The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river

Our final day in El Chaltén was also our final day of hiking… our seventh in a row. The fun wasn’t completely over – we had a flight to Buenos Aires the following day, but the nature portion of the trip was coming to an end. Even though we had a bus to catch, it didn’t leave until 6PM which meant we had nearly the entire day to wander around and get our final taste of the Patagonian wilderness.

The major street with nearly no one in sight
The main road in town

Originally, Mike wanted to do this hike that’s 4 hours of constant uphill and then 4 hours down the same path to come back. It’s supposed to give you a really nice view of the valley on a clear day. He said I didn’t have to go with him, and I’m still not sure if that was him trying to be nice or trying to tell me that he didn’t want me slow-poking along… but if it was the latter, too bad because I decided that I was going to do whatever he wanted, even though there was NO part of me that wanted to go on another 8-hour hike.

THANK GOODNESS he changed his mind. He decided the night before that he didn’t want to do it anymore “because it doesn’t sound very fun”. Tell me about it. I was pretty happy.

Me pretending to wear a backpack-shaped bench
Like my new backpack?
Mike wearing a giant backpack
The sun came out right after my picture… this one of Mike looks like it was taken on a completely different day.
A carved, wooden backpack-shaped bench
The backpack-bench from behind. It’s kind of hilarious…

We decided to have an “easy” day and do three little hikes around town: two to viewpoints and one to a waterfall. This was the itinerary that I planned for us to do on our first day in town as a rest day before Mike overruled me and sent us on the Laguna Torre hike instead because the weather was nice. I gave him a hard time about deleting our rest day, but I have to admit… he was right. I know, am I really admitting that Mike was right about something? Yes, but don’t get used to it. For our entire trip, we got EXTREMELY lucky with the weather. Everyone says that the weather is super variable, and it doesn’t seem like clear days are the norm. We had clear skies and good visibility EVERY day, until this last one when we were doing hikes where that wasn’t as important. It would have been much more of a bummer on the longer hikes we did the two days before. So, good on you, Mike.

For once, we let ourselves sleep in and didn’t set an alarm until 8AM. I know, luxury. Before we could hit the trails, we had to pack our bags and move them out of our room since we were checking out. We were like two sloths getting ready for the day and finally motivated ourselves to leave when it was time for our hostel friends to catch their bus. The bus station was right on our way to the first trailhead, so we walked with them, said our goodbyes, and continued on to the “Los Cóndores” viewpoint. It was just a quick 40-minute walk from town, and you get a nice view of the valley. That’s when we realized how unintentionally well-planned our hiking schedule turned out to be. We could see where Fitz Roy was supposed to be, but it was completely covered in clouds. When we went, it was totally clear! Also, it was so good that we didn’t do that terrible 4-hour uphill hike because it’s only worth it if it’s a clear day, and this was definitely not!

El Chaltén from the first viewpoint
The bustling metropolis of El Chaltén
Fitz Roy almost completely blocked by clouds
Look at all of those clouds around Fitz Roy!
No sign of Fitz Roy
Where is it??? So glad we weren’t doing the Laguna de los Tres hike on this day!

About 15 minutes past that viewpoint is another, Las Aguilas. From there, you can see the valley on the other side of the mountains where there’s a pretty lake. They weren’t the most magnificent hikes, but they were definitely worth the minimal effort it took to get there. Plus, we got to see a few condors along the way! I’m not much of a birder, but even I can appreciate seeing such graceful birds swooping through the air.

Mountains and a lake in the distance
View from the second viewpoint. Not shown: crazy winds.
The road into El Chaltén and mountains behind it
Love these mountains

These two hikes are on the south end of town. Our last hike was to Chorillo del Salto, a waterfall past the north end. It’s only supposed to be a 40-minute hike, but that’s with the trailhead ALL the way at the end of the town. So, we walked from south to north and then went the additional 3km to get to the waterfall.

The hike was easy because it was almost entirely flat but also hard because I kept thinking it should be over soon, and it kept not being over. I guess I would have liked to have some informative signs telling me what kilometer we were on and how many we had remaining, unlike on the Laguna Torre hike when I cursed the existence of such signage. I’m hard to please.

View of a meadow along the way
On the way to Chorillo del Salto
The blue/cloudy sky reflecting on the river
Check out those cloud reflections!
Streaks of algae in the river
Funky algae. Mike loved this. It’s so sculptural.

The waterfall was so pretty! Mike and I both admitted that we hadn’t been expecting much. It was definitely worth the seemingly endless walk to get there. We also showed up at the perfect time. Maybe we were right between tour buses? I don’t know, but it wasn’t terribly crowded when we arrived, and like 15 minutes later, it was completely swarmed with people (you can drive almost all the way to the waterfall, so I’m sure it’s a popular stop for tour buses).

Me with the waterfall
Almost fell in on the way back from this spot, but I didn’t so that’s all that matters.
Mike with the waterfall
Mike made it there much more gracefully than I did.

Guess how far we hiked on our “easy” day. 10 miles. Ha! So much for that. I mean, it was definitely much more relaxed as far as intensity goes, but that’s still quite a distance for a day that was supposed to be easy! I was pooped by the time we made it back. I can’t even imagine how terrible I would have felt if we’d done the more intense hike! 8 hours? No, thank you!

Pretty view of the river on our way back into town
Heading back to town

We still had some time to kill before our bus departure, so we obviously just sat on our butts at the hostel and watched time pass. I was so happy to have some time to sit down… yes, I know that we had a 2-hour bus ride ahead, but post-hike sprawling isn’t the same as bus sitting.

Mike on a roller treadmill
Mike got a kick out of this outdoor “gym”. Obviously he found it necessary to give the equipment a try. This treadmill looked like a greattt workout.
Mike on another "gym" contraption
Elliptical, anyone?
Mike on another mystery piece of exercise equipment
Literally no idea what this is.

The bus took us back to El Calafate for one more night before our flight to Buenos Aires. The scenery along the way was awesome! I know I said that about the ride to El Chaltén also, and that makes sense because it’s the same road… but I didn’t think anything looked familiar. Maybe I’m losing my mind. Maybe my memory is failing. Maybe I was sitting on the other side of the bus. Who knows? It was fab, though.

A lake and fields with ground plants
Along the drive back to El Calafate
Fields topped with menacing clouds
This picture kind of looks like a storm is looming, but I think part of that is smudges on the bus window.
Chalky blue lake along the drive
How did I miss this on the way drive into town??

All we had to do back in El Calafate was repack our bags for our flight the next morning. Of course, we took forever to do that and ended up going to bed WAY too late. Like past 1AM late. And we had an airport shuttle coming to get us at 5:30 in the morning. Do you see what I mean about us being self-saboteurs?

Our only full day in El Chaltén was dedicated to the hike to Laguna de los Tres. It’s the most popular hike in the area, is listed as “difficult”, and is supposed to take 8 hours, so we were prepared for all of the above. In our usual “let’s avoid the crowds” fashion, we aimed for an unrealistic early departure time (6:30AM) and left at a more reasonable early departure time (7AM) which is apparently still long before anyone else in town is even awake. Well, except for this one guy we met who said he hiked there for the sunrise, but he was a rare bird (we’ve been over this before, but who wants to hike for 4 HOURS in the dark??). Anyway, we were not in good company at 7AM. We were in nearly no company. Fine with me!

