I’m planning three weeks of fairly straightforward hiking in Argentina – leaving Sunday January 19th 2009. Just for fun I thought I’d share whats involved in this process.
What does hiking have to do with making? Several things I believe:
- Sets values. Being in the real world does help reconnect values. This is an intangible but there’s a sense of understanding and purpose; it feels like a deep purpose of life is to explore and this seems to emerge best when hiking.
- Improved planning skills ( with sharp slaps for failure ). Most of us don’t really plan; we might plan loosely for the next day or two but we don’t build highly detailed tactical plans that try to encompass all behavior for a three or four day event. In this there are certain lessons that the world speaks to you that are sometimes forgotten in urban environments. Being good at trip planning is a skill that transfers well to managing other projects. If you forget any little thing in the city – you can just walk into the nearest store. On a mountain trail such simple oversights might severely impair your quality of life. What makes this more extreme is that you usually have much narrower margins of failure. If you lose a headlamp you may end up camped out on a ledge until the sun rises. If you break a water hose you may end up severely dehydrated progressively getting headaches and then hallucinations until hopefully somebody else comes along.
- Cartography. There’s a wonderful relationship between hiking and mapping – one that hasn’t yet really surfaced in consumer apps because hikers prefer to spend their time outside rather than programming. Of course maps are invaluable. If you failed to plan your routing you pretty much end up losing a day or two days of your trip; or even have to bail (as I have had to do when I couldn’t route find my way to a trail due to storms having washed away all the markers ). Even failing to read map elevation gains can hamper trips.
- Documentation. If we look at the gear breakdown the stuff related to metadata, documentation, photos and paperwork actually has the highest number of discrete parts. It shows how meta a process is; that the real work of hiking and eating and seeing pretty things is simpler than the parts required to help with managing that hiking and eating and seeing.
For me the most important part of the process is gear selection. This means basically everything you are going to carry for your entire trip. It is a careful balance of weight and desire – based often on previous experience. My gear list looks like this:
Here’s my gear list in it’s entirely to give you a sense of the basics here:
- Kitchen Hardware consists of gasoline from petrol station for stove; you can also get solvent from hobby stores and there is one in bariloche ♥ swiss army knife ♥ a spoon ( Theo who i hike with will endlessly bitch about this if i do not have it ) ♥ water pack with a nipple that cannot fall off ( i lost one once and it sucked ) ♥ water purification kit ♥ water purification kit scrubbie for cleaning filter when it gets dirty (and for washing pots too) ♥ water purification extra hose ♥ water pack extra cap ♥ ziplocks ♥ 3 lighters distributed in various places through-out gear ♥ msr stove ( burns white gas, unleaded fuel, kerosene, airplane fuel, hobby store solvent ) ♥ pots ( the stove is transported in the pots ) ♥ msr stove cleaning kit ( frequent cleaning is required when burning unleaded gas ) ♥ msr stove extra fuel bottle cap ♥ msr pot handle ♥ msr bottles for fuel; very clean to pass airport inspections ( one could fill it with milk to pass inspections ) ♥ emergency ultralight stove ( basically looks like the bottom of a pop or soda can ) ♥ extra water bottle cap ♥ soap for washing dishes if you wish; important in bear country; can also use it to wash your hair and body
- Food in turn consists of 2 liters of water at least prior to trip; plan to filter and refill on the trail – it just isn’t possible to carry enough water in. ♥ A couple of small emergency things such as chocolate, oatmeal. I carry an MRE as well. ♥ Trail-mix; you want to basically just always be eating on the trail ♥ Hot Chocolate and Chocolate ( make friends instantly ) ♥ Strong Alcohol ( make friends instantly ) ♥ General day to day food plan ( see trail planning ). Food is such a big issue that it’s beyond the scope of discussing here – see below.
- Clothing consists of foremost the best possible pair of hiking boots – broken in. ♥ A fully hardened very serious waterproof jacket; I use an MEC jacket but REI sells suitable gear as well. ♥ Lots of pairs of socks; smart-wool; you can survive almost anything if you have enough pairs of socks. ♥ A t-shirt ♥ 2 pairs of underwear ♥ A took ( a warm fuzzy hat; you can wear one with a brim if you want – I do not bother with that. ) ♥ A stuff sack Lightweight waterproof pants ( can be worn in town as well as on the trail ) ♥ Fleece pants or some other kind of pant to wear under the waterproof pants or on cold mornings; mine have size zips. ♥ Warm gloves ♥ Extra shoelaces *** ♥ Fast drying undershirts – usually I get high performance fabrics for this from outdoor stores *** ♥ Gaitors ♥ Ice Axe ♥ Crampons
- Bigger gear includes a backpack; 60 pound capacity ♥ Ultralight inflatable sleeping pad; absolutely crucial to prevent soreness that will seriously hamper performance. ♥ Reasonably good sleeping bag – I have a 750 fill 0 degrees fahrenheit bag for summer; I prefer to overcompensate but you can just wear clothes to bed.
