I wasn’t in the mood for another organised tour or some sort of “contained” day; I fancied doing something meandering, so I looked at the map, saw it was a 7km walk up to the aerosilla (chairlift) that goes up to the Glaciar Martial, and figured that would be quite manageable. Kinda wish I’d got a taxi, though. It was cold, windy, and snowing all the way up the winding mountain road. It took just over an hour in the end, and although my face and hands were cold (why oh why haven’t I bought gloves!?), it wasn’t too bad.
But when I got to the chairlift, the guy at the station thingy smiled and waved through the window and met me at the door. Then he told me that the chairlift was closed for maintenance. It wasn’t just that they’d broken down and needed some repair, but he had a load of huge cogs and brackets all laid out in the station on newspaper like it was a big job. (Handy that no-one at the tourist information tells you this, huh?) But, I could still go up there, but it’d be a 1.5km walk. “Do you have water?” he asked. “Err, no.” He gave me a bottle, which was nice of him.
I set off. Quite a nice walk. A bit of a slog as it was all uphill through snow, but pleasant. The autumn is turning the trees beautiful colours and the stream is starting to freeze into wonderful icicles. There were a small handful of other people around. Enough to feel safe that if anyone got into trouble we’d be found quickly. After a good half an hour, I reached the point where the chairlift ends.
Onwards and upwards to the glacier. Woo. Another ten minutes or so, and there it is, a big moraine-encrusted hunk of ice. I couldn’t really see the ice, it all being covered in the moraine and snow, but there it was. A big old glacier. It was overwhelming. I mean, I will see a better glacier in a few days time, but for now, this one got to me. Stood up there, being battered by snowy winds, clouds obscuring the tops of the mountains; it was all a bit too much. I had a little weep.
Walking further towards it, there was a little wooden bridge that crossed a stream (above). Beyond the bridge was a rope for pulling yourself up the steep bank to get onto the edge of the glacier. I climbed up and started crossing towards the main chunk of glacier. Fuck, it was windy. It was really cold, too. I got my headphones out to give my ears some extra protection over the cap and hood. I was in a glacial landscape, ice and snow all around, so it only seemed right to listen to the perfect music for this place. There’s was one Scandinavian band for this moment. You know who I’m talking about. So I pressed play and listened to “Take On Me” and “The Sun Always Shines On TV.” After a few A-ha songs, though, I put on some Sigur Rós.
The ground beneath my feet was covered in snow. Now and again, I’d sink ankle or shin deep into the snow, but there were always rocks nearby to know that it wasn’t gonna be too deep. I saw some birds all crouched low; at least until I got close and then they buggered off. After a while, I was on top of the glacier. Not what one expects, really, but here I was doing something I’d wanted to do since I first learnt about glaciers in geography lessons at school. It was thrilling. Really thrilling. Really cold too. Damn the lack of gloves, damn the blister forming on the underneath of my foot, damn the decision to only wear one pair of socks. The upper half of my body was snug and a little bit sweaty after all the walking and the five layers, but I wish I’d been as well prepared below the waist.
I was following some fairly recent footprints, so figured I was doing okay. I took my time, enjoying the view, and soon enough the wind was moulding the edges of the footprints and further along they’d disappeared. I was on my own for navigation. But, in the distance, I saw three people so I knew I was going somewhere where I could get off the glacier. Eventually, though, it became obvious that the snow was getting quite deep, and the rocky areas were fewer and farther between. I knew that the other people had done it somehow, but I knew not where.
I kept walking further and further up, and melodramatic thoughts of “Touching the Void” flashed through my brain. I was at a point where there were no rocks. Just four metres of snow in front of me before the next bunch of rocks. I picked up a stone and chucked it at the snow. “Ooh, that’s gone in quite deep,” I thought. But, one must keep going forward. The others had done it, so I would do it too. But, I chose the wrong place. I took one step. Ankle deep. Another step. Ankle deep. Another step. Shin deep. Another step and I’m suddenly crotch deep in snow. I flung myself forward, bending at the waist, arms spread. I’m covered in snow, but I’m not sinking. I breaststroke the snow and pull myself out and, panicky-breathed, scramble to the rocks.
Time to stop listening to music. Good job, really, because the next snowy section I had to cross had a stream underneath which I couldn’t see, but could hear. I walked further up until there was a section thin enough to Bob Beamon my way over without getting feet full of icy water. I could see the other people. I knew they’d got down, but the snow and the rocks… they all look the same and it’s difficult to tell where they’d been.
By now, my feet were getting cold. The snow that had snuck into my shoes was melting. The water was swishing around, rubbing my blister, but I didn’t really feel anything. I was too focused on getting off the glacier. I kept going. Two steps forward, one step back. Over there looks easy only to discover it isn’t, so a bit of backtracking to find somewhere else. Finally, I was in shouting distance of the other people. One of them pointed out a good place to cross a stream.
I was off the glacier. Thank fuck for that. When one does something dumb, it’s good to find comfort in not being the only one. I spoke to Eugene, a Ukrainian, and two gap-year Brits, Ross and Charlotte. None of them wore gloves either. They too had soon realised that they’d gone the wrong way and told me that when they saw me going the same way that they’d taken, wondered if I was really experienced or an idiot like them. Of course, we all had a good chuckle at our idiocy. We all hurried down, back past the chair lift and to the cafe at the base station place. Coffee and cake. Soggy feet, but we were all safe. And I’d learned myself a lesson. Gloves and better shoes next time. I’m now having to we
ar plastic bags over my socks so that I can still wear my only pair of shoes and not get foot rot or something. Still, it was fucking beautiful up there, and, you know what, “Hunting High and Low” sounds pretty damn good when you’re stood on a glacier.