Thursday, January 22, 2015

Torres del Paine - my favorite Patagonian hike

I figured I'd start telling the story of my Patagonia adventure with the hike that I liked the most and recap the others in another post later. I also plan to post a detailed gear list/review/make betters to help someone in the future who googles "what the heck am I supposed to pack for Patagonia?" -(I may have been that person 6 months ago and was disappointed by the search results :)).

My favorite hike was in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile.

This was my first view of the towers (lighter gray peaks in the middle). This was taken the day before the hike.

There is a very popular backpacking trail called the "W" (the trail makes a W-ish shape along the base of Torres del Paine). It take 4-5 days to hike the W, and 10-12 days to do the circuit (the W plus going around the back of the towers). Our hike to the base of Torres del Paine was one part of the W, so I am happy to say that I have hiked part of it (and I may have had backpack envy of those doing the full thing, watching these super serious (and also very grungy and tired looking) folks walking around.).

We got to the trailhead at about 10am. The sun was shining and the skies were clear. A huge thrill because the day before had been cold, overcast, and raining. Of course, being I was in Patagonia, my pack still held ALL the layers I would need (we were told that you can experience all four seasons in one day in Patagonia…and we did, multiple times). Out of curiosity, I weighed my pack when I got home - I carried around 13lbs on each of the hikes. Not bad. Water is heavy and I carried 2.5L plus a water bottle.

This leg of the W started out fairly benign for the first mile. And then, bam, uphill city. For over an hour. It was warm and I had too many layers on (layers that were, um, not easy to shed since they were under my pants) and I started overheating on the uphill (like, to the point where I had goosebumps - I hadn't experienced that since my triathlon days). One of the gals was having the same issue and we realized that the pace was just too fast. So we slowed down and that made all the difference! I was super happy to hit the downhill into the refugio (a hostel that backpackers can reserve space at that has showers and bathrooms)…and tried really hard not to think of that downhill being an uphill on the way back (it was an out and back trail).
Ah, downhill, how I love thee (see the trail?)

Smile! You survived that uphill!

My view at the refugio as I crammed a bar and some beef jerky, two hours in and I was already starving!)
After a short rest that was incredibly refreshing, we hit the trail and started through the forest. Our group was fairly quiet. It was chilly now, so the sound of sniffling noses and the clacking of trekking poles was the background music through a dense and beautiful forest. It was at this point, excited that I had been able to muscle through, physically and mentally, a tough beginning, that reality of what I was doing started to hit me. I was in Chile. In Patagonia. On a hike. A hard hike. And I felt good!

My sniffling got a bit louder. I was absolutely overcome with thankfulness that He would allow me this experience. I reflected on how scared and fearful I had been just two years earlier, in so much pain and so scared of what would be in my future. Never did I imagine that God would give me this opportunity.  This was just too big. Too much. Apparently my sniffling had reached such a degree that my friend turned around (we were a bit behind the others) and saw my face and asked if I was okay. And then I totally ugly-cried sob-bawled out "I just can't believe I am here. I was so sick. God is so good to me to allow me to do this." Her response was "well now I am going to cry too!"

It was a good part of that trail, the forest. :)

Coming out of the forest and starting the final uphill to the towers.

I received some wise advice before this hike: "If the uphill starts getting mean, just take a second to pick your head up and look around you again." This was that second…or two ;-). A lovely view of the "awesome" skree field we got to pick our way through and try and avoid being blown over the side.

I was right behind another group and we all cleared the top at the same time and all said the same thing "WOW!"

Group shot - the gal on the left joined our group at the start. Her name is Vivian, she's from Holland, and she was hiking the W in a couple of days BY HERSELF.  It's fun making friends on the trail!

What's a hike without the return of the hiker-surfer-ninja pose?
After hunkering down behind some boulders to shield us from the winds as we ate lunch, we did some photo ops and then headed back down, trying to keep ahead of the storm that was blowing in. The downhill from the base was intense, a lot of focus was required to make sure I had sure footing (because there may or may not have been an almost sheer drop off on one side for a bit…).

By the time we reached the refugio again, the rain layers had been pulled out and we were a quiet bunch again, being tired and starting to get low on water (I drank 3L of water on that hike!). 

Can you see the rainbow? This was during the last 2 miles of the hike. A wonderful reminder of God's faithfulness.
We reached the van that had brought us at about 6:30pm. It was a tired, hungry, and sore group of folks that piled into the van. I can only speak for myself, but besides being tired, hungry, and sore, I felt content, happy, aware of Him, and very much alive. 

It was a good hike.