25 januari 2011

Glacier excursion and taking on water over my head

The Beagle Channel

Caleta Olla (to the right) from the ridge

Getting closer to the glacier, but still on the ridge

The last ridge is covering the glacier

Beaver country with a lot of dams.

Signs of beavers were plentyfull

Comming across the last ridge the glacier lake and the glacier welcomed us.

The jagged edge.

Ice floats in the lake.

Colourful moss.

Still life on the beach.

We got back to the dinghy in time, we even had to carry it to the water.

It was calm in the anchorage even if it was blowing outside.

The fishing boat was our neighbour.

The Condor is chased away by gulls.

Impressive souring.

On our lay day in Caleta Olla we made an excursion to a glacier that according to the guide book was supposed to be situated a couple of hours walk inland. You could see the top of it from the anchorage, so we knew it existed. But first Milo started off the Patagonia network on the short wave radio, and finally, Wolfgang was back on the air. He had left the responsibility to run the informal network to Milo and an Australian called Ian while he was on vacation for two to three weeks while he was on "vacation" travelling around Chile. That was more than a month ago and Milo had kept the network running for most days in spite fighting from not being an early bird person. But now she was relieved of her duties and we could again get frequent weather reports from someone positioned with access to internet.

Preparing for an excursion

The day looked reasonable promising with some sunshine but also some ominous looking clouds. The wind was quite strong which was fine for Artimisia 2 since she was well protected behind the tree line. But for our tour with the dinghy to the beach to leeward where the trail to the glacier were supposed to start it could be more a bit of trouble. Not getting there, but coming back. The distance to the leeward beach was about half a nautical mile so even though it was a protected bay the wind kicked up a bit of the sea. So coming back we needed to fight the wind and seas, but that was a later story.

The other challenge was to time our trip with the tide. We needed to do the excursion so the dinghy was accessible both upon arrival and when we wanted come back. We anticipated our walk would take at least five hours so figured to go some hours after high tide so the water was on its way out. Then we could anchor the dinghy in a place and the tide would keep on going out and the dinghy would be safe on dry land. And about seven hours later the tide would be on approximate the same level as upon arrival. That would give us some extra time if something went wrong, and you could always carry the dinghy to the water front if we came early. If we calculated wrong the alternative of going in waist high water was possible, which was not tempting when the temperature was about 8 degrees.

So with my water proofed back pack loaded with camera equipment and hiking boots (my rubber boots was on for the dinghy ride) we took off around eleven o'clock and calculated to be back at the beach before five o'clock pm. The first challenge was to find the start of the trail. The beach was long and there were several possible trails starting but none of them felt as the right one. So we went on and photographed some large chunks ice that had floated ashore. I also took some marks on the water surface on an island of the beach to make sure the tidal calculations were right, that the water level was actually sinking and not rising. And at the end of the beach we saw a Chilean flag painted on a tree trunk, that was a dead giveaway for a trail start and our first real long hike inland could start.

Finding the trail

It very soon became obvious that the rubber boots were more appropriate for the hike than hiking boots since the ground was very moist with mainly different types of moss that you sometimes sunk down in to the ankles with a squashy sound indicating water. So I left the hiking boots behind to be picked up on the way back. The trail led upwards following a ridge and soon we emerged from the tree line and had a beautiful view all the way around. We could see the boat in the protected bay and the dinghy on the dry land off the beach. We could also see the whole canal with its snow covered mountain tops. And if we turned in the direction of the trail we could see the glacier, not all of it yet. The base was still below the mountain ridge in front of us. But we could still see the size and beauty of it.

The trail continued to lead upwards and although it sometimes was hard to follow, enough people from charter boats visiting had walked it to make marks. And every now and then a red marker was hanging from a tree reassuring us that we were on the right track. As long as we walked on the ridge there were no real issue of needing the trail either, the general direction was given since the target for the hike was in sight, it was more to choose the easiest track that the trail was giving help.