The valley on our way up
Sleepy valley

The general profile of the Laguna de los Tres hike felt pretty similar to Laguna Torre, the hike we did the day before, but slightly “more”. The beginning has a bunch of unshaded uphill with great views of the valley. When you feel like you might collapse, it turns flat, and trees start popping up!

The shadeless beginning of the trail
No. Shade. Also, see the little rock peeking up in the far background? That’s where we’re headed (though I didn’t know it at the time).
Slightly sunnier view of the valley
The world slowly waking up
Gnarled forest along the way
Funky forest

About an hour in, the trail forks, and we picked the path that goes to a viewpoint where we got our first glimpse of the mountains we were headed towards. It was breathtaking! And we were super lucky with the weather again, so the skies were clear and the views were completely unobstructed. Seeing the mountains was good motivation to keep going but was also like… “Wait, we’re walking ALL THE WAY THERE??”

Me gazing at Fitz Roy from the viewpoint
First look at the mountains. Can you say WOW!?
Mike with Fitz Roy
This is where I start having the same-ish pictures over and over again because they’re all so darn beautiful.
Selfie with Fitz Roy
Brother-sister selfie!
Fitz Roy and the rest of the mountains
Okay one more. Fitz Roy is the tallest peak in the middle, to the left is Poincenot, and to the right is Mermez.

From the viewpoint until the very last segment of the hike, the trail wasn’t bad at all. It’s basically flat… and then you get to the end, and there’s a sign that says the last kilometer is going to take an hour because it’s like 400m of elevation. And then it actually takes an hour. And it is SO steep. And long. And steep. It wasn’t the worst hike I’ve ever done, but it wasn’t exactly a walk in the park either (lol but technically it was a walk in the national park).

Fitz Roy with some cloud cover
Stay away, clouds!
Fitz Roy with some clouds trailing off the peak
It’s like a little smokestack. Getting closer…

The good news was that we were there early, so there weren’t a lot of people coming down. That part of the trail is only really wide enough for one person at a time, and it would have made things much worse if we had to keep moving aside to let people pass. And, probably most importantly, the sun still wasn’t too hot because of course there was zero shade from that point on.

The one thing that was far from ideal was the wind. It was crazy! Most of the way was shielded from by the mountains, but the final stretch was completely exposed. I know I’ve said this before, but I meant it then and I mean it now… I was not confident that I was safe from blowing away. At the very least, there was a very real possibility of blowing over, and it was so steep that blowing over would probably also mean rolling down the mountain. I stopped multiple times and just dug in because I wasn’t confident that I could land my foot where I wanted.

Green valley
100% chance that I took this picture as an excuse to stop hiking for a second. We came across that river on the left side and through the green patch above it.
Rock and wood-covered trail
The way up…
The rock peaks just over a ridge
Almost there almost there almost there!

Then, I got to the top (Mike was already there), and the struggle was all but forgotten. The mountains you’ve been looking at all day are RIGHT THERE, with their jagged peaks and snowy slopes. The lake below them is the bluest blue you’ve ever seen. (After the brownish Laguna Torre from the day before, it looked especially blue.) There weren’t many people there, and it felt like we were part of an exclusive group lucky enough to experience the magic. Like what the heck is this world we live in??? Who would expect a lake like that, tucked up in the mountains? It’s not even fair for places like that to exist in the world. You blink and blink again and then one more time just to be sure… and it’s still there. And it’s still incredible. And even though it’s clearly real considering you’re standing there looking at it with your own eyes, you think they must be messing with you. How is this place real??? And the weather! I can’t talk enough about the weather. There was one little cloud near the peaks when we first arrived and then it cleared away completely.

Mike and me with the lake
We made it!
Laguna de los Tres
Okay, sorry in advance but like… I took a LOT of pictures, and I only picked a few… But there are still so many because they’re just too pretty! And also basically all the same, but can you blame me?
Me with the lake
Okay now glamour shots
Same pic without me
Okay now get out of the picture, Lara!

We walked down to the lake and then around the edge until we could see another lake right next to Laguna de los Tres, Laguna Sucia. That must be one of those Iceland/Greenland naming things (they named the green land Iceland and the icy land Greenland so that people would leave the green land alone) because “Laguna Sucia” means “dirty lagoon”, and that name couldn’t possibly be less suited.

Me on a rock looking down at Laguna Sucia far below
Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia from above
What dirty water, right?

While the two lakes are, basically, right next to each other, it’s super weird because Laguna Sucia is like 100m lower in elevation (that’s a pure Lara estimate though, so take it with a grain of salt because my estimates can absolutely not be trusted). There are waterfalls coming out of the top lake that turn into rivers flowing past the lower lake. So strange.

Laguna Sucia and Laguna de los Tres above
This was my best attempt at getting both lakes in the same picture so that you can see the elevation difference between them. How weird is this??
The blue waters of Laguna Sucia
Someone please explain to me how this lake got the name “dirty lagoon”. The glacier that feeds the lake is at the far end of the picture, Glaciar Rio Blanco (white river).
Laguna Sucia and its awesome surroundings
How is this place real?
Laguna de los Tres and the drop-off to Laguna Sucia
Laguna Sucia is to the left, where it looks like the world just ends.
The waterfall between Laguna de los Tres and Laguna Sucia

We admired the lakes for a while until Mike said he was getting cold from the wind (he was in shorts and a t-shirt. I had long pants and a jacket). Then, we hiked up this little mountain nearby to get one more view of the two lakes before heading back down. Already, we could see that the crowds were getting bigger (aka they actually existed), and clouds were starting to gather around the mountain peaks!

We also eavesdropped on this tour group whose guide was explaining how people rock climb Mount Fitz Roy, the tallest peak. After doing the hike that we just did, they walk around the lake, strap on crampons, and hike up the ice. Probably they will stay the night on the ice, so he pointed out a good place to set up your ice cave for sleeping. The next morning, they walk the rest of the way up the ice, partly having to ice climb until finally there’s just rock. They’ll switch into their rock-climbing shoes from there and take one of the routes that have been defined over the years, basically all named for the origin country/state of the people who first completed it. And after all that, they have to go allll the way back down. Geez. People are crazy!

The water. The mountains. No clouds. HOW did we get so lucky???
The lake. The mountains. Again.
I can’t handle this. Also, that’s the ice patch you have to climb up to get to the peak.
Another lake pic
No words, mostly because I already used them up on the infinity other pictures.
The lake. AGAIN.
THE WATER. I’m still not over it.
The valley
View from the top while trying not to blow away
Laguna de los Tres and a little Mike
Spot the Mike, running away from the wind.
Pano of the lake and surrounding mountains
Pano by Mike from the edge of the lake. AHHH so pretty!!
Me with the lake
This was hurriedly taken in a split-second of calm when the wind stopped blowing because I looked like a marshmallow in the other pics with my shirt all filled with air. Also, look at how the peak is already starting to gather clouds.
Super aqua waters of Laguna de los Tres
LAST ONE I PROMISE.

Mike had big dreams for the rest of our hiking excursion. After we hiked down from the lake, he wanted to explore these two other offshoots of the trail. One was to see another glacier, Piedra Blanca. We walked until we had a good view (we decided there was no need to go all the way to the viewpoint when we could see it just fine already) and then turned around and walked back to the main trail.

Piedra Blanca
The glacier Piedra Blanca is peeking out between the mountains

On that path, there were SO many caterpillars. Earlier in the day and the day before, we noticed that there was a weirdly large quantity of caterpillars on the trail, and we tried to avoid stepping on them. On this trail, there was no avoiding them. It seemed like they might have been an invasive species because there were WAY too many. Besides being all over the path, they were also EVERYWHERE in the branches of the tree and bushes. It got a little creepy once you noticed all of the places where they were lurking.

 

Trail littered with caterpillars
Spot the caterpillars! (It’s not hard.)
Creepy bush-lurking caterpillars
Me refilling my water bottle from the river
Water break! Drinking from streams never gets less awesome to me.

There was one more offshoot that Mike wanted to check out, and I had decided that I was fine with doing whatever he wanted to do (my feet were feeling surprisingly okay). We got about 6 steps down the path before he decided that the weather seemed questionable, so we should head back. Also fine with me! We still had like 3 hours of hiking ahead. The skies had been getting cloudier and cloudier from the moment we left the lake, and by the time we decided to head back, you could see almost nothing of Fitz Roy! Thank goodness we went early! I’m sure the lake is still beautiful even with cloudy mountains, but if you have the chance to see them all together, there’s no question that clear weather is the best way to see it.

The valley with two lakes
The two lakes in the distance to the right are Laguna Madre and Laguna Hija. They’re along the second side trail Mike wanted to explore
Fitz Roy blocked out by clouds
Looking back towards Fitz Roy… So. Many. Clouds!

On the way back, we went the other way at the fork and walked by another lake, Laguna Capri. I wasn’t expecting to walk right along the shore! I imagined that we would be up high above it. It was a cool surprise. We didn’t stick around for too long, though, because I think we both just wanted to get back at that point.

The clear waters of Laguna Capri
I wouldn’t mind going for a swim in there!
Campsite in the woods
One of the campsites along the way
Trail through the forest
Nothing better than a hike through a forest! Also, on the way in, there was a sign warning you about the high winds in the area and saying that if they’re really bad, you should avoid standing under a tree. Can someone explain to me where we should be standing in this FOREST to avoid the trees?

Back at the hostel, I think I sat on the ground and “stretched” for about 2 hours before I felt like I wanted to move again. We hung out with some of our new hostel friends, ate our usual ravioli dinner feast, and went to sleep at the usual “way later than planned”. At least we could sleep in the next day, for once!

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background

Our stay in El Calafate was especially short the second time around. We arrived at about 10:30PM, went to sleep at 3:30AM because we apparently love to self-sabotage, and caught a bus to El Chaltén at 8AM. The morning started off extra rough. Any morning after 4 hours of sleep is not going to be pleasant, but we also got a surprise at 7:30 when the lady from the hostel told us that she was confused when she said that the bus would come to pick us up, and we actually had to be at the bus station at 8. EEEEEE!

Thankfully, we were going back to the same hostel in a few days, and they let us leave some of the things we didn’t need (like our tent) which meant packing was infinitely easier. We ran around like maniacs trying to pull ourselves together and were out around 7:45… and we then powerwalked to the bus station because I do NOT like to cut those things close.

We made it there a few minutes before 8, and then the bus also left a little late. Buses always seem to run a few minutes behind schedule until the one time when you need a cushion… and then they leave exactly on time.

The bus ride was uneventful: the scenery was beautiful, Mike slept the whole time, some obnoxious person played music without using headphones. The usual. When we arrived in El Chaltén, the bus went straight to the ranger station so that we could get an introduction to the park and the hikes.

Flat landscape with mountains in the distance
The road to El Chalten

El Chaltén is a village in the northern part of Parque Nacional Los Glaciares, the same park that we visited on our first day when we trekked on Perito Moreno Glacier. The town is inside the park. This is super weird to me because we don’t have people living in national parks in the States. I found myself frequently confused by the “national park” concept during our trip. Like there are portions of some parks that are privately owned. In Torres del Paine in Chile, some portions of the actual W Trek are on private land, some of the campsites are privately owned, etc. You literally can’t do the trek without crossing between private and national land. Very confusing while you’re hiking and get to a sign that says, “Welcome to Torres del Paine National Park,” and you didn’t think you’d ever left.

View of El Chalten from above
El Chaltén

I did some research before we went and thought it would be a good idea for us to take it easy on our first day considering we were coming off of four long days of trekking. There are some short hikes around town, so I had those on the schedule for the first day and had the two major long hikes on the following two.

At the ranger station, the guy who did our orientation said that the weather was really nice, so it would be a good idea to go on a hike in the afternoon if possible because no one knows what weather tomorrow will bring. I said, “We’re doing that already!” Mike said, “We should go on a longer hike just in case.” Ugh. So much for a rest day. His plan was to do the “short” 6-hour hike on the first day, the most popular 8-hour hike on the second day, and this one that’s literally 4 hours up and then 4 hours down on the way back on the last day. He’s a loon. He told me that I could skip the last day if I wanted to rest, but who rests on the LAST day of a hiking trip? That defeats the whole purpose of a rest day!

 

Mike and me along the way
Trail selfie!
The trail with blue, clear skies
Okay, so the weather was pretty perfect…

So, Mike decided that we should do the Laguna Torre hike because the trailhead was literally across the street from our hostel, and it was ONLY 6 hours, unlike the other two hikes he wanted to do. By the time we checked in and got settled and ready to go, it was about 1:15PM aka the hottest part of the day and definitely the ideal time to start a 6-hour hike (sarcasm, in case you didn’t catch that).

The hike itself really wasn’t that bad, but my feet were still killing me, and it was HOT. Even the woman who checked us in at the hostel said that it was abnormally hot, and she was ready for it to cool down again. Yeah, same. The beginning of the hike had some uphill that wasn’t too bad… except for the fact that there was no shade. I learned my lesson after the unfortunate arm-burn incident of the Torres del Paine trek day 3 and covered myself in sunscreen. Mike seems to think he’s superhuman and is fine with a little sunscreen on his face and nothing more. What is it that they say about doctors being the worst patients? I believe it.

Me climbing up a rocky hill
Almost at the lake… just a few more steps! Up, up, and up! (That’s me. Hi, Lara!)
A gorge along the trail
I make the “gorge”ous joke literally every time I come across a gorge, so here it is again. Ain’t this just GORGEOUS?
Green landscape with mountains and a glacier in the distance
First glimpse of the glacier!

After the start, it got much flatter and much shadier for the entire middle stretch of the hike. That was a welcome break! And then, after a tiny uphill, we made it to the lake! Laguna Torre, with its breathtaking waters the color of very milked-down coffee. Yeah, it was kind of gross looking. If that was the main attraction of the hike, I would have said, “NOPE not worth it.” But, you’re really there for the glacier at the far end of the lake.

Tree-shaded trail
There’s nothing better than a tree-covered path
Glacier in the distance with a nice, shaded trail in the foreground
We were definitely thankful for that shade along the trail!
The brown, murky lake
Check out that crystal clear water… yum…
Panoramic picture of the lake and surrounding mountains
It’s still pretty awesome, though.
Laguna Torre with the glacier in the background
Spot the glacier!

We did this extension of the hike to a viewpoint closer to the glacier, and as well-marked as the beginning part of the hike was, this part had exactly ZERO trail markers… unless it was actually so unclear that we were not even near the actual trail. I think we were, though, because part of the hike was along a ridge where there weren’t many other options, so I’m thinking it was actually just terribly marked. The extension was completely exposed to the sun, very rocky, and all uphill. And we spent the whole time going, “Hmm, these rocks look like they’re a little more trampled down, maybe the path is over here,” crossing our fingers, and walking that way.

