Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Patagonia: Swept Away

I tossed in my sleeping bag as we became stormbound.  I listened to the dusk outside, just beyond the single thin layer of nylon separating us from the forces of mother nature beyond.

Spending some time in the tent.
The wind announced its arrival with a blast just up the valley that sounded like a landing jet aircraft.  Moments later it reached our campsite, viciously pummeling the tent walls.  The tent heaved under the strain of the successive 60mph gusts, the windward wall intruding into our sleeping area.  The guy lines tensioned and shifted with the repeated loading like 2 millimeter nylon tightropes strung between the tent wall and the 75 pound piles of rocks to which they were anchored.  The low rock wall we laboriously erected around the tent as a wind break served only to taunt the wind further, offering no real reprieve.

And then there was the sand.  We were camped on a glacial moraine composed almost exclusively of two things:  boulders and sand.  The latter permeated everything, coating every surface, having worked its way into every crevice.  With each gust sand was pushed over and through the tent, the mesh ventilation ports serving merely as a sieve for the tiniest particles.  I could hear the sky announcing the arrival of the next gust; I rolled over and waited for it to again push the tent walls in and dust my sleeping bag with yet more sand.

As the night grew inexorably toward morning, the wind brought with it increasing moisture.  The rain never seemed excessive, merely constant.  The gusts of wind became less severed and instead assumed a reduced but constant pace.  The continuous driving force peppered the tent with the tiniest of water droplets, tiny balls of ice that had only just transformed to water as they descended to our altitude.  The temperature hovered a few degrees above freezing, ensuring that any trip beyond the zippered porthole of the tent resulted in shivering or sopping, numb fingertips.  The dull lull of the rain changed to hard pelting on occasion with a driving gust, the wind not wanting to be entirely forgotten.

I played a game with myself, attempting to strike the perfect balance between avoiding dehydration as well as the urge to urinate.  Eventually, the pee bottle needed to be emptied or the water bottle refilled from the glacial stream.  It was impossible to win this game.

Every few hours we shouted at each other through the walls of our team’s two tents.  We discussed the weather, checked the forecast on the satellite phone, and conjectured bout when we might leave the tents and continue onward.  With each passing moment, it was easy to recognize our finite supply of time slipping away, yet it grew harder to leave the shelter of our bright yellow havens.

The rain turned to graupel as the wind increased.  Piles of ice pellets and even tiny snowflakes formed at the edges of the tent vestibule as the temperature in the tent’s interior dropped noticeably.  We joked through the tent walls about the great sunbathing to be had at either respective location.  I was grateful for the shelter.

The next gust of wind was particularly fierce, seemingly inflating the tent floor beneath me and my sleeping bag.  The gauchos have a Spanish colloquialism for wind like this, calling it la escoba de dios--the broom of God.  Curled in my sleeping bag on the ground, I contemplated this expression for a moment.  I did not want to be swept away.

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