After the marvels of Frey, I’d been wanting to make a similar excursion to El Tronador, a volcano close to Bariloche, which Walter told me had even better trekking than Frey. Unfortunately, Club Andino Bariloche said their daily busses to Pampa Linda, where the treks to Tronador start, only run from 1 December onwards. Since I was leaving Bariloche on 29 November, this was lousy timing.
So, when La Montaña told its students that an excursion to El Tronador was planned for Monday 26 November (a public holiday in Argentina) – and that the trip would include trekking up to the glacier and actually walking on it, I signed up for it, despite the fact that it was a fair bit beyond my budget.
The email told us to bring warm clothes, hiking boots, waterproof trousers and gloves and (I feel I need to say this again) specifically mentioned walking on the glacier. So, I stuffed every piece of warm clothing I have with me – including my pajama pants – into a backpack and got up at dawn to get to Club Andino by 8.30.
After an impatient wait until 9.15, we left on the two-hour drive to Pampa Linda, via half of Bariloche to pick up people who apparently couldn’t manage to walk a few blocks to Club Andino. Most of the rest of the drive was through the Nahuel Huapi National Park (entry AR$50 for foreigners) and we hurtled down one-way dirt roads with tantalizing views of snowy mountains, turquoise lakes with tiny forested islands rising out of them and powder-blue rivers burbling over boulder-fields.
I tried not to feel too annoyed that we didn’t stop for a moment at any of the magnificent viewpoints while the lovely morning sun was making everything so photogenic. After all, we were on our way to walk on a glacier and obviously we didn’t want to waste time with a few beauty spots!
But when we reached Pampa Linda, we were in for a disappointment. Our guide showed us the walk we were to do on a map. Sure enough, it would take us to a point where we could see the Castaño Overa glacier, but, since we’d be 500 metres below the glacier, there was no chance at all of walking on it.
I trudged along the clearly-marked dirt road muttering and grumbling, wondering why, when the walk was so easy and obvious, we needed a guide and why, when it was sweltering hot and we weren’t going anywhere near a glacier, we were all carrying warm jackets, waterproof pants, hats and gloves.
Why, in short, I had paid about R600 to spend four hours sitting in a bus to go on a not-particularly-scenic walk to a waterfall – admittedly a very nice waterfall – with 15 other people, when I could have gone for a far nicer walk, on my own, for free, and without waking up at dawn, either. It might help explain my grumbling if I tell you that my daily budget for everything – food, accommodation, transport etc – is R500.
After the walk (which annoyed everyone else too as they had also packed glacier-walking outfits), as a sort of consolation prize, we were driven to the Ventisquero Negro viewpoint where we were allowed to stop and get out. This was the ‘black snowdrift’: a glacier covered with rock and dust so that it looks like a weird kind of black rock itself. Since there was no chance of walking on that either, we were only slightly mollified.
I sulked the whole way back to Bariloche, only cheering up when I got home in time to watch the sunset over the lake at La Peninsula.
In the interests of avoiding further Miss Grumble-Trousers incidents, I have made myself two solemn promises:
1. Never to go on another guided tour, unless it is ridiculously cheap and well within my budget so that I don’t have to give up luxuries like food and shelter because of it.
2. Never to believe a word of any itinerary. I will know that I should translate things like ‘walk on a glacier’ to ‘possibly see a glacier from a long way away’ and ‘meals included’ to ‘scary snacks that you wouldn’t dream of eating unless in a state of severe starvation will be dumped on your lap unceremoniously at very long intervals’.
Now that I’ve got rid of Miss G-T, I should mention that El Tronador is also a bit of a grumbler, in its own way. El Tronador means The Thunderer, and it’s so called because seracs breaking off the glacier frequently tumble down with a mighty roar. While we were walking through the forest, about five minutes before we reached the waterfalls, we heard the massive crack of glacial thunder. At first I thought it was fighter jets roaring above us and then I realised what it was and started shouting excitedly to the 15 other people.
Once we were in front of the glacier, I spent the entire time videoing it, just in case another serac broke off and tumbled spectacularly down the cliff, thus making the entire expedition suddenly completely worthwhile. It didn’t.