STORY BEHIND THE IMAGE: TORRE DEL TERROR
Sometimes the images I capture become more about the experience I had with taking them. During my trip to the Patgonia region last april, I spent a few days in the Cerro Torre region in hopes of interesting conditions, and while doing so, I happened to have one of the more frightening wildlife experiences I’ve ever had, and in hind sight, one of the most hilarious. All was well and good in my cozy little campsite tucked away at the end of the Laguna Torre campground that night, until shortly after sliding into my sleeping bag for the night I heard an odd animal noise. It sounded distant, seemingly at the other end of the campground, and at first I thought it was perhaps someones dog… just, a dog that was never properly instructed on how to bark. It sounded strange. A swell of a growl mixed with a squawk mixed with a bark, almost dinosaur like, and/or bird like. Like if you were to try and impersonate a dinosaur sound by sucking in through your vocal chord rather than out, starting at a lower tone and rising to higher pitched over the course of a second. It reverberated from the far end of the campground for several minutes, at a regular frequency until eventually it trailed off into the distance. At this point I was assuming it wasn’t someone’s dog, but some wild creature. From what I knew, there is not much big wildlife present in the Patagonia region. Big clumsy camel-like Guanaca, an endangered deer like animal called a Huemel, the Puma, and a healthy selection of birds, rodents, and things of the like. I was unsettled because I knew it couldn’t be something harmless like a guanaco or a deer… they don’t make that noise, right? So… maybe some kind of large bird, roaming around the campground scavenging? Or… Puma? No way. But maybe? Eh well, whatever, it’s gone now and I’ll never know. I drifted off to sleep.
‘RRRAAAAHAHHHHHHHH’ MOTHER OF GOD, jumping out of a slumber to the God-awful sound of whatever hell-spawn creature that thing is, now back, and scoping out the area around my tent. My heart racing, I froze in my half asleep phase, my instinct to just be quiet and not let this flesh eating monster, surely looking for it’s next human meal, know that I am here, and ripe for the picking. ‘RAAAAAHHHHHHHHH’, it called again… only from another direction. Did it move? I heard nothing, no foot steps, no leaves rustling. Are there more than one? WHAT IS IT. I carried a satellite messaging device with me so that I had communication with my wife while I was in the back country. I began messaging her furiously, asking her to get on google and search for what animals roam at night and make a squawking noise. That's the best and most succinct way I could describe the noise. Squawk. Yeah. These satellite devices work slow, and it took awhile to be able to get into a conversation with her about what was going on. Of course she is freaking out now, knowing that I’m out here, about to be murdered by some unknown creature in a foreign country. I end up also messaging my friend TJ, asking him the same thing. While communicating with them, this animal, or animals, or alien, or devil creature is still roaming around the area, making it’s terrifying noise. Neither of them were coming up with anything other than Puma… so of course now I’m thinking I’ve got pumas roaming around… great. I think well maybe I just need to scare it off, and in an attempt to, I grab the corner of the inside of my tent, shake it furiously, and yell, ‘AAHHHHHHHHHH’.
‘RRRAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH’ LOUD and to my left. I recoil. My adreniline rushes. My heart beats faster. ‘RRRAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH’ to my right. #&%$!&, WHAT THE… ‘RAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH’ to the front of my tent. Whatever this thing, or things, is/are, they seem to be surrounding my tent, screaming at me. I did not scare them at all. I felt like I had provoked them. Confirmed to them where their next meal was. I’m embarrassed to admit this almost, but I trembled in fear at that moment. Uncontrollable trembling. I can’t remember another time in my life where I felt more fearful. I didn’t know what to do. These animals were not scared of me, something I have learned about wildlife from my backcountry experience is that most, MOST wildlife is naturally fearful of humans, and I’ve used this knowledge to gain confidence in the wild, to not get freaked out when an animal shows up. But this… this was different. I was freaked out. The animals continued to surround my tent, and scream their Jurassic melody at me from three different directions. It was so loud, like they were right next to the tent, inches from my face, with only a thin nylon barrier between us. I lay there silent, clutching my satellite messenger, hoping to get a message back about about some kind of harmless bird, or something, that is normally heard at night and makes this unmistakeable God awful racket. But, no such relief came. Only more results suggesting that these were indeed Puma, and I was indeed in deep shit. I decided to try yelling again, and at the top of my lungs, in the loudest and deepest roar I could muster I managed to yell probably the least manliest thing I could yell… ‘GOOOO AWAAAAYYYYYYY!!!’
Didn’t work. They continued. And would then fall silent. I would lay there, in that silence, hoping they were gone. Minutes would pass, and just when I thought I was free from this torture… ‘RRRAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH’. STILL THERE. I swear they were taunting me.
Eventually those pauses in between their calls became permanent, and the creature or creatures that I thought for sure we're going to end my life, were gone. I lay there, eyes wide open, for a good hour after, slowly calming down. Heart beat returning to normal. Sweat drying. Heat dissipating. Fatigue grasping me eventually enough so that I drifted to sleep.
I made it. I woke up the next morning intact, and shot this at Laguna Torre, a thin film of ice forming on the surface of the lake from the cold temperatures over night, creating all these great lines in the ice. It was really a great morning, and such a relief after the night that preceded it, which at this point felt like just a nightmare. Did that really happen? Everyone in the campsite was buzzing about it. Everyone was freaked out, no one knew what they were, and many assumed it was Puma.
The day went on, and I was suffering a bit from a mild case of PTSD, pausing in my tracks at times, completely phasing out of what I was doing and flashing back to those moments during that horrific night. I had planned to stay out another night, and had gone off trail to camp near another composition I was shooting. Sunset came and went, after which I just couldn’t get over it, especially as the night came, increasing my anxiety about the situation. I packed up my stuff and hiked out of there in the dark knowing that only 4 miles had me back to civilization. Jumping at every dark corner, and every movement of a branch, it was a quick 4 mile hike out from where I was, and I got back fast. I was crashing at a small cabin my friend Andrew Waddington had rented in El Chalten for the year, and I showed up unexpectedly at his door. Naturally he was curious why I had returned in the dark, and a day early. When I mentioned a run in with Pumas, he responded in excitement, wanting to know more. What a rare opportunity! As I described the series of events, I did the best I could to make the sound that they were making as they surrounded me when I noticed andrews face change from excitement, to disappointment, to amusement as he began to laugh. I stopped as he said to me,
‘Mate, that wasn’t a Puma… that was a Huemel, the local deer.'
Go here to listen to an example of what I heard from the Huemel. While the animal in the video is not a Huemel, the noise it's making is very similar! CLICK HERE