Losing the trail

But after an hour of walking things got more complicated. The ridge started to become heavy forested and we ended up in a place where the direction of the trail was not obvious. It could go on into the forested area of the ridge, or it could lead down a very steep slope down into the valley below us. The path were more likely to be a creek created by water tumbling down the side of the ridge in heavy rain, it was too steep and tricky for "charter tourists". But if you looked at the glacier in a distance it looked like you had to pass the valley some time to get up on the next ridge that was the last obstacle before the glacier. So we opted for climbing down and into the forested valley.

After climbing/sliding down for more than hundred meters we were at the base and started to look for a trail again. I do not know if we found one but at least we went in the right general direction. And I think the landscape in the valley was constantly reshaped since it was beaver country. Several dams, pointy ends of stubs and some piles of tree trunks in the water showed that. We later heard that beavers were imported to the territory to start fur business for the locals. Unfortunately it turned out that the winters are not cold enough to make the fur have the right quality. So now the beavers are multiplying too fast for their and the environments own good.

After passing over a couple of beaver dam constructions we made it up the final ridge and definitely found the trail again. It led out of the forest and the glacier appeared with all its mighty and a complementing lake by its base. In the lake a collection of small ice bergs was lingering that had broken off the jagged edge of the glacier. We sat down for enjoying the view while eating our snacks and drinking water. The sun was shining and we were in the lee of the wind, so we could get rid of some of the layers of clothing needed and in a t-shirt we could just sit there and be absorbed by the environment.


The break did not last for long though since we realized the time was late and we had to head back to be sure the dinghy was not unreachable when we got back. But backtracking was harder than we anticipated and soon we lost the trail. It was no problem to find the bottom of the ridge we had arrived on, but finding the way up the ridge was harder. It was very steep and the forest by the foot was hard to walk through so we started to climb upwards. We knew it was earlier than the spot we had come down through, but it made sense by the time.

We reached the top of the ridge, but it was not without effort or danger, and large parts of the stretch were more rock climbing than hiking. Standing up straight you always could touch the side with your hand, so it was steep. The technique was to find the creek paths that water hade made during heavy rain fall, those paths usually had exposed roots and some trees to hang on to. After reaching the top of the ridge, the rest was a piece of cake. Even though we had to pass some areas of bushes, wet land and dense forest we always knew that as long we followed the ridge we would eventually rejoined the trail.

And sure enough, soon we were on the beaten track again and the rest of the descent went easy. We stopped for a breather and to take some photos, otherwise we hold up the pace. I felt good that my back had not giving me any trouble during the excursion, which was a good sign (even though I could feel it in the evening and the following day). And the dinghy was still on dry land waiting for us.

Back to the boat

The wind had decreased somewhat so the rowing back was not that bad as we had feared, but sitting in the front I still got soaked by the waves splatting against the bow. Coming back we also talked to the fishing boat that used the same anchorage. They had been there for six days going out on daytrips to fish. As soon they had enough fish they were heading back to their home port, Punta Arenas. As I was looking at the fishing boat I saw a Condor landing on the hill behind them. It was sitting there for quite some time before a flock of sea gulls aggressively chased it away. It was impressive to see the huge bird lifting and spreading its wings and soar away to higher grounds.

It was great to finally move around inland, and the scenery had been spectacular. So we slept well that night and skipped the Patagonian network the following morning. When we woke up we had company of another yacht for the first time in an anchorage since we left Puerto Montt two months earlier. It was a Polish charter boat and as we leaving in pouring rain, we could see the guests sitting in their dinghy on their way to the beach for a walk to the glacier. We knew what they were in for, and a day with pouring rain was not ideal for that excursion.

Hail and snow

We had a good wind pushing us closer towards our final destination. Only one more Caleta before we reached Puerto Williams to clear out from Chile and the daytrip to our final destination, Ushuaia in Argentina. On the way we passed an Armada compound where we reported our plans and Milo had to persuade them to allow us to go to Caleta Eugenio even if it was not on their list for approved Caletas. The alternatives were either not good enough in the strong wind we had, or too close to Caleta Olla (no point in moving).

