Fire Water Wind Earth? Earth, Sea, Sun, Sky? Earth Wind Fire? Try Torres del Paine’s Patagonian combination of natural elements (and deluxe comforts) on for size:
Clouds. Incredible, otherworldly formations. Whipped and swirled and shuffling across the skies, completely unlike the soaking cotton ball rainclouds of the Pacific Northwest.
Fire. Or rather, fire damage. After the tragic burn of the vast Western end of the park, there are no matches, no smoking, no open flames beyond the bounds of the Refugios. Camp stoves are allowed in designated camping areas, but marshmallows and campfire songs are sadly absent from the experience. On the bright side: grungy trekking clothes don’t smell like smoke.
Wind. Powerful, powerful wind of myth and legend. Even exaggerations are understated.
Wine and Chocolate. It’s true! Little tiendas run by the Refugios offer tastes of comfort and indulgence to backpackers and luxury travelers alike. Maybe not fair trade certified, but when in the wilderness, a Dark Chocolate Toblerone and a Klean Kanteen of red really hit the spot.
Restaurants. Wait. This is supposed to be the wild middle of nowhere… Not so remote as you might think. Though we chose to pack a tent and stay at Refugio campsites, it’s perfectly possible to visit the park and stay in heated accommodations, sleep on mattresses, and eat with real cutlery. We cooked on a camp stove most mornings and nights then happily sat down for a “real meal” at Fantástico Sur Mountain Lodges’ Refugio Chileno on Ted’s 30th birthday.
Picking up where we left off after “μ” Trek, Day 1, more stories from the trail…
“μ” Trek, Day 2: Working our way East, we exited the Western burned-out end of Torres del Paine, moved beyond the limits of the Forest Fire’s reach, and skirted the south side of the Cuernos del Paine mountain range along the lake shores.
Please note, as photo proof, Ted Rydmark camping with a smile! (It may have been partially inspired by his winning rain-pants argument the day before. See video. It may also have been short lived. See below.)
Unfortunately, the second day was 24 kilometers torture. Ted limped along with an ill-fitting pack, torqued his back, and landed us in camp on the last day of his twenties in a state of complete irritation and fatigue. On the bright side? They sell wine and chocolate at the Refugios, and if you time it right, it’s possible to buy a 2/3 full bottle of red from a sweet, tipsy middle aged trekker and save a few Chilean pesos on the price gouge. (She offered, and it was too good to refuse!)
“μ” Trek, Day 3: On the morning of Ted’s thirtieth birthday, we looked at each other, looked at the map, looked at the weather, and kissed goodbye a trip into the French Valley. The clouds hung low, obscuring the views, and the temptation of buying extra time by setting East ahead of schedule lured us away from Erratic Rock’s recommended W plan.
As happens on a trip of this sort, we found ourselves shooting from the hip and making plan changes mid-stride.
It’s liberating to realize the vast freedom of choice, once once we let go of preconceived notions. During our travels, we’re frequently experiencing the space between expectation and reality. We paint pictures in advance in our mind’s eye and hold those visions and plans up against the actual experience, asking, “How is this [better/worse/different]?” Learning to move with the changes and relax into the peacefulness of the promise of Proverbs 16:9 (see Our Travel Plans), we’ve stretched and grown and hopefully become more resilient in the face of challenges.
We arrived at Campamento Chileno in time to set up camp and request a full dinner in the heated Refugio dining room. Happy Birthday to Ted and happy break from camp-food for both of us…
“μ” Trek, Day 4: Such an easy stretch on the trail compared to the past few challenging days. Traipsing through Beech Forests (oh, my favorites!), keeping an eye out for horses, and aiming for a first-pick site at Campamento Torres.
We pitched the tent and settled into the site by midday, ready for an afternoon ascent to La Torres (“The Towers”) with just a snack and a pocket set of watercolors. (Though kudos to the fellow who brought his full pack and skateboard on the climb!)
The Mirador = Utter Beauty.
Captured in the palm of the mountain; granite fingers raised to the sky since ages past…
A return to camp for antics and dinner. Pears poached in red wine and sprinkled with cinnamon for dessert. (Jane! Our little Opinel comes in handy all the time. See it?)
“μ” Trek, Day 5: My insufferable alarmed cried out at 3:45am. I found the snooze button and nearly went back to sleep, then somehow through the muddled dreamy haze, I thought, “No, you’ll never regret seeing this sunrise…get up and go!” Ted had chosen the night before to stay back, so I set out alone with my sleeping bag and a hot thermos, climbing up and out of the forest and over the boulder field with my little headlamp piercing a path through the darkness.
I arrived in starlight, found my favorite little rock shelter from the day before, wrapped myself in my warm down sleeping bag, set up the tripod for low light, long exposure experiments, and poured a cup of Milo.
The trick was on me.
A cloudy Eastern horizon behind meant that the dull dawn light grew slowly brighter, but the wash of color never appeared. As the hours passed by, I sighed at the weather’s change of plans and the absences of warm morning sun rays.
Forced to re-calibrate my attitude, I confessed my irritation and disappointment and shifted to meditating on the internal rising of hope and gratitude.
God’s beauty in the stillness and quiet of creation reaches deeper into my soul than nearly anything else in this human experience…
With the memory of such beautiful communion on the top of the mountain, I made my way back down to camp where we packed and headed for lower elevations, for grand skies and beautiful pack horses, and a farewell meal at the park in the sun room at Hotel Las Torres.
Successful in our quest. Fatigued and proud at trail’s end…ready for good brew in Puerto Natales!
This piece is fourth in a series following our boot tracks in Chilean Patagonia from Puerto Natales to the little known “μ” Trek at Torres del Paine National Park, through burned out beech forests, past color-charged lakes, up fantastical mountains, and into snug-as-a-bug sleeping bags in a cute little tent in the woods. Follow us on Twitter (@twoOregonians) or find us on Facebook to stay up on the latest photos and stories from the trail…