- Toiletries include lots of ziplock baggies. ♥ Toothbrush and toothpaste ♥ Extra business cards to stick in things in case they get left somewhere. ♥ Sunglasses *** ♥ Sunblock *** ♥ Blister Pads for your heels ♥ Salves and unguents as required such as hydrocortizone for irritated skin ♥ Toilet Paper ♥ Visine ♥ Glasses ♥ Extra Contacts ♥ Eye Solution ♥ Comb ♥ Emergency kit with gauze, antibiotics, bandaids, needle ♥ Aspirin ♥ toenail clippers ♥ Hydroblok for boots ( apply before leaving for trip ) ♥ A disposable razor
- Data and Electronic Gear includes Weather Forecasts ( it’s actually basically impossible to predict the weather in Patagonia ) ♥ Travel Insurance *** ♥ Petzl LED Headlamp with red filter – 2 of them *** ♥ Extra batteries for Headlamp *** ♥ Three pens; distributed throughout gear in convenient places ♥ Canadian Passport ♥ American Passport ( I carry both; maybe when Obama repairs our image I will carry just the American. ) ♥ Highly detailed topographic maps ( you have to often buy these when in the country or area ) ♥ GPS data logs of the harder trails already loaded onto GPS ♥ A cheap watch with a timer ( crucial for the early morning hike to meet a bus or transit schedule ) ♥ Canon sd1100 camera ( seems to have the best image quality ) ♥ Canon battery extra ( you don’t want to run out of battery on the trail ) *** ♥ Canon 4gb memory cards ( 2 or more ) *** ♥ Camera charger ♥ Camera Cable ♥ Power outlet converter ♥ IPhone 3G ♥ IPhone wall jack power outlet and cable ♥ IPhone headphones ♥ Netbook for uploading photos while on trip ( so that you can flush your memory cards for more pictures ) ♥ A gps ( etrex legend ) ♥ A backup gps ( garmin gecko – don’t rely on your phone ) ♥ An analog compass ( basically useless but whatever ) ♥ A book like Jean Baudrillard ‘Simulations’ (something incredibly dense and chewy) ♥ A book on the region ( in my case Lonely Planet’s Trekking around Argentina and Patagonia – out of date but good )
Having the tools for the job is one thing. The next phase is to actually plan out what to do. Each of these trips requires knowing a few key factors. In Argentina the specific issues are usually;
- Some understanding of spanish (mine is poor so I will try cram on the flight a bit more)
- Local cash (which I will try get in Buenos Aires)
- Bus Schedules?
- Passport issues?
- Passes required?
- Food stores – where? Do they have what you need? Can you refill enroute?
- Gas station – where? Will they let you fill up?
- Hostel – actually I’ll probably stay at the Hotel Venecia.
Researching the immigration issues and the like; there don’t seem to be any particular problems for Argentina this year. There is a new reciprocity visa fee but it looks like it is not being enforced yet. I don’t see a need for shots or anything like that either. There are some passes to be purchased for the hikes but I think this can be done in Bariloche best. The actual navigation to the hostel, the gas station and the like are well documented in local maps of the area; so I think I can manage this as well. Busses look more complicated. For the first hikes there are hourly busses, for other hikes it looks like I have to plan to leave at 9 am ( there being only one bus per day ). Overall I have a mental checklist of these issues and they seem to be resolved.
