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reveries of an amateur long-distance hiker

In Patagonia Day 21

March 11th, 2018

In Patagonia Day 21
El Chaltén—Puerto Natalas

A transition day in preparation for a new phase of Patagonian peregrinations. Passing back through El Calatafe on my way back to Puerto Natales gave me a chance to reflect on the trekking culture I’ve been witnessing here which is much different from the long distance hiking world I know best. To state the obvious, no one here is off on a 2000 mile thru hike, so people’s attitudes, expectations, and mein are quite different. There are the kids—college-age big backpack hustlers off for the most experiences at the cheapest price. They are fascinating to watch and listen to—rapid information transfer about the best way to get by, keep costs down, and extend the trip. More often when they head off on an extended hike it is to sleep in a tent and avoid hostel fees. The opposite end are the upscale all-inclusive experience purchasers, those for whom glamping is roughing it. But the folks in the middle are an interesting lot. There are experienced world travelers with their worn gear (usually Deuter), who know how to get what needs doing done, know their capabilities and plan accordingly. They are the ones who smile knowingly at a campsite when all is properly pitched and the evening settles in. But the others in this middle group I find most interesting are the newbies. Brand new equipment, usually in groups of four or more and often with guides, even for a day hike. You see their pain going up a steep grade and their joy when arriving at an overlook or a peak. This is group that is transitioning their experience of the big outside —no longer just looking at it but instead being in it—and their excitement is palpable. Some just suffer and return to nature documentaries on television, but others learn the satisfaction of the path, the rhythmic pleasure of walking. Yes, the views are great, as are the occasional sightings of giant woodpeckers or foxes (saw both in the last two days), but, cliches aside, it all is heightened, indeed determined, by being in that world rather than just seeing it through a lens frame or on a screen (see Brutal Beauty).

T. Hugh Crawford