I write prose. I’m not a poet and I’m certainly not a lyricist (though obviously I’ve been known to bust a freestyle from time to time come the pinnacle of particular nights). So please take everything I write in this post with a grain of salt; Patagonia was one of the few locations in the world that escapes my capacity to describe what I saw in words. Really. It was that beautiful.
But I’ll walk you through the trip so that maybe if you close your eyes after you read this piece you’ll be able to close your eyes and see it all yourself.
We left on a Thursday. At 4am on a Thursday to be exact. Which meant we had to be at the airport at 2am. Which meant we really had to be at the airport on Wednesday night, which also happens to be one of the best nights for going out in Santiago (I got about 3 hours til I hit the town tonight, actually – or, at least, I did when I first started this piece). So, I talked decided I’d just sleep on the plane and balance going out with getting to the airport. As maybe you can guess, the going out part was not at all a problem. I celebrated my Chilean friend’s birthday with chants and merriment. Once 12:30 struck, however, it was time to get my bag (I had packed it about 3 days earlier out of excitement, don’t worry) and head to my friend’s house, which was serving ast he rendezvous point for the four Americans who were heading south together. Before leaving my house to catch the bus, I made sure to take my phone out of my pocket and put it in my desk, because surely I wouldn’t need it in the Torres del Paine National Park, right? Right. But I remembered on the Bus heading to her house that I had actually never been there before, and couldn’t completely remember what number she had said her house was. So after about 20 minutes of walking up and down a Santiago street, I finally walked into the building numbered 200, which felt like what she had told me. Then there was the problem of what apartment number she had told me. Certainly couldn’t remember that either. Luckily as soon as I asked the doorman for the “delgada, rubia gringa” (“skinny, blonde American”), he brought me to Meghan and the rest of my crew. Adrenaline subsided and we caught a cab to the airport.
The plane ride was about 3.5 hours to Punto Arenas, the most southern semi-major city in Chile. South. Really really south. Like, end of the world, actually. From which we immediately took a 3 hour bus north to the city of Puerto Natales, a cool little city built purely upon backpacking tourists and fishing. After spending a night in the hostile, it was time for the Park the next morning at 7am.
To get to the park, we took another 2.5 hour bus north (we were SOUTH). We got to the park around 10, got to our campsite around 10:30, set up camp beneath a set of enormous mountains, and hit the trail towards the famous Torres del Paine at 11. The hike was tough, even for someone who likes to tell people he hikes a lot – about a 6 hour climb to the “mirador” (“look out”) at the top. But that being said, the ascension was by far the best part: we walked along mountain streams gushing with clear glacial water (clean enough that you can dip your Nalgene in and drink directly from the source), through deciduous tree forests, along arid ridges, and up extremely steep rock walls, only to finally reach the top: a glacial lake almost 2,000 meters in altitude with strange looking rock pillars jutting out of the ground next to it. That first day was our only even slightly cloudy day, but the overcast grey that masked the peaks of these towers actually created a really cool effect – like the rocks would continue up infinitely through the atmosphere. All I could think of was Lord of The Rings. And maybe, on a different literary level, Jack and the Beanstalk. After a few photos and a few snacks, it was back down through the assortment of vegetation and rock formation to our tents at the base. Then dinner, wine, stories, and bed.
The next day was our shortest, but the first with full packs. I’ve hiked a good amount before, but for others it was a good chance to get acclimated to the weight on their backs. We walked around the base of the largest mountain in the park and alongside the impossibly light-blue water of the Lago Nordenskjold. Cows, horses, and gorgeous mountain streams accompanied our travel. The hike was about 5 hours and ended with our second night campsite of Los Cuernos: the prettiest campsite I’ve ever stayed at.
Los Cuernos is located at the base of this same mountain we walked around the second day (I’m having trouble remembering its name and google isn’t coming through for me). The campsites line a gushing mountain stream whose sounds lull you to sleep when you’re ready. But before you’re ready for sleep, you have to be ready for the view across all of Lago Nordenskjold. And you have to be ready for some late-night wood-stove jacuzzi action. Yep. My buddy and I saw the tub when we got to the campsite, but we’re told it was for the resort section of the campsite. But when the light went down, he and another friend of mine and I climbed up the path along the stream until we hit the tub, dropped our clothes, and hopped in the water. It wasn’t all too hot by the time we got there, but it was definitely warm enough to sit in for a good 20 minutes and watch the moon and the stars. Definitely a highlight of the trip.
The next day was our longest, toughest, and most rewarding day: up the Valle del Frances. It was about a two hour hike to the Campo Italiano campsite, where we dropped our heavy packs and met the trail head of the “French Valley” – it doesn’t quite have the same ring in English I don’t think. The first mirador we hit was an indescribably massive mountain covered with active glaciers, sending booming avalanches crashing down to the river below every 3 minutes. The second mirador was above the entire valley, overlooking all of the interesting mountain features and the patches of forest changing into their fall foliage colors. Just gorgeous. I was full. Full of everything I was taking in: sounds, colors, shapes. Just amazing.
After getting all full and such as I say, we hiked back down the valley (about a 6 hour hike there and back), picked up our packs and continued westward to our final campsite: Paine Grande. We repeated our camping routine of food, a little wine, stories, and sleep. Certainly wasn’t hard for anyone to get their full 8 hours that night.
The next day we woke up early to get to the Glacier Grey before our boat embarked down the Lago Grey at 12:00pm. The hike up to the glacier was short, but the whipping winds made it feel longer than the 1.5 hours it actually took. At the peak of the mountain, the best vantage point of the glacier, the lake, and the icebergs floating down the water, the wind was so furious that I couldn’t even hear the person who was talking next to me. “Impresionante” as I would say in Spanish.
Took photos, wiped tears from our eyes (due to the wind…I think. Maybe it was that beautiful), and headed back down to the tents and to the boat.
The boat was a fantastic way to end our trip and offered some of the best views of the trip: we traveled back along the lake we had been walking along since day 2, retracing all of our steps as the boat whipped down the lake. The final image it offered as we took the final corner of the lake was breathtaking: it’s the same view that Austral beer (brewed in Patagonia) uses on their label; look it up.
I’m running out of words in this piece, but the rest of the trip wasn’t anything exciting: buses, planes, and shared stories and pictures from the trip. And if this tale I’ve just shared wasn’t enough for your imagination to take over (I can’t imagine it was), here are some “best of the best” pictures for you to lay your gaze upon:
The three Torres del Paine
This was our guide Carlos – the man. The day after we got back to Puerto Natales he was heading back out into the park to look for Pumas alone for 10 days. Great guy.
Drink Austral and look at the label.
Talk to you all again soon!