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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.