What good adventure doesn´t start with a bus ride?
You guessed it. It was early and we got on a bus! Shocker…not! (Seems to be the theme of this trip sometimes, doesn´t it?)
Anyways, we had our packs slimmed down to our standard, lightweight backpacking kits. Well, we admit that our standard kits do not typically include two liters of cheap, delicious Chilean box wine, but hey…when in Rome! Either way, we were ready to go! Patagonia here we come!
In the name of conserving our strength and energy we both slept a good chunk of the 2.5 hour drive into the Torres del Paine National Park. However, during our waking hours, it was clear we were headed somewhere very special as we passed steep mountains, expansive plains, and deep, mysterious lakes all under the shroud of ever-changing clouds. The mood on the bus was absolutely electric with everyone so thrilled to get there and officially be in Patagonia. The bus slowed to a stop in a small, gravel parking lot where the mess of jittery, excited backpackers exited the bus and filed into the tiny administration building for the always stimulating, but necessary paperwork. Park fees paid, we viewed a short flick about the rules of the park and how not to burn it down before we were set free to really explore all that Patagonia had to offer. (In all honesty, I would not be the least bit surprised to find out that the park staff intentionally translates their videos with poor English translations resulting in some pretty humerous sentences to keep the visitors´ interest peaked throughout the whole video. Just saying. I mean, “Don´t garbage”? Come on…)
One more short shuttle bus to the trailhead and it was goodbye to civilization for the next few days. Last chance to turn back! We fueled up with a little lunch and that was that. We had officially begun the long awaited Circuit Route. (There are two different route options. You can either hike the traditional “W” hike that takes you up three different valleys for all of the famous, sweeping views or you can hike the Circuit Route that takes you on the W and then around the backside as well, bringing you full circle around the mountains. The Circuit Route is more difficult and a little longer taking about 8 days on average, although we planned to do it in 5, but we heard that the sweat equity you invest in doing it is well worth it in the end. How could we say no to that?)
Beyond just the rugged mountains and gorgeous lakes, Patagonia is also known for its unpredictable weather. Most people that live in the area will tell you that the only thing predictable is the unpredictability. One never knows from one hour to the next if it will be windy enough to blow you right off your feet or if you will be graced by steady sunlight. One moment it may rain and then before you know it there is heavy snow falling from the sky. However, to humor the gringos conditioned to dependable weather forecasts, local gear shops and hostal owners continue to print off the forecasts despite the 0% guarantee. Well, we got our hands on one of said forecasts and saw that there looked to be a stretch of calm, clear, sunny weather sticking around for the first three days of our hike and after that clouds, wind, and rain were supposed to be rolling in. (There had recently been a strange weather front carrying with it beautiful, calm, sunny days that had uncharacteristically been hanging around for a bit so we crossed our fingers and hoped that our luck would hold.) With the good weather looking to be on the front end of our hike, we opted to take the untraditional route and start with the W. We would begin with what is normally the end of the W trek and work our way backwards, moving West to East, our hope being that even if and when the weather changed for the worse we would have had clear views of the quintessential towers.
Having made up our mind on the direction we were taking, our first day on the trail was set to be extremely short. Basically, the goal is to see the towers at sunrise. In order to accomplish that you need to camp at the base of the trail up to the towers viewpoint which is just under six miles from the trailhead. In the morning you get up and at it while it is still dark out to hike the short distance to the base of the towers where you get the pleasure of watching the sun come up. Anyways, the moral of the story is that our hike on day one was comically short. We took our time, stopping to turn around and admire the panoramic vistas offered by the trail of the rolling, grassy plains below bordered by the famous Patagonia mountains and snapping plenty of photos, and we still found ourselves at camp and completely set up before 2pm. I don´t think I can ever remember us being at camp for the night that early…ever.
We were pretty puzzled. What do you do when you get to camp so early? It did not take too long for us to remember the extra weight we were toting along with those two liters of wine. Seeking out a sunny perch with an unbeatable view, we grabbed our makeshift wine glass, box of merlot, and books and successfully relaxed away the afternoon. (Ron had used a rusty knife to saw off the bottom of a plastic water bottle to create our crafty, janky wine glass the night before. You see, we figured that there is nothing less classy than drinking straight from the box so we thought this would be a step up from that. In hindsight, I´m not so sure we were right.) After that it was the usual…dinner, brush the teeth (at least the ones you want to keep), and bed before the sun was fully set.
Maybe we should always trick ourselves into thinking that we get to see some epic scenery in the morning because it sure seemed to help us hop straight out of our sleeping bag that next morning. No snooze required even with the dark and the frigid cold air. A candy bar or two down the hatch as we hiked the steep mile to the base of the towers with the goal being to beat the sun in getting there and I´m happy to report that we made it with time to spare. Trying not to let our sweat cool too much and beat the chill, we quickly hunkered down into our sleeping bag and whipped on all of our extra layers to stay warm. (It only kind of worked. Brrrrrr…..) Slowly, but surely the light started to rise, revealing the spectacular towers right there in front of us!
I am fully aware that this is a blog and that by definition that means it requires words, but there are no words to fully describe the feeling of looking up at those towers as the sun rose that morning. I just could quite come to terms with the thought of where in the world we were at that very moment. Patagonia! We had only been dreaming about this exact spot forever! Here we were looking up at the quintessential Patagonia photo…in real life! There they were, in all their glory. We just stared as the light lifted, constantly changing the appearance of the spectacular towers jutting straight out of the rocky earth. It appeared as if they were simultaneouly growing taller while also melting into the cloudy, teal colored glacial lake below. Just gorgeous! Right as we thought the show was over, it was as if someone turned on a lightswitch and the whole place just exploded with light. The towers were absolutely on fire in front of us, glowing orange in the morning sunlight and further taking our breath away. After this trip, Patagonia had a lot of spectacular sunrises to compete with, but I think it is safe to ay that this was right up there with the best of the best. My goodness. It was beautiful. That statement might sound too simple to capture that mega moment, but it is true to the core. Just stunning.
When a morning starts off on that foot, it is difficult not to have a terrific day. And boy, did we ever! We hiked down the first leg of the W and made our way towards the middle valley. Along the way we passed so much fantastic scenery. There were massive glaciers (like,real glaciers!) perched on mountain tops, the Andes in the distance, and perfectly blue lakes and babbling brooks absolutely everywhere. When people say that Patagonia is somewhere special, they are not kidding. It is a special kind of beauty in this part of the world. It is unlike anywhere else…and we were only on day two!
We practically skipped into camp at Italiano that night still riding high from the morning adrenaline rush. What a day! I think we both went to sleep that night with silly grins on our face. Only, I´m not sure if we were smiling from the memory of the morning or if we were already giddy with excitement for the next morning in the French Valley. Maybe both.
FULL MASSIVE GORGEOUS PHOTO GALLERY HERE: