(Blue Towers), watercolour, ©️2021
We started from our camp well before the cold dawn. Ahead in the growing light we saw the puma, a large very muscular feline, the same colour as the grassland. It saw us at about the same moment; its tail twitched slightly. It then ignored us and went back to its morning business, stalking in long low silent steps. We skirted the trail, but had to circle the puma for about 20 minutes. We could now see the quarry; a large field twitching in the predawn light with Patagonian Mara, Mara or Cavy, the local version of rabbit-like animals. A few more kilometres past a sleeping hotel , our climb began. Switchbacks began as a horse-chewed trail led out of grassland to scree mountainside. The sun was up now, and already beating down with astonishing heat. We would have a clear day! The stones beneath my feet clattered and rolled fast down the slope, far down to the canyon and hidden river below. My climb was was obscured by the salt sweat stinging my eyes and the sheer determination pushed me upward. When I arrived at the lake, Alan had been there an hour already. We were alone; that privilege and the puma our reward.
I tucked under a large boulder for shade and got out my small ziplock painting kit. I scooped a small bottle of water out of the lake, and began my sketch. I had, in the past thought the name Torres del Paine – Blue Peaks – described the Paynes blue/grey of the hazy mountains kilometres away. Today I was overwhelmed by the intense deep ultramarine of the sky, and the incongruous phthalo blues of the lake at my feet. Blue described everything here. As I painted, I left out those blues, wanting to capture the shapes of the towers first. When the sketch was about 1/2 done, the first of the other hikers arrived feeling the need to fill the space with their banter and selfies. A few brazen buddies shattered the surface of the icy lake with their bravery and their shouts then filled the heavens. A while later, the first of the guided tours arrived. Too unfit to climb, their horses had dug up the trails lower down. Having hiked 1/3 of the distance, a large man sat down directly in front of me, saying that he had the right. I breathed in and began my decent soon after.
The day was long, with 32km, 1/2 of it up, hiked in 30ºC + full sun. The last few km were so difficult. Then I packed up my tent and hiked a few more km to the car. But we had lucked out on the puma, the rare sunniest day of the year, and the lake before the swimmers.
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