We know this wasn’t part of the original plan, but allow us to explain. We were approaching the final week of our trip and were feeling pretty bummed about it. Our plan was to spend that week in Valparaiso and Santiago, exploring the cities. But, the more we thought about it, the more it felt like we were still missing out on a huge part of South America: southern Patagonia. Initially we thought that we wouldn’t have enough time to make it all the way south, but once we looked into it, we realized that we could make it to all the must-sees in Patagonia during the time we would have spent in Valparaiso and Santiago. We both agreed that we had enjoyed the nature-y parts of our trip the most by far, and that the cities could wait for another trip. We also skyped in expert advice from our friends Amanda and Rob, who had both traveled in southern Patagonia and advised us that it was definitely worth a visit. So with that, we booked flights to Punta Arenas, one of the southernmost cities of Chile, to begin our week in southern Patagonia.
Torres del Paine
Our full day trek in the Torres del Paine national park was easily the most physically demanding endeavor either of us has ever attempted. We arrived at the park’s base camp just before noon to drop our belongings at the refugio we would be spending the night in, and then headed off on the first leg of the “W” trail. We started out optimistic: the skies were blue, the weather was warm, 8 hour hike? No problem. But then the uphill segment started, and it was steep and we realized that we had a lot working against us. Lauren was breaking in new hiking boots, it was hot and we had overdressed, there were few places to sit and rest that weren’t covered in pricklies, oh and we’re both incredibly out of shape. Despite these obstacles, we made it to the top of the steep segment within a couple of hours. From there we turned a corner around the mountain, and it was as if we had entered a subarctic climate. The temperature dropped at least 20 degrees, the wind started blowing, and the sun became obscured by giant gray clouds. On the bright side, we could see the refugio we were going to stop for lunch at in the distance, and we rejoiced!
We stopped at the refugio for a much-needed lunch break and rest before continuing on our epic trekventure. The next segment of the hike wrapped alongside a river and was, to our great delight, mostly easy rolling hills through the forest. The final hour of the hike was when things really got interesting. It started snowing, Lauren pulled her groin (what is the groin really? tendon? muscle? probably not bone?), and the landscape changed to straight uphill on loose, giant boulders completely exposed to the elements. We motivated ourselves, and others on the trail, up the hill by blasting an epic playlist that included “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough,” “Africa,” “Carry on My Wayward Son,” and “This Will Be” (yes, the song from The Parent Trap). The snow continued to get heavier, and before we knew it, we were caught in a full-on blizzard. But we had no choice but to continue, how could we turn back after making it so far?
Somehow, with a couple of numb fingers and toes, support from each other, and probably some luck from some higher power, we made it to the top of the trail... and we couldn’t see a thing. No view, no towering mountains, we couldn’t even see the lake that is at the top of the trail and was 10 feet in front of us. Needless to say, we were a little disappointed. And by a little, we mean on the verge of angry tears. But, once we refueled with some peach juice and peanuts, saw a fox prancing in the snow, and met three ridiculous Chilean ladies we started to gain some optimism. We were about to turn around and head back down when all of a sudden, the snow stopped and the fog started to clear. Little by little, we could see more of the lake and eventually the three “torres” or towers of the mountain began to reveal themselves. For about 5 minutes, we were able to see all three towers. That’s all we really needed to know that our hike was worth it. That and a good picture of course.
The tough part about hiking to a destination is that once you get there, you have to do it all over again to make it back home. And our home was really really far. With our muscles starting to feel the soreness from our day of hiking and the constantly changing weather, we embarked on our return trip down the mountain. It really felt like it took forever. We passed the time by digging into the treasure trove of middle school memories to tell each other entertaining stories. We really learned a lot about each other this day, the good, the bad, and the incredibly ugly. By the time we made it to the last part of the hike, the sun was beginning to set (it was 9pm). This offered us an incredible view of the valley and lakes below and the mountains beyond. Even though we couldn’t feel our legs and feet, it was a spectacularly beautiful view and an incredible day that neither of us will ever forget.
We finished off our day with a glass of wine by the fire, looking out the window at the towers that we had hiked so far to see. Turns out, we could have just viewed them from the refugio. But that wouldn’t have made a very good story, would it?
P.S. We were planning to hike the next day, but our bodies absolutely would not allow it.