Chilly Patagonia in Chile

Torres mountain ranges from afer.

Torres mountain ranges from afar.

 

Our astounding Patagonia adventure started out down in Chile – the extreme south region, at the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park.

The far-off, isolated, rugged and desolate park is located in the southern tears of the Andes. It was an incredibly lengthy and not entirely pleasant journey to get ourselves there from Mexico – 35hrs consisting of 4 planes and 2 bus journeys – yet at the same time this was the very essence of its appeal. There is no doubting that it was worth the effort.

The parks’ landscape is truly exceptional with its fantastic jagged granite peaks, barren pampas, brilliant blue lakes, iceberg-loaded rivers, forests, waterfalls and of course the two mountain ranges – Cerro Paine and Cuernos del Paine. All of which we trekked over 9 tremendously arduous days.

I think Michael’s photographs will speak for themselves and give you a very good idea of how spectacular the place is. Though every day was blog worthy, I’ll try to entertain you with just a few highlighted details and stories to give you an idea of the kind of terrain and conditions we were in.

Arriving drenched!

Arriving drenched!

As a result of the vast, unbroken stretch of ocean to the west and south combined with Patagonia’s huge glaciers and proximity to the Antarctic, Torres is known for its extreme and unpredictable weather.

All in the same boat as we try warm up and dry off. Notice the clothes hanging around the only source of heat in the refugio.

All in the same boat as we try warm up and dry off. Notice the clothes hanging around the only source of heat in the refugio.

Of which we were introduced to right from day 1.

Our first day we hiked uphill in miserable conditions – a mixture of horizontal sleet, rain and wind. To add to the experience the ground was wet, muddy and therefore slippery. The worst thing is that we took the advice given at a talk we went to about the park and didn’t put our waterproof layers on. The fact the talk was given by a grimy, pyjama clad hippy should have clued us in that our standards might differ somewhat but there you go. I’m not going to bore you with her logic, all you need to know and what bothered us is – SATURATED combined with FREEZING.

A very narrow escape! This would have been our 'kitchen' and 'hang out area' had we camped/

A very narrow escape! This would have been our ‘kitchen’ and ‘hang out area’ had we camped.

These first two days we were supposed to be camping only an hour away from the famed “towers”. Much to my disappointment, our porter (who we only had to help us for the 2 camping days) suggested that it would be a very uncomfortable experience if we camped and seeing as the Refugio (shelter and basic services) was open, we should stay there – EXCELLENT CALL! The next day we awoke to snow.

Now there was no way we were going to miss out on seeing the Towers so on our second morning, after more snow fall, Michael and I got up before dawn and hiked the 2hrs to the Towers for sunrise.

Blizzard on the way to The Towers.

Blizzard on the way to The Towers.

Our packing is generally geared for the tropics so our only footwear for this expedition was trainers. Having learnt from Nepalese porters in the Himalayas that plastic bags over socks work a treat, we did just that to keep our feet waterproof. So plastic bags along with wearing every layer of clothing owned, we marched towards our destination. Headlamps on in the dark, we were sliding all over the place on the ice and at times having to hold on to the fauna (carefully and in absolute gratitude) in order not to be blown off the edge of the mountain by the gail force winds. But the real fun came as we began the fairly steep climb over icy moraine boulders.

A premature sigh of relief as the boulder section finished. Now we were unprotected and completely exposed to the blizzard conditions as well as waist deep in snow, which made for very hard work! Thankfully the few other crazy people to be out in these conditions had gotten off to an even earlier start and left some foot/leg-prints otherwise we’d have had no idea which direction to head in.

The Towers.

The Towers.

We did make it in time to see The Towers. The blustery conditions ironically worked in our favour as they rapidly moved the clouds in and out in such a way that we were able to catch glimpses of the awesome granite spires. A painful and pleasurable hour passed before the clouds rolled in for good and hid them for the duration of the day. In the meantime more snow had arrived and I was in a panic of tears as I tried to find my way out of the place, consistently finding myself neck (yes!!! NECK) deep in snow between boulders. All the while Michael obliviously continuing to photograph.

