Torres del Paine

In late December 2016, when we booked this trip, images of Torres del Paine were how I envisioned our time in Patagonia. As Kay began to map our trekking routes in early January for our time just a few weeks away, he wanted without a doubt to do the “O” trek.

However, when he went to book it, he realized it was point-blank impossible because we wouldn’t be able to secure camping permits, something recently introduced in autumn 2016 in the park. (Greeaat, just like our timing with the permits for the Inca trail in Peru… we are always missing out!)No fear, we can still do the “W” trek, a portion of the O trek. Only… as Kay went to book the sites, one of the key camping points was booked up, making the entire trek impossible for our time there. CRAP. But I NEEDED to see those towers… I mean, LOOK AT THEM.

Although we could not do any type of through trekking here, we could pay the pricey fee to camp at one of the sites at the base of Torres del Paine and then hike up in the morning. So after heading up from Ushuaia and spending a night in Puerto Natales, we got to the park and set up camp for just one night.The bonus of still doing a night camping was that we would have an early start for the summit and avoid the mass of crowds that come in with a tour bus around 10am and start their day hike then.And boy, was it a good idea. We only had one shot at this, so we prayed for good weather. Meanwhile, we put our one night of dinner together and enjoyed the atmosphere at the campsite, which was something like Disneyland with how many excited hikers were there camping out.

Also, with the towers just above the campsite, it was a great place to enjoy the view and get a taste of what we would hopefully see the next day if the weather was kind to us.In the morning, we had a quick breakfast and then set off with the sun still getting started. We could see the towers from the base, but would they still be visible by the time we got up there?After getting up around 5:30am and racing excitedly to the top with just our daypacks wearing us down, we were greeted with this fantastic view:The stuff Patagonia is made of.The weather was slightly tricky as the clouds were always rushing over the tops of the mountains, constantly hiding at least one of the towers.But what a sight to behold.I think we could have stayed here all day… but we had to turn around eventually and tear down our campsite before making the bus back to Puerto Natales in time.Kay was always waiting just a bit more to see if all three of the towers would be all the way visible… but the clouds pressing up and over from behind them were teasing us. Now? No… what about now? Ohh….This was probably the best we had below, before I told him we really should head back if we wanted to make it out of there on time.Sadly, it was time to leave. As we set off down the path, we were passed by about a million of the day hikers coming in off the buses. The further we walked down, the more the clouds covered the towers and it started lightly raining. By the time we got to the start, we looked back up at the towers and they were completely covered in rain and clouds. It looked terrible. Terrible for all those day trippers…Sometimes it pays getting up early y’all and being there when the day starts! And with Patagonia, you just plain need some luck on your side. I’m thankful that we were still able to see this view with just a day in the park!

Up next, we head back to Argentina to see the Perito Moreno glacier!

Tierra del Fuego National Park

After our jaunt to the glacier, it was time to start our first camping trip of the year. After all, we didn’t bring our tent all this way for nothing. We planned to do some hiking!Kay planned for us to camp for two nights in Tierra del Fuego, leaving us three days for day treks from our campsite.
But before we could get the tent set up above, we had to make it to the campsite circled in green on the left below. We took a bus from Ushuaia into the park.Would you believe, buses in Argentina are not as reliable as Swiss ones, and ours broke down getting from one stop to the other just after we’d gotten to the park! We had to hop out and hitch a ride with a second bus to get to our camping location.Once we arrived, it was actually really easy to hop off the bus and set our tent up already. I felt a little guilty that we didn’t have to “work” to get there, but we were easing our way back into trekking and hiking. After the day hike to the glacier, here we would go camping, but just do day hikes from the campsite. Baby steps! Kay got to use his filter for the first time this year, which we’d just replaced the actual filter in Zurich just before leaving. He slogged out to the middle of the freezing river to pump water. He was a bit worried that people washing their dishes in the river would contaminate it and get us sick. You weren’t supposed to wash in the river, but people were still cleaning their clothes and dishes in the river nearby us, so we were kind of annoyed at their carelessness.I actually don’t know how he did it, twice. I got into my ankles the second time and it was so painfully cold, I had to get out immediately. I really don’t know how he could stand to stay there and pump. That’s dedication to healthy water!
Around the park, we hiked several of the treks over the days. Above we saw the sign for the end of the Pan American highway, the longest route in the world stretching from Alaska down to Ushuaia. Maybe some day we will make it up to the other end!We had very little time in Switzerland to prepare for traveling beforehand, so unfortunately we brought almost no dry food with us, which ended up being pretty hard to find in camping stores in South America. Instead, we ended up struggling for gluten free solutions with polenta, dried tomatoes, wine, carrots, and in the mornings we had legitimate baby food powder mixed with dulce de leche.

We might have been that couple that brought wine and/or liquor on every hike… It was cold. I needed it. DON’T JUDGE ME. 🙂And really, it was pretty freezing. This is summertime in Ushuaia! I had on pants, socks, shirt, pullover, down jacket, rain/wind shell, buff, hat, and my fancy new gloves, which, just after arriving in Chile after this time in Tierra del Fuego, I lost one on a bus… and was gutted because they were really expensive, new, awesome waterproof, windproof gloves. Of all the things I’ve lost on this trip already (which is really weird for me to do) I am most upset about losing one glove!!

So just look at me enjoying that glove… and know that I was devastated to lose it shortly after this. :'(Kay was enjoying wearing his new puffy jacket, which we replaced shortly before leaving. Thankfully he hasn’t lost this yet… he has a better track record than me on this trip.For having decided sort of on a whim to come to Tierra del Fuego, it was really gratifying and worthwhile. We loved it!I would walk along these views and think, “Stahp. No, really. Stahp. Shut up. This is the most beautiful place EVER.”Most of the time, my view looked something like below, looking up at someone’s backside. That’s how we do it. Every time. I fall behind, I stay there. Kay waits for me intermittently and at the top, we catch up.We tried to check out the beavers that are supposed to be ruining the area a bit, but we didn’t see any while we were around. We only saw one much later on.The beavers are said to be pretty destructive to the habitat though. It did have a bit of a wasteland feel to it in these photos. It seemed like nothing we had ever seen before.On trek number 3 from the map above, which we did on the first day, we trekked to the edge of Argentina and Chile, which you weren’t supposed to cross because it’s a no-no to do a border crossing in the middle of the national park.Shhh, I “went to Chile” anyway. Don’t tell anybody. 😉On day two we did trek 4 on the map, which had the amazing view below. One of the best from our whole time in Patagonia.And in case anybody was wondering by this point, yes, we needed proper hiking boots on this trail. And my poles, my God, they saved me more than once. When we got to the base of the ascent to this spot, we had just crossed a swamp. Some fellow hikers asked me how I got out with my pants so clean. It was because I would “test the ground” with my poles first, not my legs!It was reeaally cold at the top though. Like, after 30 minutes of photos, I wanted to die. There was also a little fox running around at the top, looking for food to eat. People must have fed him in the past, because he seemed reaaally interested in our sausage. And every time we threw rocks to scare him away, he would just check out if the rocks were food or not.After the three days were up it was time to head back to Ushuaia for one night in town before heading on to Chile. I couldn’t believe it, but our visit to Torres del Paine was already coming up!