Food tends to be a bit harder. Here’s some pretty picky advice on the subject. On previous trips I’ve done something like oatmeal for breakfast, light lunch like nuts and fruit and the like, and then noodles for dinner; usually with little bits of sausage thrown in or whatever else I’ve found at the stores in town before going to the trail-head. This is all washed down with lots of hot chocolate and tea and the like. This trip I’m going to be bringing powdered hummus and couscous and will see how this serves me for dinner. Generally if I’m out for a 4 night hike that means 2 pounds a day of food or 6 pounds of food. For me this would mean planning like so:
- lunch day and snacking 1; dried nuts; dried fruit (acquired locally due to import regulations), odwalla bars (i have yet to make my own bars)
- dinner day 1; couscous, tuna, sun-dried tomatoes, sliced dried mushrooms, lots of hot chocolate
- breakfast day 2; lots of oatmeal with brown sugar (although I’m tempted to try make a single huge pancake actually one of these days)
- lunch day 2: more random snacking; nuts and fruits basically
- dinner day 2; noodle soup mix (egg noodles, red peppers, sausage, spices )
- breakfast day 3; sweet couscous (i’m actually bringing quinoa to see how it works)
- dinner day 3: split pea soup (soak the peas the previous night) for example see here.
- breakfast day 4; oatmeal
Each of the trips is a variation on this theme. I may bring an emergency MRE but I don’t bring a lot of extra food because it’s ok to starve; not a big deal if you don’t eat for a day or so – it will affect performance but you will live; whereas carrying another couple of pounds of food can really make the entire hike unpleasant.
For hikes here’s what I am thinking in this trip:
- Paso de las Nubes. Here are my friends on it (although I suspect they mixed into something else). It’s rated as easy and busy – but may be a good first hike in the area. This is well marked. Basically you fly to Bariloche, goto CAB and get detailed topo maps, goto the gas station and get fuel, goto the store and get 3 days of meal planning. You can try to catch a bus at 9:00 AM in front of CAB ( CAB is HERE ); but ideally you’d be able to catch some other bus? ( Unknown ). In any case it’s a 2.5 hour ride and you end up in Pampa Linda. Hike and camp for two nights; the third day you reach a lake. Get your passport checked by the AR customs and then there’s a small boat and a small bus that takes you to a big boat that takes you along Nauel Huapi back to to civilization; Llao Llao and or Bariloche. There’s a possibility of a non-solo trip up Negra here as well. Bus schedules help save time.
- Pampa Linda. A four day trek; looks pretty – and hard. Probably too hard to solo.
- Nahel Huapi Traverse. This is a popular hike that I’ve done before but there’s an extension I would like to try ( that is actually a bit dangerous ) . It’s a good first hike because it doesn’t require waiting a day for the bus – it can be hiked from Villa Catedral and there’s an hourly bus there from Bariloche.
- Italia to Jacob . This starts in Colonia Suissa ( Swiss ) and ends up in the Bariloche area. It is hard – especially the pass can be dangerous if the weather goes ( and it always does ) and not a good solo. It’s basically the reverse of the Nahuel Huapi Traverse with the extension I want to try.
- Once past the first few days there are many opportunities that await including Lanin, Puyehe ( Hot Springs and incredibly pretty ), Banos de Caulle, Fitzroy (beautiful), Torres (also beautiful ).
It so happens that on my trip these all link together in a chain of options. We have some default choices and then break-outs to quick exits, and or extended routes depending on the weather. Overall I see actually only three hikes (with a lot of small side routes that I will likely do a few of):
- Our first trip on January 19th 2009 is a variation of the Nahuel Huapi Traverse. Arriving in Bariloche I quickly grab some things and stow my extra food back at the hostel. I then hit the trail the same day. We stay at the Hotel Valencia on this trip.
- This puts us back into town on probably January 23nd. At this point we stay one night in town and then want to rush back out – probably I end up doing Pasa de las Nubes by myself next. This puts me back into Bariloche on the 27th of January.
- By this time I should be conditioned so I can go and do something larger. However I stop in town for a day and I plan that leg and let my body recover. The Torres and Fitzroy are highly photogenic and worth doing. The end of the trip should ideally wrap up Feb 8th and at which point I fly back to Buenos Aires and say hi to a few twitter friends.
[ Title photo is of Cerro Fitz Roy, Argentina/Chile courtesy of Anselm. Cerro Fitz Roy is located near the El Chaltén village, in the Southern Patagonian Ice Field, in Patagonia, on the border between Argentina and Chile. ]
Here´s a small addendum post trip (which I am writing from an internet cafe in Osorno, Chile while waiting for a bus to Bariloche). Key things that could have been improved;
- Lighter Pack. After the first trek I ended up carrying a lot less clothing. Instead of a fleece jacket I just carried a lighter weight long sleeved shirt. Instead of fleece pants I carried thermal underwear. I halved the size of my odds and ends bag. Overall I cut down multiple pounds.
