I arrived in Punta Arenas Chile very early in the morning and waited for my friend, Niki to arrive. Once she arrived, we took the bus to Puerto Natales, which is the base for trekking in the nearby Torres del Paine National Park. Niki had suggested that we do this hike shortly after we completed the Annapurna Circuit a few years ago and I’m glad she recommended it! We spent the day renting gear, figuring out logistics and buying food.
We had wanted to hike the full circuit, but due to time constraints, we opted just to do the more crowded, and more popular ‘W’ trek. We hiked west to east. Our first day, we took a catamaran across a beautiful turquoise lake, which we later learned would be dotted throughout the park. It was somewhat of a contrast – riding on a boat on waters that reminded me of the ocean around Indonesian islands, and yet, there were massive, glacier- covered peaks looming in the background. We met up with a really sweet Dutch girl, Moniek, and after lunch, hiked up to Glacier Grey. The hike was beautiful and the moment I enjoyed most was coming to the crest of a hill, looking out, seeing a beautiful turquoise lake with a massive glacier field at the far end of it. I’ve never seen anything quite like it before and I thought it to be quite stunning.
Winds were intense. In fact, the wind is quite brutal in all of Patagonia. Trees grow looking wind-blown, that is how fierce the wind can be. At one mirador (viewpoint), we stopped to take pictures of the glacier and each other. I was wearing a backpack and probably all-in, weighed maybe 165 or so pounds. At one point, I jumped straight up and landed about 6 inches in front of where I had lifted off. That is how intense and strong the wind was. Our hike continued until we reached a nice viewpoint where we were able to see the glacier even closer. We hiked back and returned to camp at 9:20pm. The cool thing is that this is the further south I have ever been during the month of December and the sky is still a bit light at midnight. So, returning to camp at 9:20pm meant that the sun was still up, which is a little trippy.
The next day, we hiked up the middle section of the ‘W’ into an area called the French Valley. It was a cloudier day, but the coolest part of this day’s hike was that we saw a peak with large glaciers on it. You could hear the glacier moving and cracking. We were lucky enough to watch a section of the glacier crack and fall off the mountain. I was able to catch part of this quasi-avalanche on video. This glacier fed into a river that we walked along. Oh, that’s the other really neat thing. Water around here is pure as glacier melt – literally. I haven’t bought water in well over a week, as when I’m low on water, I just dip my Nalgene in the river. I love being able to do that!
The third day was the most difficult day of hiking for me, as I woke up in intense pain during the night. I have had a pinched nerve somewhere in the upper left quadrant of my back for months now. Months ago the doctor told me that it resulted from sitting (and let’s be honest, slouching) all day (yay office jobs!). Carrying 2 backpacks for the past two weeks has probably somewhat
exasperated the problem and hiking the ‘W’ was just the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. I woke up in the night in the most intense, piecing pain I have ever felt. I felt paralyzed because I literally couldn’t move. I wanted water and would try to lift my head 3 inches and I would collapse back on my mat in pain. I was really nervous and scared because I really felt paralyzed in that the pain was so intense, I literally couldn’t move. I wanted water and couldn’t drink it ’til the morning when Niki woke and could get it for me. I also was really afraid of my ability to leave and hike. I managed to fall back asleep and when I woke, Niki helped massage my back, which helped enough for me to be able to move. Standing up was better and I was able to walk, gaining mobility as time went on. We packed up and hiked on. On the way, we passed a Korean tour group and stopped them asking if anyone had a painkiller stronger than Ibuprofen. There was a doctor who was able to tell me that my back wasn’t broken (I knew this) and then lifted my bag and said, “too heavy”. Then, EVERY single person in the group lifted my bag and said “ohhh!!”. One man gave me some orange painkillers. I have no clue what they were but definitely needed something strong. They must have helped, as we were able to finish hiking without an issue.
The next night, I was afraid to go to bed, thinking I’d wake up in severe pain again, but all was well. We did the last section of the ‘W’. Niki’s knee was inflamed from an earlier injury, so she ended up having to rest halfway and I continued up to see the towers. It was a stunning backdrop and a beautiful setting. All-in-all, the ‘W’ is a beautiful hike; it’s short, not too difficult. We did hike between 10 and 15 miles each day, but it’s manageable. There were refugios along the way, where people could opt to stay in private rooms or dorm rooms and hot showers and meals were available. We camped (it was MUCH cheaper), but did have 2 meals at the refugios, which made this the most flash-pack-y of a backpacking trip I have ever done.
Then, we made it back to Puerto Natales where we began to realize just how difficult it is traveling in Patagonia around Christmas. We were supposed to meet up with two friends on Christmas Eve, but due to transportation limitations, we had to move on to El Calafate today and will have our friends meet us here in a few days. We were lucky to get on a bus. Buses fill up days in advance here and we were only able to buy bus tickets for both us and our friends because of cancellations. We got lucky in that regard. So, we’ll see what is available to us on Christmas Day, but I think I’ve learned my lesson about traveling on a tight schedule around Christmas in a Catholic country….
Oh, and it is really cool to be so far south and have it be light so late. It’s still somewhat light ’til midnight (barely though), so I took this photo one night before bed when it was still plenty light out. I hope everyone back home is having a good time celebrating Christmas with your families! I am thinking of home and miss my family dearly. Feliz Navidad!