March 18, 2008
My First Encounter With Rio Pico – This is a place I could call home

Hey Folks, here I am; sorry for the long time no update. After leaving the Simpson I continued north on a path that more or less paralleled, and sometimes crossed the Carretera Austral (otherwise known as Ruta 7). This road is the main and often only one running north and south through Chile, and as such crosses all of the rivers that run off the Andes and into the Pacific. The first one that I spent much time on was the Cicnes, a monster of a thing with that incredible blue glacial runoff color. The stretch that I spent the most time on was pocked with incredibly deep pools that were often hidden in twisting canyons of vertical limestone. Beautiful in a way that defies my ability to describe it. From there I continued north to the Figueroa, which is another big glacially fed river, more open but with ripping currents and incredible scenery. Coming from the states where real estate like this is near impossible to get hold of, it is just amazing to hike for days and days through million dollar-an-acre land that has no one and nothing on it. The rainbows in this river were interesting in that they all had this weird blue-green sheen to them that I have never seen anywhere else. They tasted more or less the same as everywhere else though. One of my nights on this river I made the unfortunate decision to try for some big browns in the dark and tied a monster-heavy fly and the sink tip onto my eight weight. Predictably (in hind-sight, which should have been foresight, since I did this once before with the same rod on Cape Cod) I ended up with a broken eight-weight and no big browns. The next day though I hiked way upstream from that camp with the five weight and ended up in an epic battle with a R.O.U.S. (rainbow of unusual size) which I hooked on 7x tippet and had to play from the tops of the cliffs along that river; so ended up ending my time there on a pretty high note. When I felt like I had traveled far enough north through the Chilean west-running drainages I decided to hop over to the other side of the mountains and choose what looked like a nice low pass that would land me on the Rio Pico. This decision, and this route, turned out to be fateful in a number of ways.  The pass was considerably higher and longer than my map led me to believe; it is roadless and without any government control save for an outpost of the Carabineros on the Chilean side, and one of the Gendamaria on the Argentina side, separated by many, many miles of high-country wilderness in between. I checked out with the Carabineros, mooching a few supplies off of them to try and stave off the insanity that can result from an all-trout diet, and started climbing. What a place. For the most part this stretch of the trip also defies description, and I can only attach just so many pictures, so suffice it to say that the crossing was an experience I will never forget. One of the most interesting things that occurred along this route happened on a small stream on the east-facing slopes after I had crossed the peaks. I was sitting on a rock with my pack laid beside me drinking some water and watching a small trout rise to spinners in the pool when a horse that I had never even heard approach snorted loudly only a few feet behind me. Spinning around I was confronted with a sight that not many people have seen of late, and even less will have the opportunity to see in the coming years; a real life honest-to-god gaucho. He was a tiny man, roughly Philip-size, on an enormous horse, and had three dogs sitting on the trail next to him waiting to see what he wanted them to do. I said hello and good day and waited to see what would happen. He turned out to be a nice fellow, and we talked for a bit about the country. Gauchos, I think, are like this. They aren't really interested in who you are or what you are doing there, less so in telling you any of the same. Instead they speak in a sort of hyper-controlled yet totally wandering verse. No wonder they are all poets. I managed to get a couple of pictures of him, including this one of his knife, and I want to say a few things about that. The Gaucho's knife is the most basic and important tool that he carries, and generally speaking, my understanding is that he has been in possession of it for most of his life. It is a simple thing, not much different than the sort of knives that most of us have in a block in our kitchens, but it is wrapped in a leather sheath and omni-present in the rear waistband of the Gaucho’s pants. He uses this knife for almost everything, and it has been in his hand so much of his life that it has become a sort of eleventh digit. I watched this man cut some dried meat for his dogs as we talked and his handling of the tool was so distinctly different than any knife usage that I had ever seen that it struck me as incredible. It also struck me that this tiny man, if he had a mind too, could almost certainly hop down off of his enormous horse at any moment and reduce me to the same pile of organized, separated parts that he had no doubt reduced thousands of sheep and cattle to throughout his evidently very long life on the cordillera. And there would be absolutely nothing that I could do about it. That's just the feeling that you get from these guys, that they are capable. Over the course of our conversation I gathered that this one hated the church, and didn't really consider himself to be Argentine or Chilean and likely don't have papers of any sort in either country. He had no idea where the United States was, and had never even heard of Iraq or even World War II.  