Campamento Serón –> Refugio Dickson (18km)
Patagonian lagos, my first iceberg sighting, a campsite dwarfed by mountains, and the start of stunning overlooks.
It took all of one day for me to realize how woefully out of shape I was for this hike. Being alone, and new at this, I wanted to make sure someone would be behind me on the trail at all times in case I sprained an ankle or broke something. Since I was hiking as slow as a snail, I started trying to leave camp as early as possible. And given how cold I was while sleeping, it wasn’t too hard to get up and start moving around.
On the second day I woke up with renewed vigor. I ate some quick oatmeal and had a cup of tea, packed up my tent with the help of a friendly South African, and started the daily grind. The day’s hike started with a moderate climb, and it was awhile before people started passing me (probably only because they left camp much later).
Even once I started getting passed, I was undeterred and pushed ahead. And when I got to the top of the climb and rounded the corner, two things happened: First, I almost got knocked over by my first real taste of the world-famous Patagonian wind. The second was I experienced my first “wow, now that’s Patagonia” moment, looking over a turquoise blue lake with sharp, snow-capped mountains in the distance. It was, quite literally, a “take-your-breath-away” moment. Luckily, there were still plenty of people behind me to ask to snap a photo before I started descending.
For the next seven days, I remained stuck on what I’ll call a unique Patagonia challenge: the never-ending thoughts of “I want to hike fast and get down out of this wind, but I also just want to stand and stare at this view forever.” At the end of my eight days, the answer still eluded me.
The good news was, I got to hike toward the spectacular mountains, with the serene Lago Paine to my right. The bad news was, it took awhile to get out of the wind. After a couple of miles, my Chilean friends caught up to me and we hiked together for a bit, up to the first ranger station. It was here we had to present proof of our campsite reservations at Los Perros in order to proceed. After a quick rest and a snack, I continued, anxious to see the next stop. At Dickson I had a refugio waiting for me!
The lagos disappeared and the wind calmed down during the second half of the hike, opening up the land to more meadows and wildflowers. Even being able to see quite aways out in any direction, it was still easy to feel like you were the only one on the trail. Before approaching Lago Dickson and completing the day, the land got a bit swampy and marshy. I had to pull out my bug spray for the first time, and there were even some wooden planks laid down to cross boggy areas. By this time, my knees were absolutely killing me.
Near the end, there was a short ascent which was enough to sink my spirits (I thought I was getting close!), but it quickly opened up into spectacular views looking over Lago Dickson and the campsite. There were several gorgeous campsites along the hike, but from all of my pre-hike research, Dickson seemed to be many hikers’ favorite. Something about the way you approach it from above, the way it is nestled amongst a small grove of trees jutting out onto Lago Dickson, and the way it is utterly dwarfed by surrounding mountains, made it extra-stunning. Being able to sleep inside that night certainly didn’t hurt it’s case either.
After checking in and dropping my bags off, I headed down to the lake to test out a suggestion I had heard floated around in my pre-hike research: soaking swollen feet in the glacier water. I’m not one for cold anything, but it seemed like a unique experience, so off I went. Ignoring the stares of others, I asked a nice man to snap a picture and waded out into the water for about ten seconds before running back to shore wondering if I would ever feel my feet again (maybe I should have soaked my knees instead).
We chatted for a bit and I learned that he had started the hike with his son, but was turning back because he didn’t think he could make it over John Gardner Pass. I was certainly having doubts of my own after the first two days, and this story was less than inspiring, but nothing was turning me back at that point.
Later on in the evening, I got some treats from the small store (small as in, the size of an outhouse), and was able to charge my phone inside the refugio. There was no service, but I had been using it to take photos and document the hike. I also tried to use their warm water to take a shower after the other refugio guests (a large German group) had sat down for dinner, but instead ended up crying in the shower stall while the staff tried to figure out why it felt more like glacier water than the advertised hot shower. (I did not get a shower that night.) Above all though, after being cold for two days straight, sleeping indoors felt like heaven.