Sunday, September 18, 2011

Torres del Paine or Lots of Walking, Part One

This post is the first essay in the second chapter of my thesis. This chapter is titled Patagonia, and it features all of my stories from the three week trip that I took between summer classes (for them) and the start of the spring semester.


Torres del Paine is a gorgeous national park in southern Chile, where I ended up spending four nights and five days backpacking with three friends on its breathtaking, if not always well-marked, trails. The day that sticks out most in my memory is the day we hiked nearly thirty kilometers (around nineteen miles). I only slept until 7 a.m. that morning, but between packing up and eating the first of many oatmeal concoctions (cooked with the pocket-size Bunson burner) we didn't start climbing up to the lookout until around 9 a.m. Thankfully, we went without our packs, because when I say climbing, I mean climbing. The trail to the Torres lookout, the mountains for which the park is named, is only a kilometer or so long, but the trail leads you up, alongside, (and occasionally in) a stream until you get to a field of rocks—rocks from the size of eggs up to the size of small houses. It looks somewhat strange because on one side stands the forest and on the other there is nothing but boulders as if at one point part of the mountain broke off and slid down alongside the trail.

Emerging from the trees, I spent a minute or two staring at this field of rocks wondering where the trail went. Then, looking up, I realized that the orange metal bar sticking up from the rocks was a trail marker. It meant that I had to climb up and over all those rocks. 

Right, okay, going up. I actually had a good deal of fun scrambling over rocks for about half an hour to reach the top. Somewhat out of breath, I climbed up the last rock and stood looking down into a bowl. The Torres stood directly across from me, covered in wisps of clouds, with a greenish blue lagoon at their feet. A number of different languages spoken by my fellow sojourners greeted me as I topped the ridge. They were resting on the rocks, admiring the view or clambering around below, exploring. 

A short rest and a couple of amazing pictures later we decided to make our way back down the rockslide to the camp. The four of us walk at different paces so we spread out along the path; well, in reality we made our own paths. 

Fortunately, I was alone when skipping and jumping from rock to rock, trying to think like a mountain goat, I found myself with my feet above my head landing flat on my back. I still have no idea exactly how I did that. 

I managed to make it the rest of the way back to camp without further mishap, and Sara and I set out around 11 a.m. hiking down the same hill we had come up the day before. We left the other two behind to pack up their tent; they walked faster than we did anyway. The trail is called the doble vu (or W in Spanish) and takes about five to six days to complete. The problem with the doble vu is that it backtracks quite a bit. It really looks like a W or more like a double U.

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