Me walking along a ridge
This part of the trail was pretty easy to follow, but it wasn’t all this clear.
Mike way up ahead on the trail
Pleaseee don’t make me climb up anymore. (Bye, Mike.)
The glacier!
Glacier glacier glacier!

I don’t even know if we made it to the actual viewpoint because we never reached a sign that said we did. We got to a place that looked like it COULD be the end and then Mike decided that if it wasn’t, it was better than the actual thing anyway (based on nothing but his intuition). That was fine with me. I was ready to turn around. We ate a snack in the shade of some rocks before turning around.

Mike with the glacier
Mike’s classic thumbs up
Another glacier pic
As usual, it looks like we’re on another planet

On the way back, my body was so over walking. Mike was laughing at me because I spent considerable energy ranting about how they have some nerve putting up signs that tell you what kilometer you’re on. How rude, right? You may be thinking, “Oh, that sounds great! Then you know exactly where you are and how far you have to go.” Yes, but no. Yes, I knew exactly how far we still had to go, but no, it wasn’t great. It ruins any chance you have of deluding yourself into believing that there’s only a little bit left. I spent the rest of the time yelling at him (kindly, of course) to tell entertaining stories to distract me from my misery.

Me and Mike with the glacier in the background
Us with a glacier. No big deal. No matter how many glaciers we visit, I’m still totally awed.
The path headed down the mountain
On the way back down! Much better than the way up, though we still had no idea where we were supposed to be walking.
Little waterfall along the trail
Pretty!

When I’m hiking, I go through these phases. At the beginning, my feet hurt and it’s awful, but soon enough, they go numb, I feel fine, and I’m cruising. Later, my feet inevitably remember how unhappy they are and start screaming at me, and I hobble along in agony. Eventually, I get like a 4th wind and can crank out a few more kilometers until I crash and burn again and hobble the rest of the way home. The good thing about this hike was that the trailhead was maybe 20 steps from our hostel, so I really could just collapse at the finish line.

As grumpy as I was at the end, I was happy that we had just done it and had one less day to worry about getting good weather. We spent the rest of the night hanging out with some people we met at the hostel, draining our fresh blisters (that was only me), and crying over the sad state of our feet (also only me). And eating mass quantities of ravioli, the official hiking food of Mike and Lara. All in all, it was a good (and exhausting) day.

Our final day in Torres del Paine started bright and early… if by bright you mean dark because the sun wasn’t up yet. We had about 9.5 hours of hiking ahead, and we needed to finish by 3ish. So, we set our alarm for 5AM. Well, I set mine for 4:50 so I would be ready at the same time as Mike, and then I ended up waiting for him until 5:40!!! 5AM Lara was a little grumpy about that, but I suppose it just makes us even for all of the days when I was the slowpoke.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
Here’s our map one more time… Day 1 was up and down the pink. Day 2 was along the blue and then up and down the vertical part. Day 3 was along the orange. Day 4 part 1 was up and down the purple, and then part 2 was along the yellow.

I read in various places about doing this hike in time to see the sunrise. From the end viewpoint, the sun doesn’t actually rise in a direction where you can see it, but I guess you’re supposed to do it for the golden morning sun reflecting on the rocks.  Our campsite was about 4 hours away from there which would have meant waking up around 2AM and hiking the whole thing in the dark. I bet you can guess what we thought about that idea. No. Freaking. Way. I know that sometimes I do things that may seem a little insane, but middle-of-the-night hiking on 3 hours of sleep is not something I’m generally interested in. Personally, I was more than pleased with our view of the sunrise over the valley, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Here comes the sun…
You can do it, sun!!!
WHAT JUST HAPPENED? THE COLORS! THE VALLEY! MY EYES! I know I keep promising this, but it really DID look like this! Don’t ask me how. I DON’T KNOW HOW.
Morning trail views

We hiked for about 1:40 before hitting the first landmark of the day, another campsite, Chileno. It didn’t have any vacancies when we were booking which is how we ended up in the middle of nowhere… but after hiking there, I was actually happy that things turned out the way they did. The path to the campsite is a lot of up and down, and a lot of super steep, gravelly up. If we’d been camping there, we would have had to carry all of our stuff up those hills instead of just daypacks, AND we would have done it at the end of Day 3. Noooo thank you. Things worked out exactly the right way.

Headed to Chileno

We saw maybe 3 people on our way to Chileno but figured we’d see some life once we made it to the campsite. Nope. Chileno was like a ghost town. Seriously, we saw zero people during our stop there. Zero.

Oh well! All the better for our hike. It was pretty ideal – the temperature was super pleasant, my legs were feeling completely fine, and the scenery was beautiful. While the walk to Chileno was very sun-exposed, it didn’t matter because it was still so early. From Chileno until the next landmark (about 50 minutes away), there were a bunch of pretty forests to keep us cool. The trail had a lot of up and down which could have been annoying, but it was easy to get distracted because of the trees and the rivers and the overall ambiance.

Seriously the best kind of trails… easy on the feet (no rocks, thank goodness) and sOoOo pretty! (Not sure why I did that obnoxious “O” thing, but it felt right so I’m leaving it.)
Slightly more trustworthy bridge than the usual…

The next landmark is the ranger station at the base of the ascent to the viewpoint. When we got there, we saw the first hikers coming back in the other direction, aka the crazies who hiked up to see the sunrise. If they started at Chileno then it’s not THAT crazy, but we saw some people who were definitely at our campsite. Good for them, I suppose.

From there, it’s less than a mile in distance to the viewpoint, but the time estimate for that segment of the trail is 1 hour. That information alone gives you a pretty good idea of what the trail is going to be like – steep, steep, and steep.

Sure enough, it was. Mostly, it was like stairs… not in the way where the rocks are actually planned out and are reasonably sized like stairs, but in the way where there are rocks and they’re big and maybe if you were a giant they would be good stairs, but since you’re normal sized, it’s much less convenient. The whole time, you’re thinking, “Well, this is better than if it was just super steep,” but you’re also wondering if you’re just saying that to make yourself feel better. And then you hit a stretch where it IS just super steep, the trail is loose gravel, and you worry about your foot slipping with every step… and you think that maybe the rocks were actually better, but “better” still doesn’t mean “good”.

Thankful for shade.
This is where you get your first glimpse of the top of the towers, though I didn’t realize it at the time. I was too busy crying over the fact that we weren’t at the top yet (or possibly just sweating from my eyeballs).

The beginning part was kind of okay (the “giant steps” part) because it was under tree cover, but the last stretch was horrible. No trees, just a rock wasteland. A very vertical rock wasteland. A very vertical rock wasteland with a very bright sun determined to melt off our skin. We kept asking people who were coming down how much we had left, and I could tell from their faces before they even said anything that it was an answer we didn’t want to hear. I so prefer being the one coming down rather than the one on the way up, begging for information.

I was about ready to say forget it (though not really because if you’re going to stop a hike before you finish, it’s better to stop it before you even start. Once you’re going, there’s no giving up) when we came around a corner, and BAM! We were there, hit with an insane view of a lake and the famous torres (towers) of Torres del Paine. It is still completely baffling to me that we spent so much time hiking up… to a lake. Lakes, to me, are things that happen in low areas, not things that you find at the top of mountains. Mind. Blowing.

