DAY ONE: Our 7:50 am bus into the park was, simply put, the most spectacular thing I’ve ever seen. Grassy plains and rolling hills gave way to razor sharp, snow-capped mountains piercing movie poster skies. The massive granite spires that give the park its name (Torres del Paine means blue towers in an indigenous language) rose dramatically above rainbows, emerald blue lakes and sun bathing guanacos (a wild, southern version of an alpaca). The experience was only tempered by our vantage through muddy bus windows, rumbling down winding gravel roads.
The bus dropped us off at a dock where we caught a ferry across another sky blue lake. After a 30 minute trip, we laced up our boots and hiked 7 miles to the first campsite. After setting up camp, we walked another half mile to the edge of Lago Grey where we had a view of the Glacier by the same name. We broke of chunks of an iceberg to chill our whiskey. We had a relaxed dinner and a comfortable evening. There had been no signs of the infamous Patagonia wind until the moment we crawled into our sleeping bags. All night the gusts tested the strength of Clay’s cozy 2 person tent. It survived, but I had a sleepless first night.
DAY TWO: 7 miles of backtracking plus another 3 miles to the next campsite. The wind and rain from the night before continued well into the afternoon, often threatening to knock us off our feet while we hiked. The destination, Campamento Italiano, was soggy and sad looking.
DAY THREE: The weather was perfect, the views were spectacular, the lakes were tranquil, and the beer at the end tasted especially good. It had been almost three exhausting miles uphill to Mirador Britanico and an additional 6.5 miles to the next camp site. Refugio Cuernos was charming and beautifully situated. A fun night sipping whiskey and throwing rocks at other rocks (boys will be boys?) capped a great day.
DAY FOUR: The fourth day should have been the toughest, but by then my legs seemed to be getting stronger. We powered through 11 miles and a few steep climbs. Shortly after lunch we were stopped on a bluff by some other hikers who pointed to the grassy plains below. A large puma (!) was lazily wandering through the brush. Moments later, I had to nudge Clay, who was focused on the puma through the lens of his camera, when a massive condor flew 30 feet over our heads.
DAY FIVE: Weather permitting, day five begins with a dark hike up a steep mountain to an alpine lake where the view of the iconic towers basking in the golden glow of the rising sun is supposed to be life changing. After an entire night of rain, we had no reason to think we’d be so lucky, but we woke at 530am and climbed 2 miles in the snow anyways, knowing we’d regret not knowing if the clouds broke. They did not. Disappointed, we hiked back down to camp in the pouring rain. Packing up our wet clothes and soggy tent was a challenge, and the hike out was a slog. We were wet and cold, and our water-logged packs were heavier than usual. But the hot chocolate at the end of the 7 miles tasted all the better.
The trek had been spectacular. Too crowded at times, and being confined to busy campgrounds wasn’t perfect. But the standardized itinerary meant that we saw the same people every night. We’d made some friends, and it was fun to decompress back in Puerto Natales with the group from the trail.