Patagonia is something indescribable. Human language fails me and I don’t know how to relate back to you the incredible experience I had backpacking for five days there. Even the most beautiful pictures can’t do it justice. I can honestly say that those days were the best and most memorable of my time here in Chile. I will do my best to tell you about my time there.
Hostel: Lil’ Patagonia
We arrived in Puerto Natales on the 30th of October. Lil’ Patagonia is a cute little hostel with friendly, informative staff, clean rooms, and fun atmosphere. I would absolutely recommend it to anyone intending to backpack in Las Torres del Paine national park. We spent the day deciding on our trekking course (which depended on the weather), shopping for food/spending wayyyy more money than we intended, renting our camping equipment (which turned out to be five times as expensive as we had expected, because freaking Jaime didn’t tell us that it was charged per day…), and packing our backpacks. We went to sleep and left really early the next morning to catch a bus to the park. This is a map I drew of our route:
~ day 1 ~
wild horses, snow and sun, and the freezing beautiful campsite.
1 to 2: 15 km(?), 5 hours
We set out and saw wild horses grazing on the golden grass. The day was beautiful, with weather rapidly changing between snow and high winds and sunny warmth. We hiked for five hours over relatively flat ground and I ate delicious trail mix. With the mountains ahead and a river often visible to our left, the time went by quickly and we soon reached the feet of the mountains.
We camped by the lake with the mountains behind us. It was the most beautiful campsite and we met some really cool people while cooking in the gazebo. We met one of the employees from Lil’ Patagonia and played card games with him and a dude from Ireland. Tris discovered that she lost her phone/id/credit card which reallyyyy sucks.
That night the four of us crawled into our tiny tent and managed to squish in all together. Tris and Sodam and I giggled for a long time about nothing in particular, and then after a long moment of silence, Tris snorts and says, “imagine the guys giggling themselves to sleep” and we all lost it again. It was freezing cold, so even though there were four of us stuffed in the tent I basically didn’t sleep. My sleeping bag was borrowed and was meant for weather warmer than 10 degrees Celsius. It was definitely wayyyy colder than 10 degrees Celsius every night so the entire trip was pretty rough for sleeping. But I survived!
~ Day 2 ~
Halloween, Tiger Balm, and The glacier
2-3: 11 km, 5 hours.
The next day we set out for camp grey, which was a three hour hike up the mountain from the first campsite. Unfortunately, it took us five hours due to fatigue of some members and a hurt knee.
The view on the way was beautiful and kept getting better as we got closer to our destination. The weather was amazing! We stopped about halfway at the first sight of the glaciers. Pete put Tiger Balm on his lips without knowing exactly what Tiger Balm is. Tris nearly died laughing and Pete’s lips nearly died from the burning. He took it well though; mostly because he didn’t want to give her the satisfaction of showing how miserable he was. Haha!
The lodge at campsite Grey wasn’t as nice and we didn’t have water first thing in the morning. But our campsite was nestled into some trees and it was very peaceful and a lot warmer than the first campsite because a) we were sheltered from the wind and b) I wore all of my clothes to bed.
~ the glacier grey ~
3-4: 3 km, 1 hour
After setting up camp and eating, some of us set out on an hour hike to see the glacier grey. It was a grueling climb but we didn’t have backpacks so we survived. The view was incredible. We climbed over the fence at the view point and ran across some rocks to get closer to the glacier. It was something I can’t describe so here is a picture to sort of insufficiently show the majestic awesomeness that I was experiencing.
A condor flew over us too! It was beautiful and I managed to snap a few pictures of it with Tristan’s camera. We also saw icebergs. ICEBERGS!
That evening, we ate dinner and bought some boxed wine to celebrate Halloween. Pete scared the shit out of us after the lights went out by coming up behind us and shouting. It erased the effects of the wine and I still had a hard time falling asleep. Dang it Pete!
