The third day of our hike began with the realization that we would not be crossing the bridge. After discussing our options with the staff members at Los Cuernos, we decided to leave our big packs there and just bring daypacks to do a roundtrip hike up through Valle de Frances and back. We were supposed to be staying at Campamento Italiano, but we knew we would have to turn around the next morning to come right back out. The only downside to this option is that it turned into a nearly 25ish kilometer day. The distance in of itself wasn’t too terrible, but we wound up nearly running the last half which was pretty killer. The plus side, we had another day of gorgeous weather, despite some heavy winds that intermittently raged upon us with their fierce velocity.
Upon departing Los Cuernos towards Valle de Frances, the trail leads you along a rocky shoreline, gently winding in and out of trees and beaches until you reach the Valle de Frances campground area. There are some steeper areas as you near the campsites, but all in all the 3.5 kilometer hike it isn’t too difficult. From there, it’s about 2 more kilometers to Campamento Italiano.
As you pass between Valle de Frances and Campamento Torres, the trail begins to turn inland and cross an open valley. The wind velocity picked up quite a bit through here, but it was just a taste of what we would experience over the course of our remaining trip. I heard what sounded like a train or a large plane going by, and it only took me a second to figure out there was an avalanche happening somewhere. I quickly scanned the mountain we were walking near by and saw the snow pouring from the top of the rocky ledges. I had heard this was quite common in the area, and we saw several more small ones throughout the day.
When we entered the campground at Italiano, we could see guards and large tree trunks blocking the entrance to the bridge. The bridge that, to our dismay looked fully intact. We questioned some of the people surrounding the barricaded entrance, to which they responded that a group of people had crossed it and as they passed over, the bridge began to swing dangerously back and forth. One of its side rails collapsed and they were scared that the entire bridge would fall. The water rushed below, powerfully and terrifyingly swift, over massive rocks, making me feel confident in their decision to prevent anyone from falling off, surely to their death. We knew we had made the right decision to leave our packs behind, and we started the 5.5-7.5 km ascent to the Mirador Britanico. (I’m telling you distances were so confusing. Different maps said different things.)
The trail wound up through the trees before spitting us out onto a rocky opening overlooking the glacier where the river originated. We saw two groups of people crossing the river up here! We watched them for a while and even though they were quite far, it seemed like crossing the river was a dangerous undertaking. So, we continued on our hike, as the winds pummeled us in various outcroppings that we would find ourselves on from time to time.
It wasn’t until we passed a “map” stating it was approximately 6.5 kilometers one way from Campamento Italiano to the Mirador that we realized we needed to step it into high gear. It was getting later into the evening and we needed to be able to get back to Los Cuernos in time to set up our tent and eat dinner! We made it to the Mirador as fast as our tired legs could move us, before we high-tailed it back down the trail towards camp. I think we made it back just a couple hours later, which is thoroughly impressive considering how much ground we had to cover. But, back to the Mirador… before you reach it, you come to the incredible opening. The opening is a massive rock field with all of the granite mountain formations surrounding you. It is incredible! From there, you hike up a little further to this lookout, which gives you some seriously awesome views of the valley. It began to sprinkle on us as an ominous storm cloud loomed over the mountains, threatening us with some volatile Patagonian weather. We quickly hit the trail to get back to camp.
Upon arriving at the campground, the staff members gave us confused looks as they seemed to have forgotten their promise to us to reserve a campsite in our names. After a few minutes of fumbling around, one of the staff members had us follow him to a really depressing looking spot sandwiched between a couple trees, with rooted and bumpy ground. We asked if there was anything else, to which he replied “No.” We were exhausted, and were grimly accepting what would be a rough night of sleep, when he said, “Okay I know of another spot, but it’s a secret.” He led to one of the already set up tent platform spots and reminded us that it was a secret! It was such an upgrade, Kendra and I were thrilled! We settled in for the night, happily knowing we would get a good night of sleep before the long day ahead of us.