With Checho now leading, the steep route took us scrambling up and over small unexposed ledges and through choked brush. As we neared what appeared to be the top it was getting harder and harder for me to contain my anticipation. The view had to be unbelievable. Crashing through one last stand of intertwined brambles our excitement was abruptly broken by a final 40 foot, featureless granite barrier. There were no dead trees to shinny up and even if one of the bent over stunted live ones had been long enough, without a knife or saw there was no way to cut it. Searching for some sort of weakness in the rock, we bushwhacked to the right until confronted by a 250 foot drop off.
Moving left, our hopes slowly dwindling, we came to a large vertical crack. A single chink in the stone gates that guarded the mysterious upper world. The crack was wide enough to squeeze into sideways. Placing our backs against one side and pushing off with our arms and legs, we could safely inch our way within the confines of the opposing walls. After about 15 feet, the crack widened giving way to a steep scree slope laced with roots allowing us to scramble to the top.
Suddenly Checho let out a wild whop. We were standing on top of the world. The emerald colored Futaleufu flowed between snow-capped peaks as far as the eye could see. Everywhere I turned we were in the center of the view. It was the height of fall and a wide swath of brilliant red lenga trees ringed the mountains beneath the snow line.
The top was much bigger then I had thought it would be, about the size of an Olympic swimming pool. In a spontaneous moment we jumped into each others arms and began dancing around like children screaming exuberantly in our native tongues, neither having any idea nor caring, what the other was saying. That there was no easy way back down was now but a distant memory.
We broke our embrace, walked out on a knife-edged face to the right of the main tower and sat down to take it all in.
“magnifico” I said.
“Beautiful” Chech responded.
I’m sure up until that moment he never quite understood why people would travel halfway around the world to visit his little piece of Patagonia. How could he? He was now learning to row a raft on the dangerous river with the unpredictable currents his mother had so often warned him about. That afternoon, in that moment, it probably all started to make sense; all those years of toiling on the land, of enduring one harsh Patagonia winter after another in a seemingly endless cycle.
Aside from the joy of his children and his passion for racing horses in the rodeo, this strange job with its crazy adventures, was the most wonderful thing that had ever happened to him.
As he sat there on that ledge, he told me a little bit about his father and grandfather and growing up there. All the things that had made their farm the least desirable in the valley, the massive granite outcroppings and its extreme isolation, were the very same things that now made it special to so many people.
Checho's responsibilities with Earth River had grown over the years to the point where he was setting up ropes for the Tyrolean river crossing. He was able to put away enough money to buy a pickup truck and build a modest house in the town of Futaleufu. It had electricity, running water and most importantly was only a few blocks from the school. Never again would he have to ship his children off each week for eight months of the year. Never again would he have to helplessly watch as they endured three hours on a horse through driving rain, wind and sleet.
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