After the downpour at the start things improved for a couple of hours before it got real nasty again. In the afternoon we had heavy wind that was very gusty in the snow and hail showers that made the sail miserable. It was a bumpy ride but we had now entered the Beagle Channel. And we only covered 25 nautical miles so it was a short distance. We sneaked in to the Caleta Eugenio between some islands that gave good protection and in the anchorage it was almost calm. We decided to have a stern anchor, two lines forward and one spring ashore.

Anchor trouble

Milo went in the dinghy with one of the 100-meters line and secured it to a good tree ashore. When she was ready I motored in towards the small bay and dropped the stern anchor attached to an "Ankorlina" role (sail tie like line). When Milo came close I had a bit too much speed so before meeting up with her to take the line from her up forward, I put the engine in reverse for a brief moment to slow the boat down, and then put it in neutral. Or, that was what I thought I did. The gear shift was not that smooth and I had not pushed it that last bit to disengage. I noticed that after I had received the line from Milo and fastened it on a cleat. On my way back to the cockpit I thought it was strange that the anchor line was tight. After realizing what was happening I threw myself on the gear shift but of course it was all too late. I had done the classic beginners mistake and tangled the anchor line around the propeller shaft. Something that often is impossible to untangle and at a minimum requires a long dive under the boat.

As we reviewed the situation I realized that I most likely had to take a swim in 8 degrees water. Milo had a wet suit, but this was my doing and going in the water with clothes on was a bit like having a wet suit. But at least I wanted to have a go on top of the surface first. So I positioned myself in the dingy and tried to have a calm holistic view of things. The first thing was to loosen the forward lines so we could tie the anchor line on to a cleat. That freed up "both" ends tangled around the shaft without having any pressure on them. The plan we then came up with was for Milo to go down under the bed in the aft cabin where she could reach the propeller shaft inside the boat. I was sitting in the dinghy knocking on the hull once for stop, two times for turn clockwise, three times for anticlockwise and five times for "we need to talk". With that communication the worst tangle started to unwind. A lot of the twisting seemed to be behind the shaft, the line was twisted around itself.

Time for a head dip

Slowly the twisting part of the line disappeared under the boat as more and more got untangled. A lot of the twist seemed to be unraveled but it all came to a halt when the turning of the shaft resulted in that the ends became tighter rather than looser. And turning the other direction resulted in the same. We had come to the end of the road, the rest was tangled around the shaft. The good thing was that Milo had been able to turn the shaft by hand all the time. That meant that the mess around the shaft could not be too extensive. The bad thing was that it was now time for me to have a close encounter to the 8 degree water.

But before I was going to dive in it was good to have a look under water. So with a Cyclops eye I positioned myself in the dinghy and while holding one hand on the rail I poked my head under the water. It was not the most pleasant experience and I could see that the white line was wrapped around the propeller and the shaft. I was not down long enough to get a good picture. So an improvement for next head dip was to put a fleece cap on my head. And during the next visit with my head under the water I realized that to get a good look I needed to dip more than my head, so the shoulders got wet then as well.

But I could see enough to see it was worthwhile to try to keep on turning the shaft while I tried to work the ends of the line from the dinghy with my head under water. So with the knocking system and more and more of my body hanging down in the water from the dinghy, the line started to slowly unravel from the shaft and propeller. I had started to get used to the thought of going swimming in Patagonia, but as the work went on I started to realize that it might not be necessary. And after a dozen head dips the line came free. I was soaked from the torso and up, but that was all, nothing that the heater that was burning down below wouldn't fix in a minute. My adventures in Patagonia would not involve a swim after all!!

The following morning we left as if nothing had happened the evening before (and I wish it had not). The destination was Puerto Williams where we only should make a brief stop to clear out before going to our final destination Ushuaia. But we would remain there for a week and endure a storm that a crushed the glass of the steering station on a cruise ship and sank a Polish sailboat with two dead as a result. But more on that in the next entry.

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