To call ourselves hikers and not go to Torres del Paine National Park in Chile would be the fastest way to loose our credibility. So despite the awful weather, we crossed yet again into Chile arriving in Puerto Natales in the middle of yet again, another snowfall.
Famous for its rock structures (the torres or towers) the park is covered in hiking trails through the mountains and around the turquoise glacial fed lakes. One of the most famous of these hikes is called the “W” which takes 3-4 days to complete and not surprisingly makes a W path around the major points of interest. Without the proper camping equipment and fearing that Florida boy Danny would turn into a popsicle with more than one night camping next to a glacier, we opted to do a modified “W”, which really looked more like a “U”.
Blame it on our adventure racing, but we’re pretty goal oriented when we hike. So when our bus from Puerto Natales arrived at the park later than expected, we charged up the mountain like a pair possessed, determined to make it our original goal for the day. The constant damp, cold weather that’s been following us the last few weeks finally caught up with us as Danny hacked, coughed and sneezed his way up and down the trail. By the time we got within sight of the mirador, we were a classic case of tortoise and the hare. The steep trail had become in my mind practically vertical, and I had no motivation to continue. And then a french woman on her way down came sliding into me like a baseball player sliding into base fueling my displeasure even more. I complained as we crossed the snowline, which we didn’t expect to cross. As we hauled our tired bodies over the final set of boulders and arrived at the mirador I was umm… disappointed. While Danny thought the view was incredible, it took a while to grow on me.
The moment we arrived the clouds seemed to part allowing sunshine to bathe the towers. It was still cold and windy, but somehow the sunshine made it better. As the professional photographer next to us snapped nearly his entire memory card of pictures, we took our requisite pictures, enjoyed the view and decided we’d had enough of the freezing cold. As we turned to pick our way down we heard a rumble next to us. Ice had been falling off the towers since we arrived, but this was a deeper rumble and before I could process what was going on, Danny shouted “avalanche!” While the view of the torres in the end won me over, no view can ever compare to watching an avalanche no matter how small from out of harms way. It was a humbling experience.
We had along way to go before our campsite so we headed down. Because of our late start, we hiked literally until dark, hauling our tired bodies into the campground a little before sunset. Thankfully we found our rented tent had already been set up, but unfortunately the “reservation” for two sleeping bags and mats was a joke, and only one of each was available. Thank god the guy at the desk took pity on us spending the night in our lightweight fleece sleeping bags, which we had intended to use only as bag liners, and gave us a comforter off his bunk bed to use.
We’re pretty far south now, so sunrise is about 5:45 a.m. And sunset is around 9:15 p.m. With so many hours of sunlight we figured we’d get up early the next day and complete our modified trek in plenty of time to catch the last boat back to the bus stop at 6 pm. Our haul the day before had taken a toll on our bodies, specifically Danny’s head cold. Couple his inability to breathe well with the hurricane like winds and it was an easy decision to take the “early” boat back at 1pm. The park itself was beautiful, and despite the steep entrance fee, $30 per person, we would definitely recommend to anyone to come in better weather and spend a week hiking the trails.