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December 29, 2015

We arose early today. It’s not hard to do given it’s light at 5am. The moon lit the sky over the towers briefly before the clouds blew in. We packed up our camp and sat for the traditional South American camping breakfast. Toast, cheese, ham, oats, yogurt and surprisingly eggs that didn’t look like grits (yesterday was the first time we were served eggs for breakfast, but their texture was strange).

We turned in our lunch tickets for a to go box and stuffed it in our pack before we headed toward Campamento Italiano and the Valle del Francés. The wind gusted violently this morning. I was thankful to be following somewhat flat terrain through tall grass and low bushes by the lake so I could keep my balance. Soon we entered a stand of dead trees. It is amazing how well leafless trees block the wind. We turned from cold to hot as the morning sun gleamed on the white trunks. Eventually the dead trees turned to live ones, and we were in and out of stunted forest.

The path was muddy from the many waterfalls that spilled down the walls to our left into the lake on our right. Many of the boardwalks and bridges were in complete disrepair and may have been the only run down thing we’ve seen at the park thus far. Some of them looked rather dangerous. I was careful to walk on the boards with supports beams, and looked for ones that might pop up from being loose. Sometimes I just followed along the side in the mud.

After we made it around the lake and up and over the ridge, we walked through the prettiest forest yet with large trees and soon arrived at a rickety, suspension bridge over an aqua river with a fantastic view of Francés Glacier. This bridge led us to Campamento Italiano which is free and operated by the park. We filled out a form and provided our reservation tickets to the ranger before we seeked a campsite. We didn’t look long because we wanted to climb up to Británico whose trailhead begins at the camp. We found a flat spot not too far from all the amenities (a kitchen and bathrooms which were 80 yards away). Had we scouted at all, we could have found a quieter spot along the river.

We set up our tent quickly, packed up our day packs and followed the trail up the Valle del Francés. Signs pointed us in the direction of Británico. Our walk took us through the campground in the woods and then along a scree path. The gentle sloping path turned steep as we exited the forest to the rocks where we enjoyed a nice view of Francés while eating part of our lunch. We were still at the bottom of the trail, and I was feeling antsy as I wanted to reach the top during the nice weather given it is so unpredictable. Though during our short stop, we did spot another ice calving.

The path, peppered with location signs, crossed countless waterfalls. At times when the trail leveled out, it turned into a small stream. We trounced through the water, climbed over boulders, and wandered through more forest until we stopped again at Francés lookout. Several people had stopped here for lunch as it provided a close up view of the glacier. We didn’t stay long, but kept going toward Británico lookout. We passed through an open space with dead trees, more forest, and more rocky steep areas before we finally reached our resting point surrounded by granite towers and walls a few hours later. What a magnificent panoramic view!

Lucky for us, while slightly breezy, the usually windy lookout point was rather pleasant. We hung out with a handful of hikers for a few hours as we watched the clouds shift. Each set of peaks and walls, once wrapped in clouds soon protruded into blue sky. We sure have been fortunate with the weather! Come late afternoon, we ran out of snacks so we meandered slowly back to camp. Hearing several thunderous booms in the warming day, we decided to make one more stop at the glacier and wait to see ice calve. On the way up, we saw a few poofs of snow. At our final stop, we basically saw a waterfall of ice tumble down the rocks. With that, we finished our descent. After a ten mile day, we chopped up cheese and sausage and complemented it with dried fruit and walnuts for dinner. We were asleep by 9:15! The only disappointment is neither our pictures nor my description can do this place justice. It is so beautiful! ETB

For David’s map and corresponding pictures, click here: map of our hike

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