The End of Patagonia: Torres del Paine National Park — Part 3

DAY 4

The fourth day of the W loop was incredible.  We had amazing weather, incredible views, and I had hit my hiking groove where my backpack wasn’t causing any discomfort and I could just fly up a trail.  Our morning was long, 4.5 hours, but immensely satisfying.  Check it out:img_3203img_3204img_3211img_3213img_3215

That picture of me is one of my favorites of my trip, I look so happy (understandable given whats in the background).

Towards the end of the morning, we left a rather flat trail that was meandering around the lake and started a steep ascent into a valley.  The trail was cut out of the side of the mountain, and the the combination of the narrow path and huge wind gusts made for slightly stressful progress:img_3223

Our campsite for that night was a kilometer or so from the famous Torres del Paine.  We made it and set up our tents in the early afternoon, and then headed up.  The trail was incredibly steep, but the excitement of finally being at the most famous sight in Patagonia got to me and I essentially ran up the trail (it helped that we had left our big packs at the campsite).  Needless to say, the towers were impressive:img_3239

The only bad thing was that it was packed with people.  Because the hike to the towers can be done as a day hike from one of the entrances (which is where we were ending), a lot more people come to the towers than do the whole W.  So, while the experience was absolutely amazing, it was a little difficult to really appreciate how the mountains majesty.

After about an hour, the weather took a turn for the worse, and we headed back down.  It started raining as we were cooking dinner.  We were bummed because we had plans to wake up before the sun rose the next morning and hike up again, with the hopes of seeing the rising sun strike the towers.  The increasingly black sky and piercing winds made that idea a little less appealing.

Despite the worsening weather, I was committed to getting up at 4:30am to at least try to see the sunrise.  I wouldn’t have been able to forgive myself if I didn’t at least try to see it.  So, Julie, Amelia, and I went to bed early, preparing for a wet and cold hike in the morning.

That night, things went wrong.  Julie woke up me up around midnight throwing up.  Lovely.  After taking care of her for an hour or two, I fitfully returned to sleep.  I was going to be exhausted in the morning.

DAY 5

When my alarm went off at 4:30am, I was so close to not getting up and hiking.  It was pouring rain, the wind was howling, and I had gotten less than five hours of sleep. I wasn’t sure it was worth it.  But, I summoned the motivation, packed all my warm clothes into a day pack and set off alone.  Julie was still sleeping and Amelia had decided she didn’t want to because of the bad weather.

Up I went.  Navigating only with the light of my headlamp, I slowly ascended back up to the towers.  In comparison to the dozens of people the previous afternoon, when I got to the top at around 5:30am, there were four other people there.  The bad weather had scared most people off.

Then, the unthinkable happened.  In the course of half an hour, the rain stopped, the wind settled, and the clouds cleared.  It happened so quickly.

The sunrise was truly incredible:img_3311img_3328img_3349img_3363fullsizeoutput_2eefullsizeoutput_328

After a perfect two and a half hours just enjoying the solitude and the beauty of nature, I started back down with a heavy heart.  It was time to hike out of the national park and return to the real world.  As I walked down from the towers, the weight of starting a semester abroad hit me.  It was a rather melancholic descent that in many ways represented the closing of the first chapter of my travels in South America.

Despite the sadness, the moment quickly passed.  I was excited to begin the next adventure.

Next time: the beginning of my semester in Valparaíso, Chile.

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