BAM! First look when you turn the corner
Then you get a better view of the lake… (brace yourselves for the same picture a few more times).
Down by the water. Are you sick of the same picture yet? SORRY BECAUSE I’M NOT FINISHED.
Reflections!
Not posed. (Definitely posed, though this is basically the position we were in the entire time that we weren’t taking pictures. Staring with “how are you real? eyes.)
Looking the opposite direction from the lake. Give this lonely landscape a little love! It’s pretty but probably underappreciated considering the competition.

Even though we got such a late start (hehe), there still weren’t many other people at the top when we showed up. There were maybe three other groups, but you still could easily get pictures without anyone else in them (the most important thing, of course). We hung out/snacked/stared in awe for about 40 minutes. I would have been cool with staying longer, but Mike said we should get going to make sure that we had enough time to make our bus. Ugh. What a painfully rational thought.

As good as my knee felt on the way up, that’s how bad it felt on the way down. I tried to keep as much weight off of it as I could, but it was impossible. By the time we got to the bottom of the super steep part, I could barely walk. Great.

We did it!
Back down, through the rocky desert, slowly melting into a puddle (but prob that would have helped because then I would have flowed my way down the mountain instead of creak, crack, crying my way down.)

I don’t know what happened. There must have been some kind of trail magic because after maybe a mile of screaming on every step, it was like it got tired and gave up. And then it never hurt again, for the rest of the trip. I suppose I finally broke my knee’s spirit and transformed back into the youthful 20-something I actually am, instead of a creaky, old 30-something in desperate need of a knee replacement. Weird, right? (I clearly have high hopes for my 30s.)(Jk though I’m sure it’s going to be great.)

We definitely started our hike at the right time because there was barely anyone on the way up, and we saw a TON of people on our way back. Between the guard station and Chileno, we kept passing people who were already SO tired, and they hadn’t even made it to the hardest part yet. AND it was only getting hotter outside. They’d ask how close they were, and I usually didn’t need to say anything because my “Oh no, how do I break the truth?” face had already given it away. I don’t like to be the bearer of bad news! We were the bearers of a LOT of bad news.

Almost back to Chileno… one of our last moments of somewhat peaceful nature

Back at Chileno, it was a completely different scene from the morning. Chaos. There were people EVERYWHERE. Mike and I looked at each other and were like, “Get us out of here.” Tourists are the worst, amirite? (I know.) Seriously though, having some sort of awareness of the people around you is generally recommended and seems to be something that people often forget to bring with them on vacation.

THESE were the tents at Chileno. Would you sleep on one of those platforms? Definitely not for active sleepers! No chance I would have made it to my tent if we stayed here (because sad, tired legs), but they’re fun to look at!

From there back to our campsite, we passed so many more people. It was definitely the most crowded day. Finally, the crowds I’d been promised! Good thing we already had enough time for our “just us and nature” moments, so we were fine with sharing. This hike is the most accessible because you can drive almost directly to the trailhead (the parking lot is closer than our campsite was), so there were day hikers which we weren’t used to. That also meant that there was a much more varied population of hikers, rather than the slightly more intense backpacking crew of the previous few days. Some of those people… I don’t know. They might still be hiking up that mountain they were moving so slowly.

On our way back out of the valley
90% of the pictures I took of Mike were because he was standing in the way… so I would take a picture with him in it and then tell him to move. I’d say it’s a win-win. He got some nice pictures out of it!
Spot the sad hikers
Ignore how gross and sweaty I look (you can focus instead on how gross and sweaty Mike is). But this was quite possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten.

Ignore how gross and sweaty I look (you can focus instead on how gross and sweaty Mike is). But this was quite possibly the best ice cream I’ve ever eaten.

We ended up making great time on the hike back and were at our campsite 40 minutes ahead of our goal! That gave us time to cool down a bit and pack up the tent without having to rush. Our celebration was a little premature, though. We still had to get to the visitors’ center to catch our bus… another 7km away. Everyone said it would take 1.5 hours to walk which didn’t sound so bad, but I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of “you’ve already been hiking for 8 hours before this”.

We thought about hitchhiking, but it turns out that neither of us is brave enough to commit to a solid attempt. So, we walked. Looking back, I’m 100% confident that we could have gotten a ride. What a day to choose to be shy. I blame Mike because that’s what siblings do. And also because he talked a big game and had no follow through, so it’s clearly his fault.

This bridge was literally the only cool part of our walk to the visitors’ center
It was all the way on the final kilometer though, when the destination was in sight…
So we totally could have just gotten a ride and then walked back 5 minutes to see the bridge.
Unedited post-hike state

By the time we made it to the visitors’ center, both of us were about ready to keel. The entire 7km was shade-less and also essentially view-less which meant there was nothing to distract us from our misery along the way. I was thrilled to have 6 hours of bus ride ahead. I felt like I wanted to sit down for the rest of forever, and basically, I got my wish.

The ride back to Argentina and El Calafate went smoothly, and we even got back before the grocery store closed which was clutch. Mike boiled us a feast of ravioli for midnight dinner, our first cooked meal in four days. And what a feast it was!

And then we procrastinated re-packing our bags for the next leg of our trip and ended up going to bed SO late even though we had an early bus to catch. Classic.

Beautiful view of the lake with sky blue water

Our third day of the W trek started out much better than the second. There was no wind in the forest where we were camping. I didn’t wake up terrified of blowing away. Nothing disturbed us until my alarm went off at 8AM which means Mike slept for 14 hours straight and I slept for 11.

We treated ourselves with a late morning because we had our shortest day of hiking ahead, just over 10 miles. Plus, we were both exhausted, and I think my body would have full-on rebelled if I had tried to wake up any earlier. Even with the extra rest, I wasn’t thrilled about having to move.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
Here’s the map again! Day 1 was up and down the pink line, Day 2 was along the blue line and then up and down the vertical part, and Day 3 was along the orange line.

There was no sense of urgency in getting ready to go. We didn’t even have a tent to pack up (we spent that night in a rented tent because it was the only option left when we were booking), and it still took us until about 9:30 to get completely ready (okay… probably it was mostly me taking my sweet time, but we really had no reason to rush). Mike and I met at the trailhead… and it looked like we were dressed for completely different seasons. I was feeling the morning chill, so I had leggings and my winter coat on. He was in his lightweight hiking pants and a t-shirt. The difference is that he’s more often hot than cold, I’m the opposite, and we dress accordingly. Sometimes we’re both right about what will work for us, but this did not end up being one of those times. Who do you think was wrong?

Okay, okay. It was me. I think we walked for 10 minutes before I felt like I was going to melt into a puddle. There was way more sun than I was expecting, plus I hate starting out cold even when I know I’m going to warm up from the exercise.

Lake Nordenskjöld
First views of the lake
Another view of the lake
That. Water.

Our segment for the day was the second bottom part of the “W” which meant we had to take all of our stuff with us again. Since there weren’t any big viewpoints along the way, I thought it was going to be an underwhelming day. HA! You’d think I would have figured it out by then. Maybe there weren’t any mind-blowing, mountain-surrounded valleys, but the scenery was still amazing. Soon after we left our campsite, Francés, the forest thinned out, and we started walking downhill towards Lago Nordenskjöld (that’s about when I decided I needed to take my coat off).

Epic mountain
Yeah, the views were still pretty fantastic

After about an hour, we made it all the way to the edge of the lake! I had no idea that we were going to get so close to the water. It was beautiful! And we walked along a little rock beach which made me like it even more because you know how much I hate sand (and if you don’t, just know that I hate it a lot and do my very best to avoid it).