~ day 3 ~
The breathtaking lake and that damn campsite
We all had slightly different routes for the next two days, so I’ll only tell the distance/time for my personal route: 3-6: 24km, 9.5 hours
Amryll hurt her leg the day before so she left early. We hiked back down from campsite grey to the first campsite we stayed at and she took a ferry back to the bus. The rest of us ate lunch in the gazebo and then continued on to campsite Italiano.
David, Pete, Jihoon, and Tristan decided to stay in Italiano because it was free. Sodam and I decided we didn’t want to hike for 11 hours the next day so we continued on to the next campsite to cut two hours off of the next day.
That two hour hike was my favorite part of Patagonia because it was so incredibly beautiful. The path followed the contour of Lake Nordenskjol. For a little while we walked along the stony beach, and it was so beautiful I couldn’t even take a picture of it because there was no way it could capture it. Sodam and I sat down and just listened to the wind waves lapping against the shore. Peaceful. Here is a photo of the lake from the distance.
After the lake shore, we trekked for a long time over stones which killed our ankles, weaving in and out of some trees which I can’t describe. The scenery was gorgeous and incredibly unique.
We finally made it to the campsite about forty minutes ahead of schedule. Sodam had been struggling earlier in the day but she was so determined to get to the campsite before sundown we made really good time! I was really proud of her. But after we got to the campsite, things started going downhill. That night was amusingly miserable. Here’s the story:
The campsite was rocky and uneven, so there were platforms everywhere to build the tents on. Sodam and I paid to reserve a space, and then found an empty platform and began setting up the tent. About halfway though a Chilean man came over and spoke to us in broken English. The conversation went something along these lines:
Chilean guy: “Hey did you guys reserve yet?”
“Yeah” I replied.
“Well, that’s my site.”
Sodam and I looked at each other in confusion and then turned to the man and asked him what he meant. “Earlier I came through here with the guys and I said this is my spot and that’s your’s over there.” he gestured in the general direction of another platform.
Sodam said, “I’m sorry, we didn’t know that you had claimed this campsite. You should have left a bag on the platform to mark that it was yours.”
“But I told the guys this was my spot!”
“I’m sorry, but you can’t just tell the guys and then expect other people to also know. You should have put a bag on the platform,” I responded, deciding to myself that he was a childish s.o.b.
“We’re already halfway set up and we spent a lot of time and you can’t just ask us to move.” Sodam added.
A thought suddenly occurred to me that maybe each campsite was assigned to a specific person, so I asked him, “were you assigned to this particular campsite? Were you given a number or something?”
I think something was lost in translation because he looked really confused and said, “No there weren’t no number. I told the guys this was my campsite.”
“Well, are there any other campsites available?”
“That ain’t my problem.”
At that point I was kind of boiling on the inside. That ain’t your problem my ass. I was not about to move just because he was being childish. I very calmly asked, “Would you like for me to help you look for another campsite?”
“I don’t need no help with that,” he said, looking confused and angry.
“Well then, I’m sorry, but you should have put a bag on this platform to claim it.”
He just left.
Sodam and I looked at each other darkly and started ranting about what an idiot the guy was as we continued to set up our tent.
A few minutes later the lady from the reception desk came over to us. She explained in Spanish (which is what the guy should have done in the first place cause there was so much lost in translation and his English was terrible) that the guy had paid extra for the platform closer to the facilities and thus it was actually his assigned campsite. She apologized but asked us to move.
Sodam and I were livid. Sodam was so mad she wouldn’t even try to speak Spanish. She said politely but straightforwardly something like, “I’m sorry, we weren’t aware that this was reserved. Your desk should have informed the campers of the situation! We walked for hours and are exhausted and we just wasted all of this time setting up the tent because of this miscommunication. We paid for a place and no one told us that this was reserved. There should be a sign or something with this information on it!”
