Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. Mark Twain
We woke up to the morning sunrise, feeling a little tired yet excited for our first day of trekking. We had come so far and had so many expectations. We hoped we would not be disappointed. We had both slept pretty well but were awoken a few times throughout the night by the new sounds that surrounded us. The sun was shining brightly and the birds were singing majestically. It was spring in Patagonia.
Stepping out of our Eco Tent, we marveled at the sensational view of the sun rising over the towers. Torres del Paine comes from the Spanish word torres meaning towers and the Tehuelche Indian word paine meaning blue. The park is named after the three gigantic, spherical granite towers reaching almost 10,000 feet and the surrounding electric blue glacial lakes within the park. I was continually mesmerized by the towers’ dramatic, captivating beauty, and enjoyed admiring them at different times of the day as they turned from hues of pinks and reds to blues and black as the sun rose and set behind them.
Paul and I on our first morning of trekking
Breakfast was awaiting us as well as a nice, warm fire inside the Eco Dome. Every morning that we were at the Eco Camp, Marcelo would bake us fresh bread rolls and prepare either eggs or potatoes as the main course. We also had grainy cereal, fresh fruit and a cheese plate just in case we were feeling extra hungry. After breakfast, Marcelo would set out all sorts of freshly made ingredients for preparing our lunch, which we would carry and eat outdoors during our trek. My favorite was Marcelo’s homemade chicken salad sandwich served with perfectly ripe, smooth avocados. This became our morning ritual.
By 9 am we were ready to start the trek. Our first day would be a warm-up day meaning fairly easy. We would do a two-hour trek in the morning, then catch the catamaran across Lake Pehoe and do another three-hour hike in the afternoon.
Our first hike was located in the only area in the whole park where you can see guanacos and possibly the elusive puma. It was a nice and easy hike on a gentle rolling trail through the pampa region of the park. The trail was deserted except for a few herds of guanacos. Despite my half disappointment and half relief, we did not spot a puma.
I was holding on tight to the rail so I wouldn’t be blown away by the amazingly, fierce wind. Wow, it was like nothing on this earth!
A stop along the way for a much needed photo op.
Walking down with Lake Pehoe in the distance.
Guanacos in the wild would run as we approached, making it hard to get a good picture.
At the end of the morning hike, we met our driver Carlos who drove us to Lake Pehoe where we caught the catamaran across to the Pehoe refugio, which is the main launching off point for many treks within the park. The catamaran was jammed packed with an international crowd of fellow trekkers, geared in hiking garb and loaded down with enormous backpacks. After such a solitary hike, if felt strange to instantly be surrounded by other people. As far as we could tell, we were the only Americans.
We arrived at the Pehoe refugio a little before noon and dropped off our gear. We would be staying here for the next two nights, the first night inside the refugio’s bunk rooms and the second night at the campground. We headed out for our afternoon hike and were overjoyed to see that the sky had magically cleared up and it was absolutely breathtaking out. We realized how incredibly fortunate we were to have such unbelievable, clear weather because we knew that weather in Patagonia is totally unpredictable and one could spend an entire week there seeing nothing except the clouds and rain. What a huge disappointment that would be!
Cristian chose a wonderful hike that is relatively unknown to other trekkers. In fact, it was one of Cristian’s best kept secrets because the hike was awesome and we had it all to ourselves to enjoy.
We hiked up above the Pehoe refugio to an overlook of the immense Grey glacier. The views along the way of the sun hitting the sparkling, turquoise waters of Lake Pehoe and the imposing snow-capped, craggy mountains took my breath away. Slowly, I felt every muscle in my body relax and break free.
Stunning views of the magical Lake Pehoe and los cuernos (the horns) mountains.
As we hiked, Cristian pointed out the different Patagonian flora, two of my favorites being the calafate and the Antarctic beech, a deliciously fragrant, cinnamon-smelling bush. Since the park contains over 200 kinds of plants and 105 species of birds, there was never a dull moment. We ate lunch outdoors watching for the rare sighting of a mighty condor, awestruck by the incredible beauty of our new surroundings.
Pinch me, is this real? The entrancing beauty of this place captivated my soul.
After lunch, we had a short hike up to the overlook. As we headed up, we were nearly knocked over by the fierce Patagonian wind racing off the massive glacier. Adrenaline rushed throughout my veins. I could hardly contain the excitement and energy I felt as I approached the first sight of the mighty Grey glacier. When I first saw it, I screamed in delight. It was absolutely stunning. The wind was blowing so hard it was wild, but that just seemed to add to the mystical effect of the place. We took a break, finding shelter behind a large rock and admired the glacier from our little perch high above Grey Lake. There were gigantic electric blue icebergs floating in the lake that had broken off from the glacier. Cristian told us that the glacier was slowly retreating each year due to global warming. It was hard to imagine that one day this glacier as well as the 60 other outlet glaciers that branch off the 223 mile long Southern Patagonian ice field could be gone.
First sight of Grey glacier off in the distance with the winds roaring like never before.
Looking relaxed while battling the wildest winds I’ve ever experienced.
Icebergs on Lago Grey….hold on to your hat, Paul, if you want to keep it!
After battling the fierce cold wind, photos and a rest, it was time to head back to the refugio. The walk along the way was probably the most spectacular views of the entire trek. To not have seen the sun and miss this view would have been a tragedy. I felt euphoric: For this is why I take the road less traveled. Why I trek.
We arrived back at the refugio in time for a hot shower before dinner. We were surprised to see that Cristian had carried his own stash of supplies for cocktails thus we were spoiled once again with our Pisco Sours and array of snacks to eat. The refugio was bustling with activity as there was a constant flow of trekkers arriving from a day’s hike. I just smiled, relaxed and enjoyed my cocktails feeling slightly greedy for not sharing with the strangers.
We had a nice meal and enjoyed lots of laughs talking with an international crowd (which is always fun). Cristian had even carried along our own private bottle of Chilean wine which we thoroughly enjoyed and didn’t share with the thirsty onlookers (sorry but I love my vino!). Exhausted, my husband and I retired to our bunk room ready for bed. Yet we both had a fitful night’s sleep given we were in a tiny room with nine strangers, all in different stages of dress (yep, we had a German guy in his bikini undies!), different smells (no comment) and different kinds of noises (some more unpleasant than others).
But soon, we were out cold dreaming of condors, alpine views and glaciers. I couldn’t wait for the next day!
Stay tuned….day 2 of trekking in fabulous Torres del Paine National Park is coming up next! Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the view.