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Sunday, February 12, 2012

Torres del Paine National Park, Chilean Patagonia

There is far too much beauty in Chilean Patagonia for my words, pictures and video to show, but I’ll do my best. If you’re reading this, and have questions about traveling to Torres del Paine, please don’t hesitate to contact me with questions.

The night of Feb. 1st, I spent the night in Puerto Natales. It’s a small port (on the ocean) at the foot of the Patagonian Andes.

It’s incredibly reminiscent of Telluride, Colorado.

Really nice people everywhere, and great food on every corner. I ate at a vegetarian café called “El Living.” I highly recommend it, vegetarian or not. Super inexpensive for what you get, and super healthy.

In the morning, I took a bus up to Torres del Paine, and talked to family that was traveling around South America for the year with their 11 and 13 year old daughter and son. They’re learning Spanish early, and becoming quite wordly, which is incredible. Evelyn, the daughter, told me “If you ever have kids, you need to take them here when they’re our age, and not wait until they’re older.” The parents and I agreed and chuckled. We saw Andean condor, flamingo, guanaco (wild llama), and Darwin’s Rhea (flightless, ostrich-like bird) from the windows.

At Hosteria los Torres, I took a right on the Paine Circuit, and headed towards Campamento Seron.

There isn’t much I can write to describe the deciduous mountain landscape that is Chilean Patagonia, but I can show you.

I hike alone, so lots of thoughts and songs fly through my mind as I walk. Like running, it clears my head to say the least, and I find myself in a place of deeper thought, while at the same time not really choosing what to think about.

My pack is lighter than others. It’s a 45 liter ultralight (if you will), so I can’t fit the kitchen sink in it. This is what I had with me:

Food (heaviest item…calorie dense is key, since I chose not to cook with a stove):
Banana chips
Sunflower seeds

Sleeping bag
Sleeping pad
Bivvy (Small one-person tent)
First-Aid kit
Water bottle
Water purifier (which I didn’t need)
Contacts, glasses, travel tooth brush + paste, but nothing more as far as toilettrees go.
Wallet + Passport + Phone (lifelines)

No cotton except a bandana
Wool socks + light synthetic socks
Hiking boots (zero drop of course)
Wool long johns
Zip-off light weight pants
Short sleeve tech top
Capilene long sleeve top
Heavy fleece

The only thing I forgot were my rainpants…I unpacked and packed my pack to make sure I had everything, and forgot them on my bed in Buenos Aires.

Passing Seron, I headed to Camping and Refugio Dickson. It was a long day, about 17 miles. Walking is different than running, especially walking with a pack, so I was decently sore.

At Dickson, I met a nice couple from San Francisco who had been traveling down South America. The bugs were pretty bad, and I’m not allergic to mosquito saliva, so nothing happens when they bite me, but even so having 20 on my leg at once was annoying to say the least.

Refugio Dickson is similar to a hut on the Appalachian Trail. It’s on the side of Lago Dickson, which is a glacial lake. The water is incredibly cold, and you can drink it straight up. It tastes great!

In the morning, I started another 17 mile day to Campamento Paso.

I passed Campamento Perros, where Charlie the fox was hanging out.

There I bought some salami. Animal fat is an incredible fuel, especially when walking. Nut and seed fat/carbs/protein is great, but you can’t digest it as well.

After Perros was the John Garner Pass, which everyone talks about. It’s a part of the circuit that takes you higher up, and through the weather. It’s like the top of any mountain in the white mountains…lots of rocks, cairns etc. I walked through a snow storm, but the sun came out afterward, and looking down over the glacier was incredible.

There's a bird in this picture:

I continued down through the woods to Paso, where I set up my tent, and ate my granola and sunflower seeds with some students of Santiago. Some Chileans speak well, but these kids had rocks in their mouths. I speak Spanish, but Chileno is ridiculous.

Day three was incredibly long. 22 miles from Paso to Refugio Cuernos, in the rain.

This section was about 80% burned from a fire that an Israeli Tourist set by lighting his toilet paper on fire. It’s not like there are a huge amount of signs specifically telling you to pack out your trash toilet paper or anything…

The fire was devastating, depressing, and is going to take 80 years to fully recover. Fires help coniferous forests open their cones and drop their seeds, but that’s a different biome than Torres del Paine. It’s a temperate deciduous forest, which fire isn’t a part of. Even though it rains and rains and rains, the intense winds dry everything out making it just…burn.

Passing Italiano, which was closed, I continued for another 90 minutes to Cuernos, which was packed, as it’s the only open campsite between Grey and Refugio Torres.

The wind was insane that night. I’ve never seen so much wind. Ever. Consistent, 50 mph+ gusts, blowing the water up off the lake. Tents were literally flying away. Think Wizard of Oz. I set up my bivvy underneath some bushes, and the wind didn’t touch it. Definitely a plus for having a small tent.

Sat on the porch with three Chilean dudes and played the ~5 songs I know on guitar, and sang to theirs. They knew how to play Californication, but didn’t know the lyrics. We did some entertaining.

Day four was rain, sleet, hail, and snow in the same day. I hiked up the French Valley to Campamento Britanico. I was so incredibly wet…wringed my socks out, after taking off my “waterproof” hiking boots a few times. Oh well. Valle Frances was beautiful though.

That night I brought my sleeping bag (and myself) into the refuge to dry a bit, and talked with a couple from the Netherlands who were traveling during the recession. They had beef WOOFing for a bit, and were working their way down Chile. I also talked to some climbers from Montreal about climbing…something I’d like to take up in the future.

Day five, I walked over to Hosteria Los Torres, took a nap after eating a wonderful cheeseburger, and then walked up to Refugio Chileno to try and get a sunrise glimpse of the towers. It rained all night, and my bivvy was a lake. Next time I use it, I will be bringing a tarp and rope to actually make a decent rain fly. In the refuge, I talked to a girl named Mica who working there. She was marrying her fiancé in the fall. He was from Punta Arenas, but they had met in Colombia. When I walked into the hut, she had The Tallest Man on Earth playing, so that started our conversation. She had just finished a masters in public health at BU, had an undergrad degree in anthropology, and had studied in Bolivia a while back.

There was an MRG sticker on Chileno!

Day six was more rain, so I hiked back down the trail, and took the bus back to Puerto Natales.

I found a hostel, had an amazing (for about $20) dinner, and crashed. It was salmon wrapped in jamon Serrano, over potatoes with cream, spinach, and walnuts, with blueberry jam on the side. I even bought calafate (Patagonian blueberry) mousse for dessert. So good. The one souvenir I bought was a Patagonia flag. Definitely worth it.

This was February 7th, and I had one more day in Chile before my flight back, so I decided to go riding in the mountains with some too-legit-to-quit gauchos, but that’ll come with the next post.

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