Of all the places we wanted to visit on this trip, Patagonia was the one place with the most vague itinerary. We knew we wanted to go, but to do what, when and for how long were all questions marks.
But Torres del Paine, the 242,242 hectare-size national park near Puerto Natales, Chile was a destination that constantly popped up in backpacker conversations. After Google-imaging the heck out of the place, we were convinced we had to go there, too. Turquoise-colored lakes, snow-capped mountains, brilliantly vivid wild flowers…yes please!
(Our own pics:)
But how exactly to attack this park was the question. There aren’t really guided tours, so camping (and carrying all your equipment) was the only way to do it. Since we had no camping skills — save for my trip to the Outback when someone else set up my tent and Eaman’s trip to Wisconsin when he didn’t pack enough warm clothes — we thought a few day trips would suffice…until we were told the park was two hours from Puerto Natales and doesn’t suit day trips. Then we thought, OK, we’ll do a few days but stay in refugios (rustic hostels) along the way…until we found out they’d be almost $100/night each. Later we thought maybe one night of camping to get a feel for it… until we talked to the guys working at our hostel.
They mapped out the famous ‘W’ trek as if there were no other option. It would be more than 80 km of hiking, camping every night and fending for ourselves without a guide.
It’s funny because there was never a moment when Eaman and I thought, “Hmm, should we do this?” We just went for it. And that’s how we ended up going on a five day/four day trek through Torres del Paine.
The path we took is certainly well worn, but even though you see other hikers, you’re often on your own. Its course takes the shape of — you guessed it — a ‘W’, with uphill, downhill, rocky terrain and magnificent scenery. But this trip was about way more than a series of beautiful paths.
This was a full-on camping trip (with rented equipment).
The days weren’t over until we pitched our tent, cooked our food, cleaned our pots, got water from the stream for the next day and hung our food so mice couldn’t get to it. This was the real deal.
Our home for four nights:
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, and I would think that means a lot considering I’ve run two marathons as well. There were times I felt stronger than a bear, times when I wanted to cry and times when I wondered why the heck I signed up for this damn thing. It taught me a lot about myself and a lot about life. Here, nine lessons I picked up during our five days of fun:
1. I will never, ever, in a millions years be OK with going to the bathroom outside or having dirt under my fingernails. Call me a priss, but both so fully and completely gross me out. Yes, I had to go to the bathroom in the wilderness during this trek, but I’m trying to block it out of my memory. As for the fingernails, it’s just a pet peeve.
2. Camping is the ultimate relationship test. I think all couples should go on a trek like this before committing for the long haul. Most of the time, we were practically giddy thinking of how happy we were to do this together. But there were times — like when we got lost for two hours or when we had to pack up our tent in the freezing rain — that really tested our patience and involved long portions of hiking without speaking to each other. And to top it off, you see your mate at his/her dirtiest and shabbiest while camping. No hiding. Lucky for us, we passed the test.
Beginning of the trek:
End of the trek, still happy:
3. Anger is the best motivation. On day 3, when we got lost for that aforementioned two hours, we were angry. We felt stupid and frustrated for losing our way and wanted redemption. So on day 4, we completed an 8-hour portion of the course in 6 hours. We were beasts on those uphills!
4. A piece of chocolate goes a long way. Chocolate, or any treat for that matter, should be a mandatory part of your packing list. It gives you that extra boost when you’re feeling low and energy-zapped. I think the chocolate donuts — they’re like candy, not real donuts — we purchased at the Los Cuernos campsite played a small part in the speediness of day 4.
5. I don’t love camping. I feel like people automatically write you off as a wuss for a statement like that, but that’s not fair. You can’t be built for everything in life, right? This trip has been a good way to figure out exactly what makes me tick. What I now know is I don’t hate camping; it’s just not my kind of thing. I have a huge problem with germs, I detest spiders, and I hate the idea of finishing a good workout only to fill myself up with sodium-filled instant pasta. And in the case of hiking the W, I was so cold at night in the tent, I wanted to cry. That being said, camping does make you appreciate little things like hot showers and good food. But just so we’re clear, I love hiking. I could hike for 8, 9, maybe 10 hours a day and be fulfilled. I’d just like to come home, shower and eat a healthy meal after. (FYI Eaman took to camping much better than me and really likes it.)
6. Always prepare for rain. Before the trek, a rental shop worker told me the weather would be beautiful and not to bother renting waterproof pants. I trusted him. Why would he lie if he could’ve made a quick buck? Well, it rained the last day and that hike uphill in my yoga pants to the final viewpoint of the torres (towers) was pretty miserable. Lucky for me, I was still half-asleep at that early morning hour that it didn’t hit me that much.
7. Bring ankle boots for a strenuous hike like this. In our low-cut hiking shoes, our poor ankles were going every which way. It slowed us down quite a bit on the slippery downhills.
8. Walking sticks are a godsend. Not only did they alleviate stress on our joints and help us maintan a rhythm, they also gave us a nice upper body workout. Get two; they’re a must!
9. It’s really refreshing not to look at yourself in the mirror for a few days. I had no idea what a mess I was and the only way I had the slightest clue of my personal filth was thanks to a facial wipe I used on day 3… and it wasn’t pretty. But who cared? All us campers were dirty, but in a way, it was a badge of pride.
Check out a few more snaps from the hike:
Someone’s funny work:
You can refill your Nalgene straight from the stream:
I will never eat ramen noodles or instant pasta again:
Breaking to take off our hiking shoes and stretch our feet was a highlight:
The color of the water, totally un-Photoshopped here, was more blue than the waters of the Caribbean:
Drinking mate on day 4 when we got to our campsite early:
We hoped to get up in time to catch the sunrise at the towers on day 5 — a one hour hike uphill from our campsite — but clouds and rain made an early wakeup call pointless since we wouldn’t be able to see the towers. Instead, we got up a little later (at 5:30 am) and saw whatever we could. Sure, it was hailing, snowing and raining in every direction, and we couldn’t see the top of the towers, but we caught an incredible double rainbow. Very Skittles-esque.