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Nearly to the end of the earth

One hop from Antarctica, Patagonia beckons ag lender

Hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina’s Glacier National Park with crampons on their boots, Tracy Holmes (right) and friend Sandee Kautz take a breather from some of Patagonia’s often strenuous conditions. Hiking the Perito Moreno Glacier in Argentina’s Glacier National Park with crampons on their boots, Tracy Holmes (right) and friend Sandee Kautz take a breather from some of Patagonia’s often strenuous conditions.

Tracy Holmes had climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in 2009 and says she should have known better because of that experience. But on her way up a mountain trail to a glacial lake in Patagonia, she realized too late that she’d forgotten an essential practice, and now her body was in trouble.

“I could feel my blood sugar dropping like a rock,” says Holmes, director and head of an agricultural banking unit in Modesto, Calif., for Bank of the West. And the hardest part of the climb remained.

Holmes isn’t a health nut, but she constantly balances diet versus activity, and had gone into her Patagonian hiking vacation watching her intake because she’d been at her desk a lot. She says she hadn’t made the mental shift to climbing consumption, and hadn’t been eating the quick-energy trail mix and chocolates offered by her group’s guides. From her African climb, she knew the importance of that constant energy feed—with the strenuous climbing, “you burn through the calories, and your body needs it”—but had forgotten it. And now she felt sick.

Among her group were two friends, a couple she’d joined on this excursion, and she knew the wife had a high-energy bar in her pack. She got the snack from her friend and engulfed it. “I felt my body ‘coming back to life,’” says Holmes.

That was one of the more dramatic moments in Holmes’ 80-plus mile hiking tour through the Patagonian region of Chile and Argentina, at the tip of South America. This includes the southern portion of the Andes range, as well as surrounding steppes, deserts, and more. This area remains one of the last unspoiled places on earth. Holmes notes that some villages her group passed through hadn’t even been settled until the mid-1980s. Other than sheep farming and fishing, tourism is the sole business in the sparsely settled area.

Holmes describes herself not as a hiker or climber or adventurer, but as a woman who likes to visit “cool destinations with cool things to see.” She will do and, if necessary, learn whatever it takes to see them, she explains. So she’s tackled challenges from climbing Kilimanjaro to exploring underwater wrecks by scuba to completing a half-marathon. “I guess I have a little bit of a habit of committing to something, and then trying to figure out how to get it done,” says Holmes. “None of these things are on a ‘bucket list.’”

Patagonian hiking can be a challenge in logistics and preparation. “The weather can change on a dime,” says Holmes. Some days began with her wearing a tank top and by the end of the day switching to a down jacket or a poncho. Figuring out what to pack and what to leave out each day can be difficult, she says, but even so, some days a hiker may carry 25 pounds of gear to account for all weather conditions.

But when things are clear, “the views are spectacular,” says Holmes. “And the skies almost looked ‘Photoshopped.’ They were so blue.” Azure above, and at her feet, she often found the purest water for drinking, with streams and lakes fed by glaciers. The taste was extraordinary.

Even in remote Patagonia, today you can’t escape WiFi, which hotels in the region offer. But some nights were spent in trailside cabins, and during the day, on the trail, there is no signal for handhelds.

“It was a good way to get off the grid for a while,” says Holmes.

Steve Cocheo

Steve Cocheo’s career in business journalism has taken him to all 50 states and nearly every corner of banking in institutions of all sizes. He is executive editor of ABA Banking Journal, digital content manager of ababj.com, and editor of ABA Bank Directors Briefing. He coordinates the popular Pass the Aspirin and First Person features and wrote the booklet series Focus On The Bank Director. He is the only journalist to have sat in on three federal banking exams, was a finalist for the Jesse H. Neal national business journalism awards, and a winner of multiple awards from the American Society of Business Publication Editors.

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