11 October 2012

El Cajas - Laguna Toreadora

I awoke with the dawn and stepped out of the tent. It was cold. The mountains were brightly outlined as the sun was coming up the valley behind them. Sometime during the night the rains had stopped but the rain fly was soaked and condensation from my breathing had dampened the inside of the tent. I packed up my gear and carefully folded up the tent, making an effort to separate the wet rain fly from the inside portion of the tent. Try as I always did, I knew from experience that everything would soon be completely wet inside the tent bag.
I pushed the loaded bike down the steep gravel path and out onto the road. I had changed my jeans for shorts and was still wearing the rest of the clothing I had gone to sleep in. It was a slow climb up the valley towards the higher mountains.

The sun was coming up over the mountains now and lighting up the valley behind me. Then the sun caught up to me and it was hot and took off layers down to my t-shirt. The road continued climbing, over a bridge to the other side of the river and then series of cutbacks and higher. With the higher altitude the country began to change from green pastureland to rocky and jagged, brown and barren mountains. I was feeling the higher altitude and felt dizzy and nauseous and out of breath and I stopped more frequently to rest.

Just before the El Cajas park entrance there was a comedor and I stopped for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bread and cheese, coffee and a fresh mora juice. I had read there was a campsite at Laguna Cucheros, 3km from the park entrance, at the first of many large lakes inside the park. The restaurant owner asked me where I was headed I told him of the lake. He made a face and cautioned me against it. There were delinquents that often vandalized that area around the lake, he said. You should go to Laguna Toreadora, 7km further. There is a refugio there that you may stay the night inside.

I was not looking forward to another 7km of difficult climbing but I did not want to be attacked by vandals and I thanked the man and began my slow climb again. It was desolate country and very cold now and I saw some of the small lakes that the park was known for. Along the roadside I passed wild llamas feeding. Then after a 5 long steep cutbacks the road leveled out and began to fall and I was coasting down the rocky mountainside, leaning deep into the turns, feeling so good to move without pedaling and I saw ahead a couple of buildings and a large lake and the sign for Laguna Toreadora and I braked and turned down a gravel road that led to the refugio and a restaurant.

The refugio was a drafty old wooden two-story shelter with a kitchen. Inside bunk beds had fitted wherever there was room. There was a tiny room under the stairs and I took it and hung my wet camping gear over my bike and from some nails on the walls to dry and spread out my wet sleeping bag on the top bunk. There were no sheets or pillows for the bunk beds.
I walked down to the lake. Coming from the west were dark storm clouds. El Cajas was known for its wet and brutally cold weather and I hurried back to the refugio. The temperature was dropping and I put on my synthetic long sleeved shirt and made myself a cup of coffee in the kitchen.
There was an Argentine named Pablo who was staying the night. He was from Mendoza and was traveling by car. It was nice to speak of Argentina again. It was a country that I liked very much. Pablo explained that things were getting bad there. Economically things were very bad. It was expensive for him in Ecuador and even in Peru now.
We talked awhile longer but the rain had started and it was very cold now and I told Pablo I needed to get inside my sleeping bag to warm up and I excused myself. Though it was still early I fell asleep for awhile When I awoke I ate a bag of peanuts instead of getting out of the sleeping bag to cook dinner. It was too cold. Outside the rains pounded the refugio. I had not ridden very far this day, but I had ridden high. I was now well above 4000 meters.


Dustin Bradford said...

Incredible man, incredible in every way.

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