The rocky shores of the lake
Don’t you just want to go for a swim?
Pretty lake view
If this wasn’t only an hour into the hike, I would have tried to convince Mike to take a snack break so I could stare at the water for longer.
Walking along the lake shoreline
<3 <3 <3

The route for the rest of the day followed the edge of the lake pretty closely, though that was the only time we were actually within touching distance of the water. From there, the trail headed uphill and back into the woods for one of the only shaded stretches of the day. That’s when we reached our first landmark, another campsite, Cuernos. Cuernos is another site where people sometimes stay after the hike we did the day before, and all I can say is thank goodness we got a spot at Francés. No chance would I have survived another two hours of hiking the night before (either my legs would have rejected me, or Mike would have killed me out of annoyance).

Mike filling his water from a rocky stream
This was the actual best thing… I loved being able to drink straight from the rivers! Mike is filling up his water bottle.
The lake
And I thought it was going to be an underwhelming day. HA!
Mike and me with the lake behind us
Lake selfie!

With our fresh day 3 legs, the hike to Cuernos took only about an hour and a half. We stopped briefly to put on sunscreen which turned out to be a VERY good idea, though we probably should have also reapplied because my face was very pink at the end of the day. And my arms! Oh, my poor arms. I was wearing long sleeves, so I didn’t put anything on them… and when I started getting overheated, I pulled my sleeves up to my elbows without even thinking about it. I had an embarrassingly distinct line on my forearms which I hoped would even out the next day a bit. (Spoiler alert, it’s been like a month and a half since this day, and I STILL have a line on my arms. So the moral of the story is to WEAR SUNSCREEN.)

A rocky mountain peak with a little waterfall
Spot the waterfall!
The lake from above
Bye, bye shoreline! Up we go…

After Cuernos, the hike felt a bit like walking through the desert. Any hint of the morning cool was long gone, and there was NO shade, just low plants. It was pretty, that’s for sure, but it was also exhausting. It kind of ended up working out in my favor because usually, Mike is like, “Meh meh meh, I don’t need a break,” but he was definitely feeling the heat too. It also helped that we had such a short day, so we didn’t feel like we needed to hurry.

The rocky trail with some low plants
The trail. Pretty plants, but not great for shade
Me with the lake
I hope you like lakes because this isn’t even close to the last lake picture
The trail bending away from the lake
Is that a picturesque trail, or what?
A particularly rocky stretch
I can’t say my feet appreciated those rocks, though

Elevation-wise, the whole day was a constant up and down and up and down. The good news was that my knee wasn’t hating me as much, plus I had a fresh strategy for the downhills to keep it that way (aggressive use of my hiking poles mixed with a slight side turn, in case you were wondering). Thanks to that fortunate development, we managed to keep a good pace throughout the day. I was surprised by how fast we could comfortably go when I wasn’t crippled by blisters and throbbing knees! And it was so nice to be able to focus on enjoying the hike.

 

Me walking across a suspension bridge
Another suspension bridge! And another 1 person at a time limit
Mike crossing a suspension bridge
Mike making the trek across
Pretty red and orange streaked rocks
LOOK AT THE COLORS OF THESE ROCKS
Another gorgeous trail pic
Ugh so many ugly views I can’t even stand it
Weird-looking cliffs by the trail
Funky mountains. Seriously what is happening with those cliffs?
Beautiful view of the lake with sky blue water
I don’t know what was going on with the light and the water when we got to this point, but yes, this is what it actually looked like and no, I couldn’t believe my eyes.
Another view of the lake with pretty colored rocks
Imagine a pterodactyl in this picture and try to tell me that it doesn’t look like it belongs.
The lake with clouds reflecting on the surface
I CAN’T DEAL WITH THIS. How are these colors real? How is this place real? How did we get so freaking lucky with the weather? WHY CAN’T I LOOK AT THIS VIEW ALL THE TIME FOREVER FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE?
Mike and me with a mountain backdrop
I’m sure you’re sick of lake pictures by now, so here’s us with some mountains instead (except just kidding because how could you ever get sick of those???)
Me gazing out at the lake
So darn pretty
Crossing the river with no bridge
Pretty sure it looks like I’m smiling because I’m laughing about how I’m definitely not going to make it. Mike took this picture and then attempted to direct me across. Once I accepted that water was going to get into my boots, it wasn’t as hard.

Our next landmark was a fork in the trail. The left fork continues along the route of the W, and the right fork leads to the campsite where we were spending the night (because the more convenient campsite was booked… that’s what happens when you book things only 2 weeks ahead of time. No complaints from me, though. I was just happy we could make it work!). I knew our campsite was kind of in the middle of nowhere, but I didn’t realize just how out of the way it was. I estimated it was maybe another hour after the fork in the road. It was not. Try 2.5 hours.

Soon after the fork, we found ourselves at the edge of a river that absolutely should have had a bridge. It was wide, the current was strong, and there was literally no way to get across without getting water in your shoes. I was mostly worried that I was going to fall over and get everything in my bag wet, but my hiking poles saved the day once again, and my socks were the only thing that didn’t come through unscathed.

From that point on, there was truly no shade. Mostly, there weren’t even ground plants. Just rocks. On the bright side, it was fairly flat. I spent most of the walk marveling at the colors. It seems almost stupid when I write it out, but the colors just seemed so vibrant in comparison to other places. Like I was walking around with color filters over my eyes that made everything look unrealistically saturated (so if you’re thinking that my pictures look like I did a little too much filtering, I promise I didn’t. It somehow does actually look like that).

Mountain views
Oh, you know. Just another stellar landscape
Red and black rocky stretch along the trail
This is definitely the surface of another planet. Check out those rocks!

Eventually, once I realized that my time estimate was WAY off, I got to the point where I transformed into Mike (a terrifying image). I was trucking because my knee didn’t hurt, and I just wanted to get to the end. No breaks! No pictures! (Kidding, there’s always time for pictures.) No snacks! I was determined to keep moving at my aggressive pace and left Mike behind at some point. Who knows what he was doing back there, but I was not stopping. Then, we got to the place where I thought the campsite was, and nope. There’s a hotel there, Las Torres, and I thought the campsite was close to there. It’s not. We still had at least another 30 minutes.

Me walking down into the valley
“Mike! What’s taking you so long?”
The valley
THE COLORS
The trail running through a field of weird, low bushes
So… these plants are weird.
More weird bushes
Within minutes, we went from the surface of another planet to this… also possibly another planet but like… what?
River running through the valley
At this point, I was ready to be at the campsite. When I took this picture, I probably thought we were almost there. NOPE. This was still maybe 40 minutes away.

By the time we arrived at the campsite, I was beyond ready to sit down. At least my knee wasn’t hurting, though! And I wore approximately 85 pairs of socks (+/- 83 pairs), so I didn’t get any new blisters! So many victories!

We set up the tent, showered, and went to sleep as soon as we could manage because we had a fun 5AM start the next day. Our last day in Chile!

Me sitting at Mirador Britanico

I had possibly the worst sleep of my life after our first day of hiking in Torres del Paine. The day was windy enough to make you feel like you were going to blow away, and the night was even worse. I woke up around 12:30AM because of the WIND. Let me be clear – I am NOT a light sleeper. I’ve slept through hurricanes and thunderstorms and being stepped on. This time, though, I woke up terrified that our tent was going to blow away and could not fall back asleep. There was no reasoning with my middle-of-the-night mind. How could the wind lift our tent + me + Mike + our stuff? Irrational. I just wanted it to be morning so that we could leave.