- Waterproofing. Although I tried to get a waterproof pack I was unable to get one on short notice. This was probably the biggest mistake. As soon as I get home I am going to buy an Arcteryx Naos55 . I compensated by carrying garbage bags and trying to keep my bag and clothing dry but basically it rained on every trek, and immediately after raining I ended up carrying an extra 2 or 3 pounds of wet soaking waterlogged pack and clothing. It was ridiculous. By limiting myself to a 55 pound bag also I will limit how much stuff I carry.
- Transportation and Routing. Another huge issue was the complexity of bus and route planning between hikes. I believe that the top four concerns in bigger treks now are food planning, route planning, transportation planning and pack planning. I hit two serious snags that worked together to waste days of my time. First that the busses between Argentina and Chile are complicated: always completely full and always often require a days notice due to passport manifest filings. Secondly that I made the serious mistake of booking my flight segments through Travelocity in such a way that they were a single ticket. This meant that although I had to take my own taxi between international and domestic airports, and take different carriers, I was unable to drop or adjust any segment due to the limitations of the Travelocity booking system. I tried to completely drop a segment and Travelocity refused to let me do so – wanting to charge me $1800 for the privilege. Needless to say I will never make the mistake of using Travelocity again. I could have booked my segments myself and would have been free to walk away from segments I did not want.
- Clothing. I am going to switch to icebreaker wool clothing because although wool has a bad reputation the new wools are actually quite good and consistent. In particular they stay warm when wet, they do not retain odor, and if you wear them to bed then you can have a lighter sleeping bag. My synthetics started to accumulate odor and would not let go despite repeated washings.
- Food. Food overall was good. The couscous and hummus were fantastic although the quinoa was a failure. I would soak peas and add them to the couscous and would use a tomato soup base with parmason. Very excellent. The main thing I started to crave was pure sugar. By the last hike I was carrying multiple boxes of cookies and sweet drink powder and chocolate bars. I also became an eating machine. After two weeks of hiking almost every day it was astounding how much food I could eat.
- Sunscreen. I bought a 40spf long sleeved fishing shirt and a better wide brimmed hat and a bandana to cover my neck. This was on my friends recommendation. And it was a huge difference in performance. I could walk in any kind of weather and do well.
- Speed. I routinely was doing treks twice as fast as the books were saying. I finally decided that in fact these books are quite conservative and have built up better estimations of what I can do. If I carry 6 days of food but do the trek in 3 days then it is a waste of energy to carry all that extra food ( although I would often double up meals – leaving camp at 6 or 7 am, hiking for several hours, stopping, eating a full meal, sleeping, waking up again, eating another full meal, and then sleeping till the morning ).
- Money. Carry more cash next time I think is the rule. There was a case where I wanted to take a ferry but could not because it was very expensive – but it would have saved me a couple of days of down time (which granted I needed between hikes anyway).
- Camera. My camera did survive but it was touch and go. Next time I will try find my waterproof shockproof Olympus 770 and take that instead. I brought a piece of crap canon sd1000 which although taking better pictures than the Olympus – is simply badly designed – having a mechanized lens that grinds its way open and closed every time it is used. The dusty environments destroy these cameras (I have gone through several over the years).
- Data and Information. I ended up reporting to friends where I was via http://twitter.com/anselm and I posted pictures live to http://flickr.com/photos/anselmhook . This all worked extremely well. I was extremely happy with the choice to bring my iphone instead of a computer, and it was hugely helpful in hooking up with friends while on the road. I still haven´t seen my phone bill yet but I did purchase voice and data plans for Chile and Argentina. A secret tip is that if you call AT&T through the ordinary customer service they are only open from 9 to 5 on weekdays but if you call them on their business world line customer service thing they will answer with a human voice immediately. One of the biggest trip issues was data, and having the web handy was such a life saver. I also had all of the lonely planet books on PDF (yes I bought them) so this was also very helpful. I would stop at an internet cafe and print out trail guides just before the treks. In the future I may even be able to print out maps rather than always stopping at the CONAF or the CAB to pick up maps. Overall I still had only a dim sense of awareness of each of the cities I stopped in – and that could be improved – but the treks themselves were fairly clear.
- GPS. It was a lifesaver, especially in fog. I will try get better route maps next time.
- Hiking Poles. I will take hiking poles next time. I was able to carry almost perfectly shaped and perfectly lightweight bamboo poles that I made myself at the start of each trek, but this is not possible in other parts of the world such as Tasmania. They are a huge performance boost and save knees. In the future this will be part of the kit.