World’s End, Patagonia Part 1:

I’m the type of person who would rather not spend a ton of money on an engagement ring or the wedding itself for a few reasons, which I will list for you here:

  • Although I appreciate the concept of jewelry, I myself don’t live a lifestyle that is conducive to wearing it very often; I am certain to break-it or lose-it in short order. Plus, my commitment is internal not external.
  • There is a distinct difference between a wedding and a marriage. I am more interested in the marriage part than the wedding part, although i’ll happily admit that weddings (including our own) are fantastic opportunities to see clumps of people that you care about all in one place.
  • Travel.

Our strategy was that if we spent less on the getting married process we’d have more money to put into the “honeymoon” and nothing says honeymoon like lounging around with an umbrella drink on white sandy beaches so that’s exactly what we didn’t do. We opted instead for South American exploration; namely Chile, Argentina and Peru because nothing says honeymoon like hiking in incessant wind, language challenges and howling street dogs. And so, we were off.

 

A quick spin down to the bottom of South America

Our travel time from Seattle to Punta Arenas, Chile was a brief 28 hours. We had a handful of long layovers that went by easily enough. Time can pass quickly with the magical combination of people watching and sleep deprivation. If not for our extensive layovers how would we have learned that Chileans are crazy for Dunkin Donuts? We stood in awe as we witnessed the endless line of people buying Dunkin Donuts by the dozens at the Santiago airport. Where are they going with all of those donuts?

 

Upon arrival in Punta Arenas we discovered that our packs were behind us by about 5 hours, challenge #1 of 750. We also had some assumptions (along with several others) about availability of transport from the airport. No taxis, no buses, nada; just us and our bagless existence standing outside the airport looking toward the horizon. Fortunately a lovely airport worker stepped out and offered us (along with a few other travelers) a ride to our hostel, how fantastic.

 

The hostel owner was super friendly and helped us get our bearings as we began our travels. We stayed in Punta Arenas for only a couple days before moving onward to Puerta Natales but we were there long enough to see with our own eyes the pure love of mayonnaise that was being enjoyed by the culture. I thought donuts were “the thing”, I was wrong! If you envision an overzealous use of whipped cream and exchange it for mayonnaise, you’ve just about got it. The standard hotdog comes complete with mayonnaise, diced tomatoes and sliced guacamole incase you were wondering.

 

Puerta Natales is a boomin’ little town that seems to exist solely to act as a jump off spot for tourists to reach Torres Del Paine National Park. We passed through with enough time to stock our packs, eat lunch and hop on the next bus bound for the park. We’d already been on a bus for a few hours so what was a few more? At one point during our trip down to the park everyone was directed to get off the bus in the middle of nowhere; and I do mean nowhere. My Spanish was pretty choppy going into this trip so getting and giving information took a good deal of effort. Great place to dive in; Chileans speak very fast! All I know is that we switched busses, why? I have no idea. It was an unsettling feeling to be let out far away from civilization with no understanding of what was happening. It’s one of those times when you exercise trust and hope in tandem.

 

Nevertheless we arrived at Torres Del Paine National Park and began hiking straight away.

IMG_0677

Beginning our hike in Torres Del Paine NP, Chile

Fun Fact #1

The weather in Patagonia is completely erratic. You can reasonably expect it to be sunny, rainy, cold, warm, overcast and always, always, windy potentially all within 30-minutes. So yes, the weather shifts quickly leaving you constantly wanting to either take clothes off or put them on. I found that a light scarf was my new best friend to combat the ever changing weather and the non-stop wind.

We also quickly learned that there are no campfires allowed in the park. I was bummed by that news because it gets quite cold but as a firefighter it’s easy to see why you wouldn’t allow fires. The wind could easily catch hold of a fire and push it through the entire park pretty quickly, so probably a good call.

 

We managed to get to our campsite and set up the tent right before the rain began. Note to self: Always set up the tent first thing in Patagonia. This park, Torres Del Paine harbors some incredible beauty. The type of natural beauty that makes you stop and take pause; some might call it stunning. The hiking trek we intended to do is called the circuit; essentially it’s the “go big or go home” trek of the park, which spans approximately 80 miles. The circuit trek incorporates the W trek, which has some of the most incredible views of the park also making it the most heavily trafficked.