Another area of the park - Mirador Condor. Where the views are breathtaking but the winds border on dangerous. I found shelter behind this rock.

Another area of the park – Mirador Condor. Where the views are breathtaking but the winds border on dangerous. I found shelter behind this rock.

 

The following day the weather started to clear and I’m pleased to report that it remained windy and cold, but with sunshine, for the remainder of our trek.

Enjoying our morning cup of tea while observing sunrise from Mirador Condor.

Enjoying our morning cup of tea while observing sunrise from Mirador Condor.

Not only does Torres boast mountains, spires and lakes, there are also small valleys that separate it all. Day 7 for us was a huge 10hr day of hiking in and back out of the French Valley.

For a number of reasons this was a most memorable day.

The realities of breakfast whilst trekking.

The realities of breakfast whilst trekking.

The French Valley, hidden in a gigantic amphitheatre of granite and ice is stunning. Magnificently set off at this time of year by the autumn colours of the trees that fill the valley.

Yet again, we found ourselves climbing boulders. Unsatisfied to make it to the viewing point where most are content and head back down, we continued climbing to the final view point. Only we got completely and utterly lost. The talk we went to – that one given by the grimy hippie – included telling us that only morons could get lost in the park as the trails are so well marked. I really do beg to differ but anyhow here we are, The Moronic Myerscoughs.

I think one of the healthiest things about out trek, besides the fresh air, was the fact that all of the water in Patagonia is drinkable. Makes life easier not having to carry litres of water around when you know that the freshest and purest of water is so readily available.

I think one of the healthiest things about out trek, besides the fresh air, was the fact that all of the water in Patagonia is drinkable. Makes life easier not having to carry litres of water around when you know that the freshest and purest of water is so readily available.

I think the mistake we made was getting off the trail to fill up on water and a spot of photography. However we did finally end up nice and high, at a superb location. It was going down that got extremely hairy.

Convinced we spotted the proper path, we headed in that direction and it quickly got very ugly and scary – that’s not a joke. What we thought was the trail was nothing like it, so for an hour we were desperately trying to find the route back. Crawling through the tightly packed inhospitable trees, holding on tightly so as not to go veering down the mountain in the mud and snow. Then finding ourselves on our butts, sliding down hills of fresh snow as the only option to getting where we needed to go next. Along the way we were stared at by wild deer who found us rather intriguing – fortunately we were able to pause and savour this incredible moment of being in such close proximity to them before resuming to our anxious states.

The French Valley.

The French Valley.

Sliding down snowy hills. That's not a look of joy on my face.

Sliding down snowy hills. That’s not a look of joy on my face.

Our situation felt rather hopeless, no one knew where we were and we had begun to entertain the idea of not finding our way back before the sun went down and having to camp out. It felt nothing short of miraculous when just at that moment, we spotted a person walking on the trail ahead. Phew! With so much adrenalin still pumping around our bodies, the 4hr return hike to the Refugio seemed like a breeze.

The Milky Way. Carrying rocks as protection from Limas and the like, Michael has now overcome his fear of photographing in the wilderness at night. I'm sure you will agree that the results are nothing short of stunning.

The Milky Way. Carrying rocks as protection from Pumas and the like, Michael has now overcome his fear of photographing in the wilderness at night. I’m sure you will agree that the results are nothing short of stunning.

Becoming objects of our disdain. Sleeping bags and crocs attached to our day packs to get us through the last two days.

Becoming objects of our disdain. Sleeping bags and crocs attached to our day packs to get us through the last two days.

Having seen and experienced so many breathtaking landscapes in our travels, there certainly was a question as to whether Patagonia would live up to it’s reputation for us. I can say that most definitely Torres del Paine is phenomenal and unlike anything else we’ve seen. The climate and region certainly does leave one with the feeling that you are on the edge of the world and has left a lasting impression on us both.

