Sad, but not tragic. A forced opportunity. Maybe even a fortunate adaptation…fuck it. Let's make taco salad.

Puerto Natales + Torres Del Paine Trek

The Slovenians and I could all tell we were going to like Puerto Natales (~20,000 people, sea level) before we even got off the bus.  At 11:30 pm we dropped our bags at the hostel, walked two blocks (while smoking the joint the owner of the hostel in Punta Arenas sold us…solid), and we’re picked up by a local.  Lautaro showed us where all the best local bars were, had us pick one, then proceeded to entertain the shit out of us, introduce us to a bunch of other locals…and drink off our tab all night.  So it goes.  We all had an amazing time and wandered back to the hostel at 5 am.

Sidebar:  As I’m writing this, I think I just saw some sort of ostrich-looking motherfucker out of the bus window.  Am I still high?  And llamas the size of an elk?  And then as soon as I finish writing that sentence, I look up and see a flamingo (yes, pink) walking along the edge of a turquoise glacial lake.  Don’t they live in Miami or some shit like that?  I need the Googlez to straighten all this out.  I don’t know what the fuck is going on.

Anyway…we wake up a bit late after our Lautaro-sponsored binge (I also blame the Slovenians.  I would have gone straight to bed when we arrived.  Seriously, Grandma, I would have.)  We’ve got two hours before our bus picks us up to take us to the wilderness for a 5-8 day trek and I’m still carrying 7 pounds of books, a computer and way too many other electronics-related crap , 5 button-up shirts, hot ass new jeans and shorts that actually fit me…all completely worthless when attempting to chase Slovenians around the wilderness.  I beg the hostel owner to store 20 pounds of shit for me and then rent me a weather-appropriate (whatever the fuck that means in Southern Patagonia) tent, sleeping bag, and rain pants.  I jam all of that…and the food we bought in Punta Arenas…and the tequila (of course)…and the carton of cigarettes for me and Miha…goddammit!  I’m back up to 40+ pounds.  So much for trekking light…

 

After a 2-hour bus ride into Torres del Paine National Park, we arrive at 5 pm.  And then we march for 4 hours.  Uphill.  Into a driving snow and winds gusting to 60 mph.  With a lingering “slowness of mental function” (I don’t do hangovers).  And this is the easy day.  After 10 km, we reach the camp at 9 pm and set up for the night just below “The Towers.”  After drinking just a bit of my tequila and Miha’s pisco (just to help sleep soundly with all the scary wind, Mom), we get to bed at 11 pm with the alarm set for 4 am so we can catch the sunrise at The Towers.

Wait.  4 am?  Isn’t that when I normally go to bed…in fact, I’m pretty sure I didn’t make it home until 5 am 24 hours ago.  Okay, this is a fucked plan.  But, the problem is that Miha and Jerneja flew from goddamn Slovenia specifically to do this trek.  In fact, they trained for this.  My training included running a bar for four months and then evacuating to a beach in Chile for a week to rehab from Cusco and catch up on my reading.  I can’t be the asshole American that fucks up their vacation.  We can do this.

Alarm at 4 am.  Dressed (with, basically, everything in my bag wrapped around me in some way to avert the absolutely ridiculous weather) and on the move.  We walk out of the camp and 100 yards up to the viewpoint where the wind (literally) knocks me on my ass.  (No sympathy from the Slovenians, at this point, just to be clear.)  The snow is coming sideways at 60-80 mph and the cloud level is down around my knees.  Fuck this.  We march back down and get back in the tents to wait it out.  Several of the others in the camp were on their last day in the park, and, after getting up at the same time, they braved the wind and snow and clouds and 1500 foot vertical ascent to get to the base of The Towers to see…absolutely fucking nothing.  Then they froze their ass off for an hour waiting for the weather to clear.  Then they came back to camp, packed up their shit, and went home.  Suckers.  We got back up around 10 am. (Now this is what I’m talking about.  Reasonable fucking schedules, people.  No one is in a hurry here…)  We marched an hour up the final ascent to the glacier and were greeted with this:

 

Okay.  This is why we’re here.  45 minutes back down, pack up camp, and then a significant, but not unreasonable trek around the mountain to the next camp (18 km total for the day).  It would have been fine if I wasn’t running to keep up with The Slovenians.  Set up camp at 9 pm…again…and bunker down for the night as the rains start to come.  Sideways, of course.

 

Day three was a much more reasonable 78 meters in total:  Two trips to the river for water, 6 trips to the bathroom, and 4 trips from the shelter to the tent to re-stock on supplies (i.e. smokes and tequila).  We moved into the shelter at 10:30 am to wait out the rain and never left.  Every single person that came into camp was absolutely soaked and frozen, which (thank fucking god) gave The Slovenians no desire to assault the next viewpoint.  We drained Miha’s liter of pisco by Noon and my tequila was exhausted by 4 pm.  But, of course, we were both very happy and generous (i.e. not wet), and shared with at least 20 different people that made it to the shelter.  We made many friends.  This is much more my speed…

 

After a beautiful siesta, we got up to make dinner with the rain still howling through the valley and decided to call it a night.  In the morning, there is no change.  The rain has let up a bit, but the cloud level is even lower than the previous day, and we decide to get the hell out.

Day four begins with a 2.5 hour trek to the next camp where we finally have relief from the rains, but are dealing with 60-80 mph winds again.  We set up camp and rest for a couple hours before making the 3+ hour hike up to Lago Grey.  Where we see this:

 

Okay, this is really, really beautiful, but now I have to make the same hike back to camp.  Motivation is waning quickly.  You can call me a pussy if you want, but the 90 mph+ winds along the mountain ridges and the 100+ mph winds coming off the glacier are more than The Penguin can stand.  By the time we get back to camp, we’ve done 31 km for the day.  The Penguin needs a drink.

Our last camp has a small market and I buy 3 liters of wine to go with our (again) instant soup and rice for dinner.  (Fuck you, Top Ramen.  You really do suck.  I knew this 20 years ago in college and I really know it now.  I don’t really care how “convenient” you might be.)  And then, just so things finish awesomely, someone kicked over our pot of boiling tea right onto my foot in the stupidly crowded shelter.  It can’t be that bad, right?

After a two Ambien and two Valium night to try and get some sleep through the throbbing pain, we get up and take the ferry across the lake and to our bus out of the park…which we have miscalculated by 3 hours.  So we sit.  In the driving wind and snow.  Waiting for our escape.  I try to pass the time reading “Love In The Time Of Cholera,” but end up so depressed that I’m ready to jump in the glacial lake and end it all.  Oh, and my shoe doesn’t seem to fit so well anymore.  How fucking big is this burn blister going to get??

Our bus (which we had pre-paid for, so we couldn’t have taken one of the 20 other busses that came prior to ours…) finally came 20 minutes late and we made our way back to Puerto Natales where I’m hoping I can nurse my wounds…and my legs…and my back…and my decimated feet…for a day before chasing The Slovenians to our next destination.

 


2 Responses to “Puerto Natales + Torres Del Paine Trek”

  1. Freddyk says:

    Didn't you say you had never been backpacking? Hell of a way to start.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I LOVE LOVE LOVE the expressions you make in some of your photos–especially the one of you in front of the weather forecast during your hiking adventure. You crack me up!!!!
    LT

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