Torres del Paine: Day 1

Today went by in a flash!  I’d been checking out a few yoga studios in Buenos Aires and finally I took a yoga class today in Recoleta.  I haven’t had a led class since last summer and it was really nice to have someone guiding me through an asana practice.  I signed up for a month so I’ll be attending regular classes again… and I think I’m going to take Spanish lessons next week, so I guess I should try to finish writing up my trip to Patagonia.

It felt amazing then but looking back now, I think Sunday, January 8, 2012 may be one of the best days I’ve ever had in my life.  I’m typing up what I wrote in my diary that day and then some…

“If this is camping, I want to do it everyday.”  I said to our group as we gathered around the dinner table.  We were drinking Chilean wine and having a delightful dinner with the sun setting behind Torres del Paine at 9:30PM, comfortably seated inside the dining building at our camp site.  It would still be light out for at least another hour or two, enough time for me to enjoy the meal and jot down what we did today.  A Manhattanite/city dweller for decades, I’ve never really gone camping (see my post on going camping in Korea here) or fishing.  I never even backpacked through Europe in my 20s like everyone else.  But I knew that we’d be camping in Patagonia for two nights when we set off on this trip and I was mentally prepared- I expected the worst and was going to love whatever came my way.  What I got was the fanciest version of camping I could have imagined.

Our day started out with us leaving Puerto Nalates with just our duffel bags and heading over to the pride of the Chilean Patagonia, Torres del Paine.  The fire that ravaged the park and forced the Chilean government to close it to visitors was still smoldering but under control.  When I received the e-mail about the fire the day before I left New York, I was reminded of my trip to New Mexico last summer where a huge fire shut down several parks I wanted to visit and hike.  I know that I’m Vata-Pitta (Wind-Fire) but are fires following me?  I couldn’t believe my bad luck.  Fortunately, a few days before we arrived in Chile we found out the park had re-opened but we wouldn’t be able to do our full day hike up to French Valley or go to Grey Glacier.  What remained from our original plan was today’s hike.  Full day, 19km of uphill climb, to see the famous torres or towers.

It was overcast and cloudy, perfect for our long day of hiking.  We were picked up by our driver Julio, a gentle man who was the embodiment of living breathing Paragonian Gaucho coolness.  I don’t know a New York guy who can pull off a black wool beret, a plaid shirt with faded jeans, a large silver belt buckle, a pair of well-worn boots, cigarettes, and deep scars on his chin.  Did I mention how he was wearing a beret?  Seriously, this guy was awesome without trying to be.  As soon as I met Julio I made a mental note to secretly sneak a photo of him (I never did get a good photo because I’m chicken.  I’ll have to ask Martha if she took one).  But I digress.

Back to the hike.  And what a hike it was.  At the time I really thought that our hike up to Fitz Roy in El Chalten was harder but I think it felt harder to me because it was longer.  This hike, which also took all day, was practically all uphill from beginning to end.  The moraine in the end wasn’t as steep as the Laguna de los Tres trail but considering the fact that we’d been climbing up half the day made it very difficult.  I was really impressed that everyone from our group seemed to have boundless energy and a few very fit (and younger, 10-20 years younger…) ran up the moraine to the towers.  But then again, those who were 10-20 years older than me were also flying up the mountain.  Wow-weee!  I did my best to keep up.  to.  the.  top. there... so... hard...

The  view of the towers and the emerald green lagoon below?  Beyond words.  I really do wish I were a better writer but clearly since I have no such talents, here is a photo.

There is no earthly reason how anyone who climbs up there can feel anything less than absolute awe.  We took our well-deserved break on the boulders overlooking the water and the towers, and leisurely enjoyed our lunch.  It was getting a bit misty when we were making our last ascent but by the time we were heading down the mountain the sun was starting to peak out a bit.  I really enjoyed watching the valley beneath my feet as we hiked back and the last few miles of the hike was so glorious that it almost numbed the pain my toes were suffering.

After hiking 19km and feeling tired and drained, I didn’t know what waited for us when we pulled up to our camp site.  What I didn’t expect were the piping hot showers, unbelievable view of the mountains, or to have pisco sours and freshly prepared guacamole while we sat on comfortable beanbag chairs outside.  A three course dinner and toasty tents all set up and ready for us?  I didn’t realize we’d have our own private camping site with shower facilities, and staff that cooked and served us (thanks Christian and Mauricio!)  It was the best surprise of the trip…  which, I think means that I still can’t claim to have ever gone camping.


The day wasn’t all smiles though, as we “lost” one of ours to an ankle injury on top of the mountain.  It was just moments into our descent that we heard those in the back of the pack call out for Carola.  We soon got word that Stuart had injured his ankle but luckily for us there was a team of EMTs nearby who rushed over to help him.  The rest of us made the ~10km return trip in about 3 hours (~5hr on the way up) but it took Stuart and the EMTs about 6.5 hours to do the journey back.  He was transferred back to Puerto Natales and we’ll likely meet up with him in two days time, maybe in Punta Arenas.  We’re now down two members…

Carola and our local guide Sandra are taking us on another hike tomorrow.  It won’t be to French Valley but I’m sure it’ll be great.  On a side note, I’m loving the fact that our Patagonia guide and the local Torres del Paine hiking guide are both kick-ass women, as was our glacier trekking guide Laura in El Chalten.  They carry really strong, calm, and confident energy that I find very comforting.  It’s wonderful to see these women out here.

What a great day in Patagonia…  more hiking to come tomorrow!


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