“Milk powder is the most complete form of protein,” said Jakob nodding sagely. Just the day before he had tried to argue with the same air of authority that Trump was a feminist. “I’ve brought 2kgs of it with me to give me energy, you should have done the same.”
He shovelled spoonful after spoonful of cement-like gruel messily into his mouth. His stomach was visibly bloating and straining against his down jacket; milk powder was crusting around the corner of his lips. Jakob was a very good looking boy (and he knew it) but watching the powder crusting around the corners of his mouth and dribbling down his chin was more than a little repulsive. He spoke with the pompous, unfounded confidence unique to white males.
It was the second day of the four day Huemul Circuit in Argentinian Patagonia. Although not particularly long hike it is lauded as one of the most difficult, but also most spectacular, in the whole of Patagonia. It involved ziplining over gorges, hiking over a glacier, near vertical climbs on slippery ground and breakneck descents. The views were some of the most mind blowing I’d ever seen.
What had also been mind blowing had been the amount of bullshit spouted by the two boys accompanying us. Patronising comments, dubious ‘facts’ and a grotesque amount of mansplaining.
“That’s not how you pitch a tent,” said Noam dictatorially on the first evening, hovering over us both like a gangly praying mantis. “Hammer the pegs in at more of an angle. You want them at about 70 degrees.”
We were both seasoned campers. Anne was travelling on a strict budget and had virtually lived in her tent over the winter. But Noam always knew best.
“I know a better way to roll up your sleeping bag,” he said condescendingly. “Adjust the straps more on your backpack like this to spread the weight more evenly. What brand are your hiking boots? You’re going to struggle. I’m amazed that your feet aren’t covered in blisters already. I thought about buying that sort of stove and then decided this one would be much better.”
Of the other 20 or so hikers on the trail at the same time as us, a good three quarters were male. One or two girls were hiking with their boyfriends and there was one other mixed group of four like ours with two women and two men. There were several pairs of boys, and boys hiking solo. No girl groups and no girls hiking alone, although the other girls that we met seemed to be as experienced or more so than their male companions.
I read an article once which claimed that statistically women tend to only apply for a job when they have 100% of the qualifications whereas men will confidently apply with 60% and it always stuck in my head. I wondered whether this was the same when it came to hiking, whether women would only set off if they were 100% sure of their capabilities, and that the only reason that there weren’t many girls on the trail was due to a lack of confidence.
“We should tie our food to trees so that the mice don’t get it,” said Jakob one evening. “We can use your dental floss.” We were camped by the side of a glacier and wildlife, even the huemul deer that the trek was named after, had been noticeably absent. The wind was so strong that at moments it had snatched our voices as soon as we opened our mouths, leaving us bellowing wordlessly at each other. We’d lost a plate and pan lid to the fierce wind whilst washing up in the river and we had had to duct tape together one of Anne’s tent poles that had snapped under the strain. But sure, Jakob’s suggestion of tying all our edibles to a tree using a piece of floss seemed like a great idea.
Anne and I stowed our own drybags of food safely inside the tent and watched half amused, half exasperated as Jakob constructed an elaborate cat’s cradle of dental floss and made several futile attempts to attach his box of milk powder to a branch.
On the final day of the trek we rose before the sun. We were camped at a place known as the Bay of Icebergs. The early morning light illuminated icebergs shaped like enormous chess pieces which calved and flipped over in front of us with thunderous bangs, exposing turquoise underbellies. It was the most beautiful sight I had ever seen.
“Why are you hiking with those idiots?” asked a Dutch boy we’d met on the trek, perched on the rock next to me. “You know that you could do this without them.”
The day before we had only just made it to camp before the sun set. We’d ended up waiting for several hours for Jakob who had eaten far too much breakfast, suffered from indigestion and had to wait for his stitch to pass.
It made me think. Anne and I had been waiting for the boys the whole time. We both hiked and camped regularly. So why did we need two not particularly big and not particularly strong men who certainly had no more than 60% of the skills required to survive in the wild to chaperone us?
That morning we ran naked into the lake underneath the rising sun and swam amongst the bergs. We made coffee and sat on the pebble beach watching the slow yet steady progress of an iceberg shaped like a slug making its way across the bay and as we sat there we made a pact with each other that from that point forward we would hike with other girls or we would hike alone. We had had enough of male ego.
The first time that I set off on a multi day hike alone I was filled with self doubt but I was determined. Of course hiking with someone else is always safer, but there is no reason whatsoever why I need a man to escort me on a hike. Since I’ve been hiking solo or with other girls I’ve met far more people, enjoyed myself so much more, and I’ve been able to pitch a tent without having the angle of the tent pegs scrutinised.
All that I needed to do was take the male ego out of the equation.