this trek.  You will need some cash.

We slept soundly that night, sheltered from the wind, though every once in a while a gust would slice through camp and bend our tent nearly to the ground.  We had finally arrived, and we were free.