The lady apologized again and said she understands that but they guy paid for this campsite so we would have to move. We asked if there were any other available campsites (it was late so the place was already really full) She told us there were six platforms “arriba” which we could use with no problem. She then left to go back to the office.
We started packing our stuff up and ranting about the unfairness and how unprofessional and rude and sooooo incredibly unlike the USA, Europe, or Asia the entire situation was. They sent a guy with a boombox to help us find a campsite. The platforms up above the buildings were all taken, so we had to sleep on the ground. The guy tried to help us set up the tent. It probably would have been faster if just Sodam and I did it because we knew how to, but it was a nice gesture non-the-less. We lost an hour with that shit. So darkness was falling.
By that time we were both starving and exhausted. But we discovered that we left the cooking pot with the other four people at the last campsite. We were both incredibly frustrated and decided to just ask another camper to borrow theirs. Thank God we ran into another exchange student from our school who let us use his cooking pot. Unfortunately, he wanted it back before Sodam had time to cook her meal, so we both shared mine. Rice. It was the most delicious rice I’ve ever eaten in my life but we were both still hungry afterwards.
I went into the bathroom facilities that the campsite provided for those of us who didn’t pay as much, only to discover that there was literally shit in the toilet and no way to flush it because the cover for the tank was gone. It was disgustingly sickening. I let that reception lady know about it and she allowed me to use the very clean and beautiful bathrooms inside of the lodge. The contrast was ridiculous and made me even angrier.
We finally went to sleep and I shivered violently all night long because there was just two of us in the tent and the lack of body heat was sorely felt.
It was a miserable night. But it sure makes for a good story now!
~ day 4 ~
shortcut, stream, and the hell climb made manageable by the hostel guy.
6 – 8 (via 7); 9 hours, 20 km
The next morning, Sodam was too physically and mentally exhausted that she felt unable to finish the last climb up to Campsite Torres, let alone la Mirador Torres del Paine. She decided to walk with us until we reached the shortcut, and then split from us and go back to the hostel in Puerto Natales. We broke camp and waited for the other four to catch up to us (they left Italiano two hours earlier). Jihoon had a hurt hip from sleeping funny so he decided to go back with Sodam.
So we set out for the shortcut where we said goodbye. They took one of the tents and a pot. I was sad that they didn’t finish but I think it was for the best because the trek grew miserable as we started climbing higher later on. It would suck if Jihoon’s hip grew worse or if Sodam just wasn’t able to finish, and they did make it most of the way.
So we took the shortcut. It was mostly flat and very beautiful. The day was gorgeous and sunny. David and I managed to get far ahead of Tris and Pete. We crossed a river and I decided to soak my poor abused feet in the mountain water. SPEAKING OF MOUNTAIN WATER, it’s so incredibly delicious. So fresh and crystal clear and beautiful and thirst quenching and inspiring and I want it in my life all of the time. I could rant for days about how amazing and lovely and perfect mountain water is. But I digress. I soaked my feet in it and that was an excellent life choice. Here is a photo that Tristan took of me drinking the mountain water (it was a different river, but you get the idea of how beautiful the water is).
Soon Tris and Pete caught up to us so we journeyed on. After that point, the path grew more difficult as it started going uphill. Really steep uphill. After a grueling climb we finally reached the first campsite (which we were not camping at) and took a much needed rest. We were pleasantly surprised to run into one of the guys who worked at our hostel! Eugenio (pronounced e as in grey, u as in food, gen as in hen, i as in me, o as in go. ey-ew-hen-ee-o. Not Eugene – yew-jean -) bought us a cookie and walked with Tris and I to the campsite Torres.
If the climb was bad before, it got worse from that point on. We were already completely drained and exhausted, my stomach was cramping, and I couldn’t breathe because of the altitude and lack of energy. And the path was winding straight up a mountain. Eugenio was a Godsend because he offered to hold on to one end of my trekking pole to give me the extra strength I needed to get up the steepest parts. He joked that it was payment for our pasta later on haha! I would not have been able to make it without that help.