It is an amazing thing that these guys still exist, and I salute them. When we said goodbye I was sorry to see him go, but off he rode, dogs following him, to tend to whatever herd of cattle or sheep he had most recently been hired to bring down off the high country and return to their rightful owners. When I finally made it down out of the mountains I landed on the Rio Pico and made camp. That night while I was fishing I was passed by two men on horseback who ignored me as they rode through the rain wearing green-cured furry sheepskin leggings with their hats pulled down so far over their eyes I couldn't see them. They seemed not to see me. The next day though when I decided to head downstream I ended up passing their little house and stopped to ask if I could buy some eggs. The two came out of the barn where they had been working, both covered in blood and holding those knives, and frankly scared the heck out of me when the first thing they wanted to talk about was that I was camped on their land. In the end though it all turned out alright, and they even invited me inside for a sit-down. The man was pretty nice, but the boy, who I judged to be about 14, never ceased to give me the feeling that he would rather kill me than talk to me. It turned out that their family had been on this land since it was first settled by non-natives, and that for over a hundred years it had been pretty much the middle of nowhere. They ran cattle, and had several thousand hectares. Of late, however, they had been getting a lot of North American and European visitors, and all of them carrying fly rods. It wasn't a problem, but it was clearly something they were having to get used to. The inside of the house was incredible, hand-made shoes and leather and wood everything, a bunch of skulls of javelina that they had killed (with their knives) and just all kinds of really neat, mostly indescribable stuff. I left with a dozen eggs and an invitation to dinner. I fished the Rio Pico for a few days with mixed results, plenty of small fish but few really large ones, and noticed that I was running out of BIG flies.  This may have been due to the fact that trying to cast them on a 5-weight, often as not on a backwards-spooled 8-weight line, was a less than optimal set up.  Had a dog for a couple of days here, he just showed up and decided to hang out, so I let him fish with me and fed him trout. Neat dog, but I was not so sad when he finally decided to go home. The next stop was the Gendarmeria, roughly three miles from my camp, and on that stop I was given a few supplies but also asked to translate the English language user's manual for their diesel generator. This I was glad to do, and the next day when I was passing through I also carried them a stringer full of trout, in return for which they showed me an enormous hand drawn map that they had hidden behind a wall tile that I couldn't take pictures of because it was Top Secret. Top secret or not it was enormously helpful and I used the information on it to plan my routes past Lago 5 and 3. On the way to Lago 5 I came across this completely unbelievable horse. A draft horse of some sort, enormous in bulk and stature, it appeared to have been living more or less wild for a long, long, time. I have never seen a horse's feet in as bad a shape as this fellow's, yet there he stood, for all the world like he belonged out there. Clearly he had once been someone's property, as he let me touch him and hang out with him, even lift his feet and have a look, but just as clearly it had been a long, long time since anyone had done anything with or for him. An amazing creature to be sure. Lago 5 was OK, Lago 3 was incredible. Here I caught rainbows up to 26 inches, God knows how many pounds, in broad daylight wading in waist deep water. Here I also met my ticket out of the wilderness in the form of three really nice young fellows from Wyoming who had driven there in a four wheel drive truck. They were about as startled to see me there, and without wheels, as I was to see them. It was a fortunate meeting though and I hopped right into the group with their gracious invitation. We spent the next several days driving allover that area, making time that I could barely comprehend through the use of that amazing internal combustion engine they had hidden beneath the hood of their truck, and fished other areas of the Rio Pico, Lago Vintner and its outflow, and a few seemingly unexplored rivers that I will not name here on the blog with sometimes incredible results. I got my first Patagonian brook trout out of the outflow from Lago Vintner, and a nice 22 inch brown from the same Rio Corcovado down below. Then they dropped me off in Esquel, which was a good thing for me because the equipment failure thing had gotten completely out of hand during the border crossing. The zipper failure theme had continued, coming to a climax with the complete malfunction of the zippers on the flies of both of my pairs of pants, which I then sewed shut.  Whatayagonnado? So in Esquel I have purchased two new sets of pants (which has helped a bit with the smell too), and various sundry other items that were badly in need of replacement. Bad news is that another dog here has now more or less destroyed the vestibule section of my tent, which had some problems already after all this time, and that is not something that I can easily replace. Oh well. This is Patagonia. My mood was elevated, then torqued out of shape, then elevated again yesterday when I woke up to find that fall had fallen here.  Fall has always been my favorite time of year, and the memories that flood me when it shows itself through the bending of light and cooling of air are powerful. It is strange to have it happening in March. And yet, maybe not so much. Everybody be good. I will try to update again soon.