Jumping ahead to the most exciting thing to happen on this trip because it is an actual story. Real quick to get you to where we are: we rented a car in the north of Chile, drove 3,000 kilometers aross the Atacama desert to Santiago, did that whole city thing, flew to Patagonia and have been swooning over natural beauty for the past two weeks… more on that later. For now, a story about the dumbest people I have ever met in my entire life at the base of the prettiest mountain I’ve ever seen.
Mount Fitz Roy is a granite peak that sticks up out of the Patagonia steppe like a thumb and visible for hundreds of kilometers, but is relatively accessible and doable in a long day hike, which attracts people with no outdoors experience. On the 10.2 kilometer hike to the base of the mountain we saw a family eating takeout cheeseburgers, fries and sodas wearing jeans, but also ended up at a campsite with hundreds of clearly experienced outdoorsmen. The last kilometer to the base of the mountain is 1,200 feet of borderline scrambling and we encountered a mother and daughter near the top who were moderately distressed about the fact that their two twenty-something sons had went exploring off-trail and have been missing for four hours. It is 7:30 PM and we are about three-hours from sunset (50 degrees south, long days). She shows us a picture of the boys who we will call “Idiot” and “Big Idiot” who are wearing street clothes and tennis shoes. The last time they saw them, they were climbing up a 45-degree snowfield, far, far off the trail. Her husband has split from their group and is searching for the boys— they don’t know where he went. We urge them to get down to the base since they are running low on time and alert the rangers that their dumbass sons are lost in the woods without adequate clothing or any food.
We make it to the top and admire the view of the alpine lake, and the mountain and decide to head back around 8 to cook dinner. There is no sign of the boys or the father and we’re not about to go searching thousands of acres over mountains to find them since we are not equipped for this and don’t have the time. On our way out, we run into the mother and daughter again. She says she is distressed, but her eyes betray her—deep down, she is OK with these boys never returning. We spot her husband hiking down the side of a mountain nowhere near where they last saw the boys and wait for him to discuss the issue. He arrives with a partner that he met on top, Henry, who looks like he is experienced. The father states that he didn’t find them (obviously, because they aren’t with him and he was looking in the completely wrong place) and then starts to point out things that are of no consequence. It is 8:20 or so and spot two figures clear across the lake bumbling around, not making an effort to come back. It is too far to make them out, but it is near the location where they were last seen. They then disappear behind a ridge, which makes us think they are trying to summit a small peak to come back rather than take the easy route around the lake. Henry and I decide to circle the lake, scramble to a vista and figure out what is going on. We tell the family that we will wave both arms if we determine that these are their progeny at which point, the mother and daughter are to go back to the base since daylight is fading and a storm is brewing.
We scramble up and find a ledge, peer down and see two figures sitting on a rock doing absolutely nothing. I yell their names and determine that we are looking at Idiot and Bigger Idiot. We ask if they are hurt, and they yell “no.” Do you need help? Again, no. Well, what the fuck are you doing? Your family has been looking for you for six hours—GO BACK NOW. They aimlessly walk around chasing their tails for a few minutes until we amp up the volume and tell them to hurry back and point out the path, but instead they amble towards us. When they are beneath us one of them says “do you have any food? We need ‘glycogen,’” but there is no way to get them food without climbing down the 100-foot wall (it’s too windy to throw, we tried). We tell them to get their asses in gear and hike back around the lake—simply follow the trail and go right now, like, now. They’re not moving the right way and are contemplating climbing this wall without gear. Best case scenario falling here is a broken bone, but death seems likely. Again, I amp up the volume and tell them to simply walk their dumb asses around the lake.
Just then, the father shows up and looks at them over the edge with us and I explain the situation and that they need to walk back. He starts asking questions about the route back and we explain that it is entirely safe since we just saw three people take the route, but he appears to not understand. Then this conversation happens:
Dad: Well, can we build a boat?
[polite chuckling at the attempt at a joke]
Me: wait, are you serious?
Dad: Yeah, maybe we make a boat out of rocks.
Me: [blown away]
Henry: [blown away]
Me: You can’t build a boat out of rocks. You need to tell them to START WALKING NOW.
Dad: Maybe there are some climbers down at the camp and we can lift them out.
Me: No, this is simple—they need to follow that trail back RIGHT NOW.
Dad: We could go to the town and call a helicopter.
The apple does not fall far from the tree. Henry and I are in charge. Henry states that they will live through the night if they are smart enough to move around… so, we’re sticking around to help. We firmly tell the dad the plan and yell at the boys to walk back around the lake and that I will run around the other way to meet them while Henry stays on top to keep an eye on them. After climbing back down, crossing a creek, running a quarter of the way I hear Henry yelling and gesticulating that they’ve gone the wrong way and have disappeared again. Fuckers are making us climb all the way back up even higher to find a safe way down to the other side, which we do and don’t see them on the other side. We mount a ridge and see them— there’s three of them, two in a steep scree field and the third attempting to climb over a mountain. Things happen, I yell a ton, and eventually get them back to near where we are supposed to be, but they disobeyed commands and ended up forcing us off the safe trail. It is now 9 PM and they don’t understand why I am so angry. The third person turns out to be a Brazilian in his twenties with abject fear in his eyes; he is wearing sneakers and jeans and is literally crawling across the scree field.
Henry is mad. He is a “sophisticated hillbilly” from Kentucky/Ohio and laces into them about natural selection. We ask a series of questions and get insufficient answers: Why didn’t you follow the path back? Why didn’t you flag down help? How did you even get down here? The only thing that they did to alert people that they needed help was walk halfway up the mountain and tramp down a huge “W” in the snow, which everyone knows is the international sign for “HELP.”
Bigger Idiot gets ahead of us while we are helping the Brazilian and picks an awful route back to safety but, remarkably, are moving swiftly. Towards the bottom, the Brazilian loses his balance and does a sickening dance of falling/recovering/falling/recovering and miraculously ends up on his feet. Seconds later we see his palm, gashed from edge-to-edge and spurting blood. He is surprisingly nonchalant about an injury that needs professional medical attention. The morons are all of a sudden field medics and have opinions on how to dress the wound. The dad starts developing bedside manner and asking in a calming voice questions about the Brazilian’s life, etc. It is 9:30 and beginning to snow and the Patagonian wind is howling but they don’t understand the situation. One of them takes a seat. Henry begins to yell. I contemplate leaving them all behind.’
We death-marched them down and demanded silence—the dad tried to make some jokes to lighten the mood, but was shut down by my face. I was so angry that I dressed the boys down in front of the campsite an told them to never enter the wilderness again and then ate a whole pot of pasta but couldn’t fall asleep because I was so angry at myself for not letting the dad tell me in detail how to make a boat out of rocks.
P.S.– the mom asked if we could “take care of them” and let them sleep in our tent, which barely sleeps the two of us. Jean then gave them her headlamp since they didn’t have one. We didn’t see their bodies on the trail on the way back since we took a different route home.