The Big Wet – Seventeen Days in Torres del Paine – Torres Del Paine NP, Patagonia, Chile

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Torres Del Paine NP, Patagonia, Chile
By George Kalli

Torres at Sunrise
Torres at Sunrise
With the exception of Machu Picchu, Torres del Paine, located in extreme southern Chilean Patagonia, may be the most well-known of national parks in South America, and rightfully so. As I hope the pictures that follow will convey, there are truly amazing mountains, glaciers, and sights to see and enjoy throughout the park. It is, however, located on the west coast of Patagonia, and hence, is subjected to some of the worst weather imaginable. Here are some excerpts concerning the weather from my journal entries:

  • horrible weather and little to no views

  • some of the heaviest wind gusts we have ever hiked in
  • steady rain and low clouds
  • quite a steady gust of wind
  • very wet, rainy, and buggy
  • it was rather miserable
  • winds had not relented any
  • the wind was too powerful
  • a gale force wind
  • low clouds obscured what could have been good views
  • that evening was as miserable as the evening before �” wet and buggy
  • winds were persistent
  • saw some crazy looking clouds
  • another rainy and blustery day

These observations were all from our first week spent in the park. We spent three of those days floating down the Rio Serrano (barely at times due to high upstream winds) in a sea kayak. The kayak trip was sandwiched in between an overnight and a two-night hike. On one of the hikes we managed to end up following one-two kilometers behind two gauchos (Patagonian cowboys) and about eight dogs who were driving about 20 cattle along the trail. The trail had just been subjected to at least eight days of rain. As you might imagine, this makes for some messy conditions. For a while we caught up with, and ended up hiking alongside, the trailing horse of the cattle drive. It appeared to be an old, senior aged horse, mostly white with a green spot on his side. No joke! I began to call him Dr. Seuss because he reminded me of something out of a Dr. Seuss story.

Eventually we passed the cattle drive when it took a break at a grazing location adjacent to the trail. It was shortly thereafter that we encountered another peculiarity that would make this hike unique �” lake crossings. Numerous times the trail would simply head to and then apparently terminate at the shore of a lake. Luckily, yet another peculiarity of the hike would end up assisting with the lake crossings. A very friendly dog that we decided to call Pancha decided to hike with us for the entire 11-hour overnight hike. Pancha seemed to know the trail quite well. When we arrived at the locations where the trail seemed to dead end at lakeshores, Pancha confidently entered the lake and began heading to its opposite shore. Without Pancha, we may still be at one of those lakeshores deciding what we should do.

The reason most people come to Torres del Paine is to either hike the “Circuit,” usually a eight- to ten-day hike, or the “W,” usually a four-day hike. We hiked the Circuit in 10 days and it was quite an experience, in more ways than one. Here are some weather observations from my journal entries for this portion of our adventure in Torres del Paine:

  • an ordeal with driving wind with stinging, soaking rain

  • has been raining now for 19 hours without any relent
  • change over to snow tonight
  • hiking today was pure drudgery and I regret the decision was made to hike in such weather
  • quite a slog, all the rivers are out of their banks and much of the trail is under standing or flowing water
  • we have a pile of soaked items and no prospect of drying them
  • promptly began with rain
  • the rain changed over to snow flurries
  • despite the inclement weather
  • a bit cold and blustery
  • amazingly horrible weather, the worst I have ever experienced

Well that last statement about sums it up. The worst weather I have ever experienced in my 35 years was at Torres del Paine. Out of the entire 17 days that we spent in the park, we never had a complete 24-hour day without rain.

But not all was lost due to the weather, far from it. Believe it or not, there were also some positive entries in my journal concerning the weather:

  • the weather has given us a respite the past two days

  • two days of hiking without rain
  • we beat the bad weather with time to spare
  • today was even better weather
  • the weather improved a bit
  • the weather just about made up for the miserable slog the day prior
  • woke to clearing skies
  • today the clear weather continued
  • skies cleared completely and we were treated to a full panorama of mountains, rock and ice.

As fate would have it, when the skies did clear completely, we happened to be in the most scenic portions of the hike. Here is some the world class scenery that we enjoyed.

In addition to the amazing scenery, one of the aspects that made hiking in Torres del Paine unique is the system of shelters and refugios that exist along the trail. At a majority of the locations at which we camped, facilities and services that these businesses provided were available to us. In the poor weather that we experienced, the most welcomed amenity was basic shelter from the weather outside. Instead of spending all the hours waiting out the poor weather in a cramped and damp tent, we could enjoy a warm tea or coffee, a warm fire, and play some chess while relaxing inside.

Glacier Gray - torres del plain
Glacier Gray – torres del plain
The refugios and shelters also helped develop a sense of camaraderie amongst those hiking the trail. While completing the 10-day Circuit hike, there were a few other hikers who ended up having similar itineraries as us. Having common areas to hang out, eat and cook (cooking shelters were also a common feature at the camping areas) made it easy to get to know our fellow international hikers quite well. On our hike we managed to befriend German, Irish, Austrian, Australian, Dutch, New Zealand, Swiss and Canadian hikers. Sharing this adventure with our new friends was my favorite part of the hike.

In addition to warm tea and coffee, many refugios also offer boxes of Chilean wine and bottles of beer. One of the more accessible ones even featured a fully stocked and somewhat trendy bar. After one of our bigger days of hiking, during which we completed the crossing of the major pass that the hike involves, many of us chose to celebrate and took advantage of the beer and wine that was for sale. It was quite fun, and as it turned out, a couple of us (myself included), indeed drank more than we needed. Now I can no longer claim that the last time that I got sick from such excess revelry (or excessive despondency in the following example) is the night that George W. Bush got reelected.

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