We crossed to Punta Arenas, Chile via a rough seas ferry to meet up with our friend Espen. Over a few beers and a fine dinner we grilled him on his experience working in Antarctica for the season. Our interest was piqued but we had to get along before Malin would return from the ice.
We made a beeline for the country’s southern crown jewel, Parque Nacional Torres del Paine. Considered one of the continent’s finest national parks and this the prime season to visit, we were prepared for the crowds after a couple weeks on the deserted back roads of Tierra del Fuego.
The area is famous for unpredictable weather; they have four seasons here like everywhere else but they tend to hit you all in the same day. On a day hike to Glacier Grey, we encountered summer sunshine, a ferocious five minute rainstorm, and intense winds nearly capable of knocking us over.
Later that night we camped out among our finest surroundings yet at Lago Pehoe. For just a minute at dusk the winds died down, the clouds cleared and it was us and a campfire overlooking the twisted Torres del Paine mountain range.
The next day we set out to tackle a part of the ‘W’ trek and experience the Torres up close. Dark clouds, a constant drizzle, and fierce winds accompanied us on our march toward camp. The trail wound up a desolate rocky mountainside and eventually gave way to forested wilderness. At camp the winds kept us tucked away in the tent where we roasted marshmallows and turned in early in anticipation of our morning hike to view the towers.
We estimated to have shared the six mile path with 200 others later that day but our morning at the viewpoint was totally deserted. A rare moment of tranquil solitude was fitting as we stood in the shadow of the enormous granite spires. Our time of quiet contemplation was shattered on our way down when an impatient hiker shoved his way through a large group of elderly tourists. “Tranquilo!” their guide shouted after him to no effect.
This park is unique, via trail it is the equivalent of a New Jersey theme park but on the road the crowds disperse and a sense of isolation takes hold. Alone with the herds of guanacos, we sought secret territory and solitude.
In the forgotten northeast corner of the park we spent a few days camping and hiking near Laguna Azul. A handful of backpackers trekked through the area quietly in the afternoons. Horses roamed free searching out the best grazing areas. A period of usual calm caused us to linger, soaking in the undisturbed beauty of our surroundings. Edging north and moving closer to home each day, stops like this truly sweeten our final days on the PanAm.