December 20, 2005

Finally a “W” I like

I am so happy to have peaceful, joyful thoughts to associate with the letter “W” instead of the current president.

The “W”, so named for the shape that the trail carves through the park, is a 4 day hike through the Patagonian Torres del Paine National Park on the southern tip of Chile. It is truly a symphony of nature, a coordinated collection of movements, covering an incredible variety of terrains, climates, and ecosystems all in a 40 mile hike.

It is said that you can experience 4 seasons in a single day in Patagonia. Although officially it is late spring, we walked through snow and fog, only then to emerge into a clear, sunny summer’s day. Winds gusted and plastered us against the mountainside, or at times were still enough to watch butterflies flutter among flowers. We started one day wearing long underwear and ski jackets, and shedded layer after layer to end up in shorts and T-shirts.

If the weather determined the tone of the Torres del Paine, the terrain provided the theme and melody. Mouthain slopes of barren rock suddenly parted to reveal thick woods dense with leafy trees and rich soil. Trails through rolling grassy hills surprised us with bogs, beaches of perfectly smooth stones, and immense, brilliant mint green glacial lakes. Massive glaciers wedged between snow capped mountains loomed over clearings of gnarled, wind twisted trunks. Babbling brooks, roaring mountain waterfalls and ominous rumblings of the calving glacier provided a voice to the terrain itself.

The plant life added its own tune to the hike. New spring blooms punctuated the landscape with flashes of color, with bright red Chilean firebushes, brilliant yellow trifoils, and delicate purple orchids. The trills of small birds and the buzzing of enormous fuzzy insects provided accompaniment and accent.

The first hike up to the namesake of the park, the Torres del Paine (Towers of Granite) was truly a treat – a trail that really knows how to deliver a bang at the end. We’ve hiked up many peaks, and seen innummerable pictures of the Torres in Chile, but nothing could have prepared us for the actual Torres themselves. After a steep scramble up a moraine (imagine a mountain side of nothing but 1-2 ft boulders), we crested over a ledge to reveal the sheer granite towers. Three monolithic peaks soared smoothly and straight up for 1000 ft. And for the finale, the surprise bang at the end to keep us on our toes, a glacial lake pooled at the bottom, reflecting the towers themselves.

We searched briefly for a geocache that was hidden there, but with a terrain of all boulders and many nooks and crannies, it was hard to find, and we sadly had to leave time to descend.

Since we didn´t have camping equipment, we carried relatively light packs containing water, clothes and toiletries. We stayed at refugios (basic shelters), each spaced a days hike from the other. These rustic lodges sleep only 20 people, and were hard to reserve, but allowed a comraderie with other hikers and campers we would never otherwise have had. We shared our dinners on long picnic tables next to wood stoves, used communal bathrooms and slept in bunk beds with sleeping bags in a room with 4 other stangers. Though it was strange the first night, by the second it was old hat, and we met some interesting people along the way (one was an Antartic marine biologist).

My favorite part of the trail was the 11 mile, hilly grassy meadow hike along the immense glacial lake Norjenskold. Each hilltop gave a new view and perspective of the landscape. Flowers were in full bloom, birds were chipring and small butterfiles accompanied us. It was the only day when we virtually saw no other people, as it was a trail that could only be done if one camped in the park the day before. As we ate our lunches, it occured to us that it was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and normally we would be running for a plane, finishing up odds and end at work, and undoubtedly stressed and tired. Though I sorely miss my family and the food of Thanksgiving, I hope to hold onto that spiritual well being feeling forever.

All of the “W” demanded “Look at me, feel me, hear me, experience me!” I am only sad that we didn´t have more time to explore the rest of the park.

1 Comment

  1. Torres del Paine es un paraiso en el fin del mundo. Veo que aprovechaste tu viaje.
    Saludos desde Concepción.


    Comment by nelson bertetti — December 20, 2005 @ 4:40 pm

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