For having clocked in around 45 countries it’s wild to think that I’ve only been south of the equator once, with my most recent trip rounding out that pitiful number to two. Moreover, I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to discover how completely incredible South America is (spoiler: it’s my new travel obsession). Regardless, the seal is broken and I’m in love.
My favorite travel companion tagged along for the trip, although I got the distinct impression he wasn’t thrilled with the first half of the itinerary. Joey calls it a ‘huzz drag’ and thinks my tolerance for multi-leg travel and physical exertion is excessive. While I won’t deny my love of being on the move, I will admit I foresaw this as an issue and planned our second week in Chile with a more relaxed pace in mind. More on that in the next post!
I solved the why-haven’t-I-been-to-South-America-mystery when I checked into my flight at the Austin airport and flipped through the itinerary. Patagonia, as it turns out, is motherfuckingfarasshitaway.
A taste of our itinerary:
We flew Austin → Houston (45 minutes) → Santiago (9.5 hours) → Puerto Montt (2 hours) → Punta Arenas (1.5 hours) then bussed → Puerto Natales (3.5 hours) → Torres del Paine Park (2 hours) then took a catamaran → Torres trailhead (45 minutes).
With breaks, transfers and the joys of customs (holy balls they let us keep all of our camping food though – miracles of miracles!) it took us nearly two days to arrive at the beginning of our hike. Lace up those boots, Joey — don’t you LOVE traveling with me! Giddy up!
As it turned out, I would have traveled 10 times as far to reach Patagonia knowing now what awaited us. I’ve been fortunate enough to have a handful of experiences since starting BRBdoingstuff that changed who I am and how I engage with the world. Summiting Kilimanjaro and immersing myself in yoga in India are two that pop to mind, but Patagonia may be in a category of its own.
For those of you who have been following this blog for some time, you know that I’m sappy and deeply spiritual about nature. The mountains are my church and the ocean my soul. Perhaps it’s that magical combination that has drawn and held me to Patagonia so.
And man, I’ve never experienced such striking panoramic scenes. Wherever you turn there is haunting natural beauty. The dramatic snow-capped Andes feed into rugged meadows that naturally roll from the banks of thousands of tiny islands into the frigid Pacific.
Who would have thought a stone’s throw from Tierra del Fuego could be so spectacular?
Adventuring we go!
Snug along the Argentine border is Torres del Paine National Park, world renowned for its remarkable granite peaks and expansive glaciers. In late October the weather is historically dicey as southern Chile emerges from frozen tundra during the spring thaw. Perhaps the travel gods took pity on us after our milkrun journey because the weather was nothing short of ideal for us. Joy!
The park offers a variety of treks ranging from day hikes to multi-week excursions. We chose the classic W Circuit route which is a 55km adventure that took us three nights and four days to complete. Unlike any other hike I’ve done, this route began with a scenic glacial catamaran ride to the trailhead!
Our first day of hiking was easy and the land was picturesque from Refugio Paine Grande, up along Glacier Grey and then back down to Campamento Italiano. We encountered very few people on the trail as it was still shoulder season and enjoyed having the path to ourselves! Despite the good weather we did encounter some wicked winds — I got a healthy taste of why Patagonia has a reputation for the strongest winds in the world.
Keep on Trekkin’
We started our second day off in my favorite way with something unfortunate and hilarious happening to Joey. I clocked in a 14-hour sleep after our epic journey from Austin to Patagonia, but unfortunately was the only one that enjoyed a well-deserved blissful nap. Joey was awake all night fretting about the puma rustling around his backpack outside our tent.
It turns out…
An asshole mouse raided his snack collection. Ha!
I considered that a good omen for the hike and off we went, a bit lighter on the snacks but enthused about the day.
Campamento Italiano to Cuernos took us five hours as we traced the shorelines of an exquisite glacial lake after a detour to the Britanico Mirador lookout point. Every few moments we would hear a roaring avalanche tumble down the mountain face — that’s a first for me! Check out the panoramic video below filmed from the lookout.
As I Huzz dragged onward, I couldn’t help but notice a stark contrast in landscape between the forested path and a creepy Hansel and Gretel wasteland. In 2012 a terrible forest fire started by a careless jackass tourist wiped out a considerable swath of brush. The conditions in Patagonia are harsh at the best of times, so even after four years the forest was slow to regrow.
Some time later we pulled into Cuernos Refugio, which was easily our favorite night. We watched the sun setting from the lake shore, wine in hand.
Root march-a-polooza to Torres Central
Refugio Cuernos to Campamento Torres was a longass day. I’m a shut-up-and-hike kind of lady, but even I was wondering if we would ever get there! The combination of elevation changes and sun exposure wore us down, but it was the wind and precarious hiking that caught us off guard! My childhood fear of heights is seldom triggered, but mother of God was I terrified walking along the mountain pass ridge toward camp — and had ice climbing terror flashbacks! Check out the video below to get a feel for the wind and surprise other trail inhabitants.
When we arrived at Campamento Torres I resisted the urge to dive into some wine and instead set-up camp before we started our final leg to Torres Central itself — the natural wonder we traveled so far to witness.
The terrain of the last 1km was the most strenuous with a significant elevation gain along a mountain boulder field.
We pushed upward for 45 minutes above the treeline as the trail conditions became more challenging and the weather more severe. The temperature dropped further and we started to be able to see our heavy exhales and some light snow. It was hard to imagine any type of impressive water and rock formation at the top of the endless pile of rubble.
As we walked the final steps over the crest of the hill, the boulders parted and we caught our first glimpse of the Torres and glacial lake at their feet, the jewel in the park’s crown. We stopped cold in absolute wonder.
Before us stood the most impressive, out-of-this-world stunning view I’ve ever seen. I mean, come on.
We spent 30 minutes sitting in awe before the chilly temperature and setting sun drove us back to base camp. Every few moments during the descent I would glance back over my shoulder savoring every fleeting moment I could.
In the spirit of being an honest travel writer, I’ll share that the ecstasy of the summit was short lived. A few hours later I was hit with some type of random ailment and spent the night barfing in and around my tent. Adventuring isn’t always glamorous.
I’ll be baaack
Looking for a remote, scenic adventure? Torres del Paine is for you — I can’t recommend it highly enough. Exploring the W Circuit has forever changed the course of my life. I’m already planning my next foray into wild Patagonia, where I left my heart.
I felt emotional boarding the flight back to Santiago, but knew I’d be back.
BRB just doing stuff for a bit k?
PS — some exciting news! BRBdoingstuff is officially on Instagram! Check out our page for new photos and short stories.