This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.
The sea surges to my knees as I wade around the slippery rocks. The salt stings a thousand tiny cuts on my legs. The wind throws fistfulls of rain in my face. You are made up of mostly water, I remind myself. This is your element.
Cabo Froward lies some thirty kilometers south of where the road ends. It’s the furthest south point on the American continent. It’s not easy to get to- three large rivers, two only crossable at low tide, bushwacking, scrambling and the ever present changing tide lie between us and the white cross that marks the end of the world. A taxi driver drops us at the end of the road a little after lunch. A few pack adjustments and we are off. It’s an hour and a half on the beach to the lighthouse, our first landmark. A seal sits on the edge of the beach and I almost walk right up to him before Shake’nBake notices. He starts to call out bear before he realizes what he is seeing. Luckily our new friend isn’t offended by this and allows us to take his picture. We get our first taste of the famous Patagonia wind at the lighthouse. We huddle on the leeward side. Old habits die hard and within seconds of stopping, I am shoving food in my face. Then, we are in the forest, back to the beach and onto the first river. This one is crossable by log jam, never my favourite. Oh well. Soon, I am safe on the other side. We hop between beach and forest. The forest is a tangle of roots and blow downs, steep uphill and steeper downs, so we don’t make much better time than on the slippery, soft, Sandy beach. It starts to rain hard as we make our way up the final hill for the day. The trail soon turns to marsh and our feet are instantly soaked. The wind howls, the way it always does down here, and I am chilled to the bone. We make a little campsite on the edge of the beach by the second river just before dark. Still jetlagged, I sleep late. There’s no point waking up anyway, when we have to wait for the tide. We pack up slowly and make our way down to the river, finding a spot out of the wind to wait. We study the water: there appears to be no good way to cross, but as the tide drops, it reveals sandbars and shallower channels. Shake’nBake goes first and Tom and I follow after. When I see the water reach mid thigh on Shake’nBake, I know I’m about to get very wet. The water, ice cold, climbs towards my waist, but no higher. Then, we are safe on the other side, drying off and watching dolphins splash in the bay. Then we are in the forest again. I lead the charge, scrambling up steep dirt, gripping branches and tree roots. This is more climbing than hiking, and I am suddenly very greatful for my time in the rock gym this winter. The third river is nothing major. It barely reaches my knees and I don’t even bother waiting for the boys before I wade across. On the other side, the friendly beach we know ends. The trail has gotten progressively rougher, the closer we get to the cross. Now, we have to scramble over sharp rock, coated with seaweed and slime. The tide has come up and it surges into the gaps between the stones. I don’t think about slipping and falling into the waves below. Finally, we reach another pebble beach and find a campsite out of the wind. We wake up early, to pouring rain. We leave most of our stuff at the campsite and start the final trek to the cross. The tide is coming in, splashing over the slippery rocks. At some points, it is easier for me to venture into the waves themselves. The waves tug at my ankles and the salt stings my cuts. I am so cold I can’t stop hiking. The trail gets rougher- we have our first real scramble by a sea stack, climbing grippy sandstone. Still the rain comes down. Then, an impossible section of beach. The only way around is up a cliff- dirt and roots to start with, and then sheer rock. A rope hangs down and I don’t hesitate- no time to get nervous. I haul myself up the dirt with no problems, but hand holds and footholds are scarce on the rock and it takes me a minute of thinking through the problem before I am at the top, the wind whipping the words of encouragement I shout down to the boys away. Then we are at the base of the cross. We have a final 300m climb and we leave the trees quickly. The wind and rain pummeled us, and the trail has turned to mud. A few times I step in a puddle to my knee. But then we are up. We take a few celebratory pictures and then the Wind drives us back down to the shelter of the trees. Then it is back the way we came. Over the same slippy rock, downclimbing the cliff. We reach our camp as the weather starts to break, packing up quickly. Then we reach river 3. The rain has swollen it- it churns muddy, much higher than before. Shake’nBake starts to cross, then backs out. “We need to link up for this,” he tells us. Tom forms the other end of our V and we head into the water. Midway, my feet start to float as the current takes me. I grip Shake N Bake tighter and then I am through, safe on the other bank. We hike down the beach to camp by river 2, which will let us make the morning tide. We wake up early for 6am low tide. This river is higher too- it passes my belly button as I wade across. I lose feeling from my waist down from the cold. And then it is just retracing our footsteps. We have a few misadventures- we lost the trail a little and hit an impossible section of shoreline, but we easily backtrack. In another section, I take the forest where the boys take the beach and get stuck on an unstable cliff, half butt sliding and half falling, terrified, to the beach below. But we make it to the lighthouse as the group’s of daytrippers are starting to leave, and Tom works his Spanish speaking magic to wrangle us a ride to town, where hot showers and cheeseburgers are waiting.