We arrived in Puerto Natales, fresh off of our trip to the Perito Moreno Glacier (see picture below). It was Christmas eve, and we were in this small town, back across the border in Chile for one thing and one thing only. To Trek the famous "W" circuit in Torres De Paine National Park.
Through some fellow travelers we met in Bariloche, we found out that we could go to a hostel called the "Erratic Rock" and get a primer on what we were going to need for the next 5 days in this legendary park.
It was a great break down for a serious preparation. The guide told us about the extreme weather that we were likely to see, the best way to pack for it ( to keep our back packs dry), how to travel the circuit, and which parts of the park were the gems to be seen. It was great pre-curser, to the trip, and we prepared accordingly.
After taking a 2 hour bus ride north to the entrance of the Park, we were greeted by a clear view of the range. Torres de Paine is a random act of nature which occurred millions of years ago, when magma penetrated through a crack in Magellan's basin, pushing up granite and sedimentary rock, forming a magnificent spectacle. It also hosts the third largest ice field / glacier in all of the world. We were informed that this is one of the places weather is born, and we should be prepared for nothing short of epic weather conditions on a daily basis. It is not impossible to see all four seasons in one day.
It was Christmas day, and the weather was clear, but a wind blew gusts up to 60 mph, enough to through dirt and gravel in to the air, and make walking into the wind a task in itself. After taking a 45 minute boat ride across a lake to the trail head, we started the trek. Out destination for the day was the shore of Lago grey and Glacier grey. The sights did not disappoint as we made our way up and down craggy trails, battling the wind. We finally found ourselves at the camp site at the side of the lake, which featured large chunks of Ice, some the size of motor bikes, recently broken off from the nearby glacier. It was great first day, which thankfully gave us enough spirit to make it through the next two days.
The next two days were miserable. We had to hike in high winds, and icy rain. Our clothes, packs, and feet were nothing short of soaked as we trekked on to the next campsite. Thankfully the packing instructions gave to us a few days before paid off, and all of our contents remained dry.
We were camping at the foot of a valley called Valle de Frances. This, according to our sources was supposed to house the best views during our trek. In order to see it, we stayed an extra day, trying to wait the rain out, but alas it never cooperated, and on the fourth day we had to pack up camp and make up a day of hiking to stay on schedule and see to see the crown jewel of the park.
Day four will probably be the most memorable to me. We started early, and the weather finally cooperated. This was a choice situation as we had to make up a lot of ground. To date my longest day hiking, we completed just short of 17 miles up and down some steep terrain. The fuel to this madness was the insanely beautiful scenery which had just been exposed from the rainy cloud conditions.
We needed to make it to the base of Torres (Towers). Which according to our sources, seen at sun rise would become on of the best things we have ever seen. Although it took most of the day, and bared blisters, sore knees, and semi-sprained ankles, we made it to the final camp. Exhausted, we made camp and fell asleep after eating a hefty meal of noodles and powdered cheese.
The final morning. The site I'd been waiting to see. The Torres de Paine. Three magnificent spires jutting up from the mountainside, made of pure beautiful granite. We woke at 4 AM. Early, yes...but we still had to scramble up 45 minutes of rocky talus, to reach the valley where these gems existed. As I battled the soreness in my legs and knees from the previous day, I came to the top of the talus field to see nothing shot of pure beauty. Thankfully the weather permitted a view of the spires. However the wind howled in gale force as the sun raised, and Ryan got back in his sleeping bag and prepared some soup to warm his wavering soul.
I however was on another mission, I wanted to get a great photo. I tramped up more rocks for a better view, getting pelted with spurts of icy rain that felt like light bee stings to the face. The sun danced upon the spires as I rifled off shot after shot. At one point we were even blessed with a morning rainbow across the face of the rock. A truly magnificent experience.
The weather became to much, and we had to retreat back to camp. We packed up and made our way out of the mountians and to the main reception area where we would be picked up by a bus, and ride back to town.
After several days reflection, this was definately one of the hardest things I've ever done. In total we hiked over 40 miles in 5 days. Even when weather was at its worse the precious yet rugged beauty of this place shined through. Little things made this trip even more memorable. The glacier water, was so pure, we were able to drink directly from the streams and rivers. I tell you water has never tasted better than in its coldest, freshest form. I was also able to somehow summon some inner hiking strength, and hiked faster and harder than I ever have. I remembered the words of my hiking super star friend Damon Corso; " People don't pass me, I pass people", and proudly I kept true to form. Not one person passed me walking on the trail.
We have now crossed back into Argentina. We're still very far south, but preparing to take some unfortunately long bus rides up Buenos Aires. We decided to break it up, and stop off and see some penguins half way up. I'm excited. I'm not sure why I want to see these birds in their natural habitat, but I do. Next stop BUENOS AIRES!