Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Patagonian Honeymoon, Part II

Patagonian Icecap

After drinking our fill of Pisco sours on the estancia, and touring the glaciers and fjords, we met up with four friends from home who were hiking the Circuit in Torres del Paine National Park. The Circuit, which requires more than a week, traverses wild Patagonian backcountry, and sees relatively few visitors.

We joined our friends for the "W", along the "front" of the Paine massif, where you can hike from lodge to lodge, sleeping in comfort. We didn't need to carry sleeping bags, tent, stove, or food. At the refugios, we got hot showers and hot meals at the end of the day. We were even able to order glasses of Chilean wine - or Pisco sours - for a civilized toast at the end of each day. When we set out the next morning, the lodge staff provided a packed lunch - sandwich, fruit, chips, drink, cookie - for the next days' hike. This was luxury backpacking! Meanwhile, our hardcore friends were camped out in the incessant Patagonia wind, heating up freeze dried food with their tiny gas stoves.

A rare moment of sun outside Lodge Paine Grande

At most of the refugios, we stayed in bunk rooms with four to six other people - not exactly the most romantic honeymoon setting! However, in addition to the bunk rooms, Refugio Los Cuernos had several small private cabins, with views of milky blue Lago Nordenskjöld below, and, through a skylight, the jagged Cuernos (horns) del Paine, above.

Even better, though, was the open-air wood fired hottub. After four hours of stoking the fire, the water was finally warm. On one of the few clear nights, we luxuriated under the stars, letting the heat soak exhaustion out of our muscles.

views of Los Cuernos from Valle Frances

On the final day of the hike, Eric and I rose at 4:00 am to climb a few thousand feet to the top of the ridge, where we could watch the sun illuminate the park's namesake Torres. The images of these iconic peaks had seered in my mind from the mountaineering literature that I consumed voraciously during college and after - stories of rock and ice, early starts, howling winds, and harrowing ascents.

Though Eric and I have nowhere near the technical skill - or, after experiencing the atrocious Patagonian weather, the desire - to climb these peaks, they remained lodged in my mind as one of the Natural Wonders of the World, like Half Dome or the Everest region, that I simply had to see.

The view did not disappoint. After bearing with weather that changed on a whim, even in the austral summer, from clouds to rain, to wind, to sleet, to wind, to snow, to clouds, to sun, to rain, during our two weeks in Patagonia, we were suddenly blessed with a brief respite of sun.*

The golden beams graced the Towers right at sunrise...
... just before another snow storm blew in.

*Being near Antarctica, Patagonia is reknowned for some of the worst weather on the planet. The winds are so strong that some town plazas and sidewalks have ropes for people to grab to avoid being blown into the streets.


LPC said...

These photos are just beautiful. I put the link out on Twitter. More people should see them.

elizabeth said...

aw, thanks, LPC! xo

Stephanie said...

I linked to this on my post about the W -- hope that's okay!

elizabeth said...

@ Stephanie: awesome! I didn't know about your blog - great trip report! I added a link, too.