Mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence – Hermann Buhl
My last full day in Patagonia, I set my sights on hiking to Esmiralda Lake. It was (on paper) supposed to be a relatively easy hike at 5 miles and minimal elevation. I got to the trailhead confident in my ability and excited for my last hike. About five feet into the trail, I hit mud. And not just a little mud but more like a couple of inches of mud at minimum! And the mud masked the very large tree roots that made up the trail, until you stepped on them and then slid forward or backward. So it was basically a perfect test of your core strength, surefootedness and overall level of clumsiness.
Now I’m not opposed to some mud, rain, adverse conditions and a little unpleasantness while hiking. But hiking over a mile in thick ass mud is not a whole lot of fun. After the mud pit slip in slide, I came to a section with boards. As I walked over the boards they started to sink into what I thought was mud. I then realized this was going to be my first experience with a peat bog.
See I had read about peat bogs in the days leading up to this hike. Horses and other wild Argentinean animals having learned the hard way, will flat out refuse to move forward and will turn back. This is because their weight causes them to sink immediately, invoking panic which causes them to sink further until submerged too far to get them out. The worst part is that the ground looks deceptively stable and you cannot tell how deep it is until it’s too late.
So as I’m walking over the boards, I start to think about animals sinking to their death over the very thing I’m walking on…happy thoughts Tara, happy thoughts. The second section of boards was almost submerged, so I looked for an alternative path. I watch this family go around the boards to what looked to be a stable area, until one of the kids foot goes straight into the peat and he loses his shoe. They finally found a stable path and I wisely followed that same path.
Pass the bog, the trail briefly follows this beautiful river scene, seducing one into forgetting what they just hiked through. At this point the trail stays dry for about a half mile which was a nice reprieve. Unfortunately that didn’t last long and I came upon a second peat bog. A couple of groups attempted the boards and turned around when they started sinking too much. It became a free for all of people trying to find ways around the bog.
I tried following the boards as closely as I could but they were sinking further in the farther out I got. There was a section close to the boards that appeared stable and with the first couple of steps it was. That was until my left leg went knee deep (literally) into the bog. Thankfully my right leg was stable on a board and I thought best not to move from this position.
I lifted my leg up multiple times and it wouldn’t budge in the slightest. It was a delicate balance of keeping my right leg stable while pulling my left one up with all I had. I was getting nowhere. Finally a fellow hiker came to my aid. He tried pulling my leg out with both hands and still no movement. He adjusted his position and one of his legs fell in but was able to get himself out pretty quickly.
I had him grab hold of me so I could plunge my arms into the bog and grab my shoe, which is when I realized my foot was lodged under a branch. After twisting my foot slightly and using both hands, I was able to pull my leg up and out of the bog. I followed the guy backwards until we were both on solid ground. He told me to continue to follow him and his father as they forged their way around the rest of the bog. By this point I was thoroughly freaked the “f” out. I thanked him profusely but said I’d be turning around. He asked a couple more times but I was pissed, scared, and wanted out of this bog. I carefully made my way back to the trail and was never so happy to see “just” a couple inches of mud!
Back at the river, I found a shallow spot to wash the mud caked lower half of my body. I basically took a half bath in a beautiful stream in the middle of nowhere at the southernmost point of Argentina. This moment somewhat made up for what had just happened. After my bath, I took my time heading back, trying to find some sort of enjoyment from this hike.
Rarely do I feel this way, but I was so relieved once back at the trailhead. As with any difficult encounter, I tried to learn from the experience.
1. Popular trails in the US are often maintained and closed if safety becomes an issue, this is not always the case in other countries.
2. Research the environment you will be hiking through so you’re aware of the potential dangers and have a hiking strategy. I had read about this trail being caked in mud, full of tree roots to the point of obnoxious and had recently read of peat bogs, but no amount of reading could’ve prepared me for just how bad it really was.
3. Never underestimate a trail, even when the distance is short and elevation minimal.
4. Always take your hiking poles! I wish I’d taken them because I could’ve used them to gauge the depth of the bog prior to stepping in.
This hike instilled fear in me for a while after. The first couple of times I went solo hiking after this, my mind created excuses not to go. I knew it was because of what happened and I forced myself to go hiking anyway. I wouldn’t let this stop me from doing a thing I love. What I needed to do was learn from my mistakes and become a smarter solo hiker.
That hike was what I needed to knock the cockiness out of me. I need a reality check now and again, and one that leaves me stuck knee deep in a peat bog will certainly do the trick.