Stay tuned for pics and stories of the second half of our Patagonia trip.

Suitably exhausted on our last days walk home.

Suitably exhausted on our last days walk home with Glacier Grey in the background.

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24 thoughts on “Chilly Patagonia in Chile

  1. Rod Francis says:

    Wow! That is one heck of an adventure and I am impressed guys. What absolutely incredible scenery and stunning shots. Looking forward to round two.

  2. lesleybfay says:

    Good grief and heavenly Gods. Wow and double Wow. This is a fantastic blog of a very incredible area; your trip in, out and there. I don’t know if I could have done it without whining when it got that cold.The photos are gorgeous and the writing is great. I guess when I was reading before I did not pay as much attention. Vic, you are good. The two of you need to write a book. Ok, get going on it. It is miserably hot and muggy here. Heather and Mark are leaving in two days. Feeling mildly depressed. Miss you both.

  3. Yee Liu says:

    Great pictures Michael – love the tag line and write up. Yee Liu x

  4. Jan says:

    Nope, never gonna happen! I think I will continue my life in comfort…An incredible journey for you both…..The GOD’S were with you, returning you both safely…never trust a hippie, not many brain cells left!
    Xoxo

    • Jan…these experiences always make us soooo much more appreciative of the comforts in life. It’s why we need places like Sayulita so that we can build up enough resilience stores ;). Too funny – yes, lesson learned with hippie advice too xo

  5. Marcus says:

    So glad you listened to your porter, that camping area looks pretty gross =) Congratulations on another successful adventure!

    • Michael says:

      Mate, that photo doesn’t even begin to encapsulate what a miserable experience that campsite would have been. We’d have been standing around in that shed or laying down in a tent all day long trying to get warm.

  6. John Niland says:

    Amazing pics, matey. It’s incredible that all the water is drinkable… I don’t think I’ve ever trekked anywhere you could say that. Certainly beats loading up like a camel at every oasis!

  7. valerie myerscough says:

    Thanks Victoria for making my armchair experience of Patagonia so real! I didn’t think that the world held so many stunning mountains. Intrepid is the only way to honour your commitment and daring!!!

    • Michael says:

      Val, you’ve been one our most active and vocal supporters. Thanks for the email and your comparison to it being like the next instalment in a good book you’re reading.

  8. James says:

    Really awesome and once again you have lived to write another day. Awesome blog on all counts. I know very little about this area so it was quite interesting to see the pictures and read about it. You guys deserve a ton of credit for putting yourselves out there and going for it.

  9. Nicholina Kuner says:

    Victoria ! You are both incredible ! There is definitely a book in the making ! And I really thank God you are both still alive – it certainly sounded scary , extraordinary , and madness that you both obviously love ! Please try something safer !!! — the writing is wonderful – the photos world class X

  10. pat bishop says:

    I can’t beat the compliments you have had; i understand now why I wanted to go to Patagonia, and probably why I never shall, certainly not in that proximity!!! Good thing you have no latent suicidal streaks!
    Survival is all! and exhilaration!
    Thanks so much for sharing it as you go along!!1
    Pat B

  11. Oh Pat! I’m glad that you could at least see some great pictures of Patagonia! So happy to know that you enjoy the sharing of our travels after the time we put into the photos and the writing! X

  12. Frank says:

    Good Morning Michael and Victoria,

    Going thru old email and saw your name. Made me smile and remember! Michael you are quite the artist, the offer to share in New Jersey is always open and I think you might be challenged artistically in our Garden State.

    Love
    Frank and Christine

    • Frank.
      Michael says that he owes his love of photography to you. We may well pass through NJ one day and I’m sure there will be some interesting things to photograph there :).
      Lovely to hear from you and thanks for your interest and comment.

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