 

Our first stop was Mirador Las Torres (The towers), which isn’t directly on the circuit route so you get a few extra miles to tack onto your expedition. To see the towers you must actually hike all the way to them, there is no peeking from a distance but it is absolutely worth the extra credit hiking.

We got in a good day of trekking and positioned ourselves for an early morning wake-up to do some more extra credit hiking the following day. I loathe morning with every fiber of my being but I could acknowledge that waking at 4am to hike up near the top of Cuernos (the horns) for sunrise wouldn’t be the worst thing so we hiked by headlamp making it near the top in time for breakfast with a 360 degree view. It was frigid but our coffee kept us content. The rest of the day was bright and sunny so it all balanced out in the end.

This day that began with us hiking at 4am was quite the test of endurance, at least on my part. Ian is a bit of a hiking machine, which leaves me cursing his name under my breath several times a day, sometimes all day. Our plan was to make it to Refugio Grey, which would have us hiking approximately 35km (22 miles) all said and done. We stopped for extra supplies and a couple of luxury items at Refugio Lago Pehoe since Refugio Grey is the end of the “W” trek meaning that supplies and people are much more scarce from that point on. Ian’s luxury item was a Snickers bar that didn’t even make it out of the store before being consumed, while I opted for a Twix bar that I savored as if it was my last meal on death row.

Fun Fact #2

Not everyone understands hiking etiquette. On a heavily trafficked trek we were in constant hike or let pass mode. Hiking etiquette dictates that the person with the heavier pack has the right of way. If all packs are equal the person hiking uphill has the right of way, basically whoever has the most strain is given the right of way. Hiking etiquette was completely lost on a great majority of people that we were interacting with. Not only were we constantly stepping off the trail for day hikers in fluorescent spandex pants, but we were then left choking on the perfume wafting in our faces as they passed. Who wears perfume to go hiking?

The stretch between Refugio Lago Pehoe and Refugio Grey was gorgeous; that’s the good news. The bad news is that the trail consisted of not so small rocks that were absolutely hammering my feet. I felt so much pain and pressure that I kept envisioning my feet as tomatoes. I imagined that if this were a cartoon my feet would have transformed into tomatoes and with each step the tomatoes would squish and squirt in every direction.

 

Throughout the day we took breaks although rare and fleeting. I distinctly remember stopping for a break that offered a great overlook of Glacier Grey. I thought, “I don’t need to stand back up. I can just lie down and die right here. This would be a good last view.” Nonetheless, Ian enticed me with a chewy toffee to get back up onto my tomatoes and keep on truckin’.

IMG_0758

Overlook to Glacier Grey

Disclaimer:

We are not normal. You  may be asking yourselves, “Why don’t you just stop? Camp somewhere closer, rest up….” The fact that we are both wildland firefighters means we are acclimated to pushing through pain and following through with our plans, however insane they may be. In the fire culture it’s all about exceeding expectations, not simply meeting them. This mentality transitions over into our personal lives as well, sometimes rather unfortunately like say, right now.

Needless to mention I felt a huge sense of relief when we came upon the buildings for Refugio Grey. However, I was quickly let down when a little man working there informed us that these were new buildings, not yet open to the public. We needed to continue further down the trail. And so we hiked further and further until finally coming upon a sign that directed us down a hill. This is the point where I started laughing. I was laughing because I was in so much pain and it seemed this hike was never going to end. How much further down the hill is it? Are we going to the core of the earth? Who is going to carry me back up to the top? I was observing how slowly I was moving at this point and couldn’t help but draw the humor out of the situation. I mean seriously, a 90 year old with a cane could have passed me at this stage!

 

Just as the tears of laughter and delusion were starting to flow we rounded the bend to find that we had arrived. 22 miles of hiking had brought us to a utopia. The campground was at the edge of the lake that stemmed from the glacier and as you peered out you could see icebergs floating in the water. The sun was beginning to get low in the sky giving the whole camp a bit of a glamour shots effect. I was not disappointed to say the least.

I felt quite entitled to drop my pack and get off of my feet immediately, leaving Ian to set up the tent and make dinner this time around. I found the boulder of perfection that was shaped over millennia for this one moment when I would arrive here to elevate my legs before they fell off. The sun was warm, the wind was calm, the icebergs were floating, I was off my feet; this moment in time could not have been better. Just then Ian came over and told me to move because I was lying in the middle of an available campsite.

Moment over. Goodbye boulder of perfection, I love you.