We finally made it to the campsite! It was snuggled back into a forest with a stream running through the center, a shelter for cooking under, and a crude bathroom building. We set up our tent and I SAW A FOX!! It ran right behind our tent. I freaked out I was so excited. Then we made pasta and talked to other campers and went to sleep.
~ day 5 ~
the frigid heavenly sunrise and back to civilization.
8-9: 1 hour up a mountain.
then 8-10. 2 hours, 9 km
Google Las Torres del Paine and you will find hundreds of photos of these three famous towers brilliantly lit by the rising sun. We awoke at 4:30 to make the climb up the mountain to see the sunrise and las Torres. The climb was absolutely miserable and definitely the most physically and mentally difficult thing I’ve ever had to do in my life.
I didn’t think i could make it. It hurt so much and i was so tired i just wanted to quit. We lost the path and climbed up an abandoned slope with sand-consistency ground for about 10 minutes before we realized our mistake and had to go back down and return to the right path. I felt like I had used up all of my energy and I just wanted to stop. But I knew that there would be a beautiful view at the top and that kept me going. And at the steepest parts, Eugenio held my pole and pulled me along like before. I thought that maybe he was an angel or something.
We finally made it to the top. We didn’t have any protection from the wind any more. So we were blasted with strong, frigid winds and the altitude made it freezing. I was covered in sweat from the climb and it quickly cooled and started draining my body heat. I normally have an incredibly low tolerance for the cold and this was unbearable. I actually cried from the cold. Tris laughed and at first I was mad but then I realized how ridiculous and funny it actually was that I was crying in that situation. And I laughed too. I managed to change out of my sweaty shirt and wrapped myself up as best I could, and sat with my back to a huge rock which mostly blocked me from the wind but it was still bloody awful.
It was also cloudy so the sunrise wasn’t as spectacular as we had hoped. It was still beautiful though. The mist over las torres made it very mysterious and mystical, and the water was a deep beautiful teal colour. The wind blew over the surface of the water and the ripples danced down towards las torres. The high winds made the clouds constantly change and as the sun rose, everything was stained with a golden tinge. Thirty minutes or so after the sunrise, the sky cleared a little and the sun lit up the face of the rocks like torches. It was beautiful! Here is a picture. I think I appreciate the beauty more now that I am not freezing, but at the same time this photo doesn’t do it justice. I think that the feeling of accomplishment from surviving the climb as well as the frozenness are a necessary part of that experience and you lose both of those things with a picture. But here it is anyways.
After a while we headed back down the mountain and broke camp. The hike back to the main entrance was much faster than on the way there because it was mostly downhill. The only bad thing was the wind which kicked the dust up into our eyes and made it difficult to see anything. We made excellent time, and finally made it back to civilization. The shower in Puerto Natales was the best of my life, even though there was no water pressure or hot water. I didn’t even care.
1. I’m stronger than i thought i was
2. i swear a lot when I’m exhausted and in pain
3. Survival mode brings out the worst in everyone. I learned things about myself that i didn’t know before. I also saw the worst of the people I was with. But even in that, we came out closer and better friends than before because we proved to each other that we are trustworthy and reliable even when we’re miserable.
4. When you’re miserable sometimes you think deep things. As I climbed the mountain to Las Torres I saw the parallel between what was happening to me and life in general. After I got back to comfort, I thought more about it. Life hurts. It’s hard to keep going. It would be easier to give up and go back down but we keep going cause we know that it will grow us and make us stronger. Sometimes we stray off the path and have to work hard to return to it. But we hope that there will be something amazing at the end. And when it gets so unbearable that you literally can’t take one more step forward, God holds our hand and gives us that extra strength that we need.
Patagonia was an incredible experience that I learned a lot from and I’m so glad I went. I hope to return some day maybe with my family or Zach. Only time will tell 🙂