Why this traverse?
text and photos by Marcello Cominetti
Patagonia is usually considered as above all a mountainous region. In reality even though these mountains are incredibly beautiful, they make up only a tiny proportion of this region compared to the vast pampas which so impressed Darwin. He described this land as sterile, monotonous but inexplicably attractive, furrowed by rivers and endless lakes at the base of these mountains, and inhabited by all types of animals.
And what can be said about its coasts? About the sea which Coloane recounted between storms and men, each highly strung, ready to annul the other, whilst exalting in the splendid adventure of life?
And what about the glaciers? Locked into a fortified castle called the Ande
Patagoniche Australi, a labyrinth of fjords carved by a hateful, implacable wind, that, above all else, characterises these places. So when for once this wind doesn't blow you worry something may suddenly happen and you feel tense and alert. And when it rages it is merciless with you and your belongings, just like a cat with a mouse, or even worse.
Sea, glacier-covered mountains, fresh water and sea once again, in a passionate embrace by those who love this area, are our ideal driving force. Our expedition "Patagonia by water" aims to combine all these elements into one, for water dominates and covers all, even if it presents itself in the form of a glacier.
When I first thought about this traverse I imagined a solo voyage, truly selfishly, not to be shared with anyone. But when I got to know Lorenzo Nadali better I immediately thought this could be an experience we could share together. I told him about my idea, avidly, as we were navigating on the Puerto Edèn, a merchant ship which annuls the fact that between Chile's Puerto Montt and Puerto Natales there are no roads or habitats but 1900km of glaciers, wind and water.
Because of a booking error we finished off in the "suite armadores", an enormous cabin with portholes looking out onto the bow, immediately beneath the bridge. For four days we looked at the sea and talked about ourselves - that proved enough and from here we had a comfortable vantage point because what we had always dreamt of was right in front of our eyes: sea and mountains, with not a soul in sight.
I was born by the sea and I've lived on it, in the sense that I've spent a lot of time on it, during my childhood and afterwards. Then I became a mountaineer and guiding people in the mountains has become my livelihood, but I've never forgotten the sea. It's at least as big and as strong as the mountains and equals them in the sense that the two together constitute nature. Since I regard nature as one thing only and just, I truly appreciate every different aspect of it. Fullstop.
I spent a couple of days at Puerto Edèn on Wellington Island where the last 10 Kaweshkar live, the idios renamed alacalufes by the "conquistadores". They live in the Chilean fjords and they move about using their lightweight canoes made of sealskin and thin wooden boards. Experts consider these rustic boats a supreme example of applied construction techniques and they constitute the most advanced form of simple boats in the entire American civilisation.
This is a sufficiently valid motif for us to venture into those waters using a modern and functional canoe, a sort of demonstration of respect towards a people which unfortunately is becoming extinct. We could certainly use a rubber dinghy, but it would be a different thing altogether. And much heavier too, seeing that we'll have to carry everything!
The rest, i.e. the traverse of the Hielo Continal and the possible climb of Cerro Torre are to be viewed from a mountaineer's perspective: nothing exceptional in a certain sense, because it's a bit of what we do every day as Mountain Guides, even if, obviously, we aren't down there very often. These combined constitute something extremely attractive and harmonious, especially if you think of water as fluid in movement let's just hope we don't fall in!
top:the tip of a glacier breaking apart
bottom: Rio la Leona
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