Torres Del Paine is the most visited national park in Chile, and with good reason. I have no excuse for not posting these pictures until now, but I believe it to be best explained in photos, so here it is (my narrative follows): Also I couldn’t upload the crown jewel photos of the Torres afire at sunrise, so stay tuned.
Torres Del Paine was a dream come true for me in every sense of the phrase. I’ve since spoken to people who were less impressed, but to them I say pish posh. Alyssa and I visited the park during high season, when you were never alone on the trail and you had to get creative with tent spots because the real ones filled up so early in the day, and it still took my breath away every leg of the trek. I felt nothing but gratitude to the world no matter the circumstances of the day.
We did the “W” west to east, starting with Paine Grande and the Glacier grey, battling 80 km/hr gusts of wind and chortling every time we almost got blown over. The trip actually began with a nearly impossible stroke of luck; after a stunning ride on the catamaran to Paine Grande campground, home that night to probably over 300 campers, Alyssa and I pulled out our trekking poles, slipped on our gloves, and prepared for what we knew would be a cold, windy, beautiful, and potentially dark hike to Glacier Grey campground, where we had agreed to meet my friend and co-worker Sheena that night. About to set foot on the trail, we decided to pause for 2 minutes to ready the trekking poles before setting out, when all of a sudden… I heard my name! In the moment that the wind died down enough to hear, my name came floating out of the sky, and lo and behold, it was Sheena!! I have never been happier to see anyone in my life. We were both in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with hundreds of other people, in unfamiliar clothes, and Sheena and Craig found us. It’s hard not to believe in fate, because if we hadn’t stopped to take out our trekking poles, they would not have come upon us and we would have been hiking the four miles uphill to the glacier, partially in the dark, to a different campground. A miracle! We were happy to pawn off extra food on my hungry friends that night (they hadn’t packed quite enough for their 9 day circuit trek) and spend time with happy, familiar faces. Craig gave us the run down on the best way to go about our 5 day trek, and we spent the rest of the trail weaving in and out of Craig and Sheena’s path.
They had also picked up some friends on the back side, a couple from Wisconsin who we also shared several nights with.
At this point I think the park is better explained with my mediocre photos, but we spent the next five days marveling at the creations of time and ice and earth. We watched the landscape transform from giant, azure, glacial fed lakes, to near desert speckled with rivers and streams. We filled our water bottles straight from the river, as only minutes before it had left the glaciers. We watched the Torrent Duck swim upsteam in swift rapids (thanks to the Wisconsinites and their extensive birding knowledge. We dunked in ice cold water. We savored top ramen. We froze and sweated. On day 3 I enjoyed a hot shower at 5AM. And all the while, the Torres, Cuernos, and Paine Grande stood guard.
Our final morning, we rose at 3:30 AM to Ellie Goulding (my alarm choice), shouldered a lightweight pack, donned our headlamps, and set out at what felt like a dead run to cover the remaining 6 km (and 2000 vertical feet) to the base of the Torres before sunrise. That morning we watched several transformations – the moon finished it’s decent over the valley, and the sky was just starting to blush to the east when we arrived at the base of the Torres. Behind us and in front of us was a steady stream of bobbing headlamps, but from afar they were unmistakably fireflies. The Torres were still hazy shadows as we picked out our spectator seating, but little by little they emerged. As the darkness faded into a hazy pre-dawn light, the towers were impressive, and then the pink from the sky began to reflect on the rock surface, I thought, oh wow, that’s pretty. Then all at once, a piercing pink began creeping across the left-most torre, and within 50 seconds the entire formation was on fire. It positively took my breath away. It was such a privilege to witness – it felt like we had a 2 minute glimpse through the gates of a different world. I know I sound a little mushy, but I think I will hold those two minutes of utter perfection in my heart for the rest of my life. It was perhaps the only truly transcendental experience I can claim in my short life, so far. Also worth noting that it was the wee hours of my dear mother’s birthday, which meant that I had also missed a best friend’s birthday, so I thought of them the whole morning as well.