View of Lago Pehoe
Photo taken while death-gripping my phone so it wouldn’t blow out of my hand
I suppose I must have fallen back asleep a few times because it didn’t feel like I was awake for 6 whole hours. Even so, it was not a restful sleep AT ALL. I kept waking up to my whole body tensed up and my heart beating like crazy.

As soon as my alarm went off at 6:30AM, I was like, “Great! Let’s go! I’ve gotta get out of here.” I think I was up and out of the tent before Mike even opened his eyes. He wasn’t quite as freaked out by the wind, but he did say that he got out a couple of times during the night to make sure the tent stakes were still in the ground.

Lago Pehoe
This is the same lake that we took the boat across on our very first day

There was actual danger of the tent blowing away as we disassembled it, but we managed that with body weight and a pile of rocks. I’m sure we looked like very competent campers… We also discovered that the tent didn’t come out totally unscathed. A few of the tent poles had a slight bend in them that wasn’t there before. So, I’m not exaggerating. The wind. Was. Crazy.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
The W trek is the pink, blue, orange, and purple lines put together. We went up and down the pink line on Day 1. On Day 2, we walked the bottom part of the blue and then went up and down the vertical part before getting to our campsite where blue meets orange.

This was our first time hiking with our full packs since we only needed daypacks the day before. We walked about 2.5 hours along the first bottom part of the W (starting from where blue and pink meet, we walked along the blue line) before we got to drop them off again. The beginning of the hike was brutal, not because the hike itself was difficult but because 1) the wind was still insane and 2) my feet weren’t numb yet, so the impact of Day 1 was being acutely felt (despite the super fun blister draining party I had the night before).

Sun rising over the lake
Early morning lake views
Mountains along the trail
Mike loves his panos… and I love this one he took. Those mountains! I can’t handle their awesomeness!
Mountain peak in the distance
Hey, pretty mountain
Gorgeous mountain peak
This mountain actually doesn’t look real
Pretty mountains in the distance
The wind may have been brutal, but I was definitely still enjoying the view

Thankfully, the whole hike wasn’t a windy mess. By about 1.5 hours in, my feet were back to a comfortable numbness, and we hit a forested area that helped to cut out the wind. From that point on, it was like a whole new world. I took off my winter coat and rain pants and actually felt hot instead of like a windblown icicle. Numb feet, comfortable temperature, beautiful mountains… what more do you need?

Forested hiking path
So much better than hiking the windy plains!
The remains of burned trees
Another tree graveyard
Deep blue lake
I can’t get over the colors
Suspension bridge
A suspension bridge across the river… this one was marked with a capacity of 1 person at a time. Not scary at all.
A river with mountains in the background
View from the middle of the bridge
Looking downstream from the bridge
Looking the other direction… Still a beautiful view!
Suspension bridge with mountains behind it
The suspension bridge (from the spot where we stopped to fill up our water bottles!)

When we got to the bottom of the middle leg of the “W” (where the blue line turns north on the map from before), we left our big packs at the Italiano ranger station and continued on with only daypacks. The day’s hiking to that point was fairly flat, so it wasn’t bad having to carry everything. After that, though, there was a LOT of uphill, and I was happy to have a lighter load.

From the moment we started the second part of the hike, Mike was saying that we needed to go faster. I guess he was worried about the time? I thought we were fine and was mostly concerned with doing what little I could to appease my very unhappy feet. There was a zero percent chance of me speeding up and maybe a 5% chance that I was even physically capable of doing so. I told him to go ahead, especially because this part of the hike was slightly more crowded, and he kept practically running to pass people. Nope. Not a chance. So, off he went, and I made friends with some of the other slowpokes around me. There’s nothing like shared discomfort to jump start a friendship!

Trees along the trail
This part of the hike was cool… you basically walk along the top of a ridge that’s lined with these funky trees.

I was extra happy that I sent Mike ahead because the hike was gorgeous, and then I didn’t feel guilty about stopping to gape and take pictures (and catch my breath…). My gosh. The mountains. The river. The blue skies. The trees. I kept blinking, trying to clear my eyes because it absolutely did not look real.

Me on a rock in front of the snow-covered mountain
The first clear view of the avalanche mountain

Mike was waiting for me just before the first viewpoint. I don’t know that he meant to stop like 2 minutes short, but it was nice to get there together. I was already amazed by the little glimpses of the mountains that I got along the hike. The view when we stepped into the clearing was jaw-dropping. We literally sat there and watched avalanches cascading down the side of the mountain! They’re pretty frequent, too. Terrifying. But also amazing. And also terrifying. You can hear them happening… It’s a low rumble, like a plane taking off or thunder in the distance. Crazy!!

Me standing on a rock and short Mike with the mountain behind us
Me and Mike in front of avalanche mountain. I’m standing on a rock.
Avalanche mountain
One more so you can enjoy an unobstructed view

We hung out and ate a snack before continuing to the next viewpoint, Britanico, maybe another hour and a half away. The beginning part was flat, flat, flat, so we stayed together because I could maintain a Mike-acceptable pace, even though my knee was starting to act up again. At the very end, it’s steep, steep, steep… and you emerge to this view that’s somehow even more incredible than what you’ve seen up to that point. I don’t even know how to explain it. There are mountains on every side up ahead, and when you look behind you, there’s the super blue lake from the morning in the distance and you’re like, “I CANNOT BELIEVE WE WALKED ALL THE WAY FROM THERE TO HERE.”

A lake in the far, far distance
I CANNOT BELIEVE WE WALKED ALL THE WAY FROM THERE TO HERE!
Pretty forest
More forested paths on the way to the final viewpoint!

It was so worth it. So incredibly worth it. We said we were going to stay for half an hour and then ended up almost doubling that. Mike and I kept looking at each other in disbelief. How does a place like this exist??? Brace yourself for approximately infinity pictures.

River with mountains
Getting closer to the viewpoint…
River with mountains again
I know these are all basically the same, but like… I’m obsessed.
Mountains!!
What the what.
MOUNTAINS!
SO COOL!
Britanico lookout peaks
How. Are. You. Real?
Me with mountains in the background
Me standing on the most epic rock. You have an unobstructed 360-degree view from up there!
Mountain peaks
<3 <3 <3
Panoramic shot on the way to the last viewpoint
Almost there!
Me sitting at Mirador Britanico
Enjoying the view from my snack spot
Panoramic photo at the Britanico viewpoint
Mike took this 360-degree panorama picture that can kind of help you imagine what it was like… but just imagine it all much, much bigger.

Finally, we set off for the ranger station. That’s when my knee really started hurting, and the rest of the hike was a complete mess. Between my feet, my throbbing knee, and the fact that I was just tired, I was not moving quickly. Sorry, Mike! He, on the other hand, seemed fine. Ugh.

We eventually made it back to our backpacks and from there, had only another half hour to hike to our campsite. It was all flat. Thank. Goodness. It was a shorter day than our first, only 12.5 miles and about 9 hours (basically a walk in the park), but by the time we made it to the campsite, we were both ready to collapse. The girl at reception pointed us to our tent… up a hill, practically the last tent. Then, she explained where the bathrooms were… all the way down the hill. We looked at each other like, “Yeah, right,” and decided there was no chance we were using the bathrooms.

