Thursday, January 24, 2008

Chile: Torres del Paine National Park

Kathleen has dreamed of visiting Chile´s Torres del Paine for over a decade, so expectations were big. Happily, the mountains were even bigger, and we enjoyed nine glorious days of backcountry bliss. After crossing the Chilean border, we had less than 24 hours in Puerto Natales to do laundry, rent a tent and stove, buy our food, call home, reserve our ferry and send a few postcards. Thankfully, we managed all this AND even had time for a late-night pisco sour. Sleep would come later.

Packs on, we set off to see as much of the park as we could. Curiosity got the best of us, and we decided to tackle the revered Paine Circuit and the ¨W,¨ a fast-track to the park´s greatest hits. Since we can´t imagine that anyone would want to read a blow-by-blow of our trip (oatmeal breakfasts, peanut butter and crackers, hike, cheese-n-crackers, hike, pasta, sleep, do over), we´re instead including a few highlights. We hiked a lot of miles, but we always left time to stop and smell the flowers.

People: We met people from all over the world, which was much of the fun. And they had all manner of gear and experience. Often with literally everything on their back and feet rented. We met one crazy Brit who was doing 13 hour days with rented boots. On day one he already had blisters that would make a mountaineer cry. And he had failed to pack a lighter for his stove or a water bottle. But he was only 20, and youth seemed to be on his side. Plus, we can´t make too much fun, because we later learned that we had gained our own reputation at the first campground when our tent was literally being blown onto our faces with the gale-force winds. That´s what we get for being the last ones up, giving everyone time to witness our poor staking job. Throughout the week, people would mention having seen our tent (and offered to help us stake it). Doh!

Vino Caliente: While we certainly don´t advocate having a lot of man-made structures in the backcountry, who are we to argue when they sell boxes of cheap, red wine? Luckily, thanks to our friend Lu´s brilliant advice, we had prepared for this by buying cinammon sticks and dried orange slices and ginger and brown sugar in Puerto Natales. So each night we were able to stave off the cold (and the sore muscles) by brewing up a pot of mulled wine. Highly recommended. Especially when accompanied with Toblerone dark chocolate. Not that we would have ever been that indulgent. Oh no.

Walking sticks: We are completely won over. Admittedly we at first thought these were kinda dorky. But then some of our favorite and coolest hiking partners, like AC and Malsy, started swearing by them. And since our knees were aching and cracking, we decided to give it a go. We will never ever turn back. We encourage all of you to go out and buy some trekking poles. Eric even uses them walking on concrete to the grocery store these days.

Natural beauty: The sea of ice that was Glacier Grey. The stark moraine of John Garner Pass. The silent soaring of two Andean condors. The insane turquoise of Largo Pehoe (which inspired Eric to leap up and down after a particularly tiring day). We were undeniably lucky with the weather (only had to put on raingear once!). Especially on the day we rose at dawn to watch day break over the park´s namesake towers. We now feel justified in buying all those postcards with the glowing red torres---it really looks like that!

We came back to Puerto Natales with bulging calves, stinky socks, and a camera full of pics. Now, we´re off to sit on a ferry for four days, where we don´t have to walk any further than the poop deck. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhh........

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