Flat hiking paths on the way to our campsite
The final leg of our hike… wonderfully flat
Another fab mountain view
On our way to the campsite! The views just don’t stop.

Mike passed out before 6PM, almost immediately after we ate. I, unfortunately, got to the point where I REALLY had to go to the bathroom. I did what anyone would do in that situation… and spent the next 20 minutes writing in my journal, trying to convince myself to just go. It went something like this…

“It’s 8:17PM, and I have no interest in being awake anymore. “So go to bed,” you say. “What’s the problem?” Ah. Yes, there is a problem. I have to go to the bathroom, and it is so incredibly far away. And on a hill. I mean, I don’t know if the actual bathroom is on a hill, but our tent is near the top of one and the bathroom is at the bottom. Aka getting there would be very easy, but coming back would be all uphill. No, I take that back. No direction would be easy because my feet are killing me and my knees hate downhills. Also fun side fact, I’m fairly certain that one of my toenails is going to fall off because it’s currently blue.

I know what I have to do. It’s not even really a question. I just don’t like the answer. I need to get up. I need to walk to the bathroom and stop whining. Then, I need to suck it up and walk back to our tent where I will be able to sleep without worrying about waking up in the middle of the night. Then I get to sleep for like 11 hours straight, and what could be better than that? Okay, I think I’m convinced that this is the only way. It really is though… I need to just do it.

Step 1: sit up and drag body to tent door.
Step 2: open door and put on flip flops.
Step 3: open rain fly and try to look semi-coordinated while getting out.
Step 4: don’t cry the first time you put your feet on the ground.
Step 5: do what you need to do, knowing that you have such wonderful things (aka sleep and not feeling like you’re going to pee your pants) ahead.
Step 6: go into a comatose sleep because you took a Benadryl, so you should probs get moving before that fully kicks in and you just pass out.

I’ll let you know how I do.”

Clearly, I survived. It wasn’t pretty. I hobbled my way down the hill, baffled by the fact that everyone else around me seemed to be doing just fine while I was a total wreck. And then, I hobbled back up the hill, collapsed into the tent, and enjoyed my 11-hour hibernation.

Tent on a platform at our campsite
This wasn’t our tent (because obviously I forgot to take a picture of ours), but you get the idea… except now imagine it at the top of a big hill.

Torres del Paine National Park is well-known for two major treks. One is called the W, and the other is the O… very creatively named for the approximate shapes of the trails. Based on our time constraints and wanting to have some diversity in our trip, Mike and I decided to do the shorter W (4 days rather than 8ish). For sleeping arrangements, you can choose to camp with your own tent, camp with rented equipment (that’s already set up at the campsites), or sleep in refugios (aka indoors with a bunk bed). For food, you can either bring your own, bring some of your own and get breakfast and dinner provided at the campsite, or get breakfast and dinner plus a bag lunch.

A map of the park with different legs of the trail highlighted
Here’s a map I marked up in an attempt to simplify this explanation for you. The W trek is the pink, blue, orange, and purple lines put together. The O is those plus the green line over the top. Our first day was spent going from the bottom of the pink line to the top and then back again.

We were trying to do this on the cheap (well, I was. Mike was fine with spending some money. I guess that’s what happens when you actually have an income. I don’t remember what that’s like…), so we brought our own tent and packed our own food. The challenge with that was the fact that most people bring camp stoves and eat actual food during the trek. We had no camp stove and no desire to figure one out before our trip… so we packed all dry food. I felt okay about that because it was only going to take four days. Any longer and we would have considered other options, I think. But nope! Four days and a good supply of protein bars, peanut butter (and jelly for Mike), bread, ham and cheese, gross chocolate cookies that I picked out (whoops! You win some, you lose some), peanuts, and dry ramen noodles (for me. I actually kind of like them that way. Mike thinks I’m crazy). Hehehe. Maybe it wasn’t the most elegant solution, but it worked just fine.

I was VERY worried about our first day of hiking. Mike and I have hiked together in the past, and we have very different approaches. I like to stop to take pictures, take frequent snack breaks, and enjoy the ambiance. I keep a good pace usually, but I’m all about the journey. Mike is a speed hiker. He doesn’t take breaks along the way. I don’t understand how he functions. I need snacks! I need water breaks! I need exhaustion breaks! He just powers through until the end. He might be a robot (the most likely explanation).

Selfie of me and Mike
Smiling because this was still very early in the day
Gravel path flanked by green plants and pretty mountains
Such a pretty valley!

We decided to start “early” because I’d rather get out and back early to beat the heat and not have to worry about the sun setting (though with a 10PM sunset on this trip, there wasn’t much danger of that), so we left our campsite at Paine Grande around 7:15. Based on the blogs I read, I was expecting the trails to be crowded. Everyone said that this is the high season, expect crowds, you won’t have that “just you and nature” kind of feeling, so if you’re into that, too bad. I was ready for crowds. We spotted our first hiker approximately 3 HOURS later. Geez, if only the trails were always that crowded. We seriously wondered if maybe we weren’t allowed to be hiking yet, like maybe there were opening times we didn’t know about? Nope. There just weren’t any people. I mean, spoiler alert, there were more people on our way back, but crowded? Definitely not.

Happy Lara walking through the valley before she blew away
You don’t even know how many people we had to ask to hide in the grass so they wouldn’t ruin our pictures

The first part of the hike was through a little valley. It was raining, but after our day on Perito Moreno Glacier, I felt pretty hardcore and was like, “Rain? Psh! NICE TRY, TORRES DEL PAINE. YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO DO BETTER THAN THAT.” Then we got out of the valley. And the wind hit us. And I ate my (mental) words.

Valley covered in plants and a pretty, windy trail
Try to tell me this isn’t beautiful (I won’t believe you).
Another view coming out of the valley
I can’t come up with more words to express how pretty it was there

That was around the time that we reached the lookout at Lago Los Patos (Duck Lake) which I, for some reason, thought was a hilarious name. In hindsight I’m not so sure what I was going on about, but I must have laughed about it for a whole mile at least. From Duck Lake on, the day’s hiking followed the lakes’ edges, and it was all incredibly windy.

Lake views with a mountain backdrop and aggressive winds.
Laguna Los Patos. Check out the plants blowing in the wind!
Laguna Los Patos
I can’t get over the colors in the lake!
Streaky rock formation
I thought these rocks were super cool.
Duck Lake
I didn’t realize this until Mike pointed it out, but when you look out in the distance, it looks like the surface of the earth just falls away. Behind this lake is Grey Lake which is at a lower elevation. So weird!

Hiking in the wind is the worst. Especially when the wind might actually be strong enough to blow you away. There were times when it was so strong that my trekking poles essentially turned into stakes that were the only thing keeping me from blowing off the trail. Each time I picked up a foot to take a step, I had zero confidence that it would land where I was aiming. And when the winds were strongest, they pretty much never did.

Lightly forested trail leading away from Laguna Los Patos
Walking away from Duck Lake

Laguna Los Patos is tiny compared to Laguna Grey, the next lake we encountered. We walked along Duck Lake for maybe 15 minutes. We walked along Lake Grey for the rest of our day. It took around three hours to make it to our first real checkpoint, Grey Campsite. That timing was nearly spot-on with the estimate listed on our map, and it made us start to think that we needed to take Chilean hiking estimates much more seriously than we take the ones in the States. At U.S. national parks, if you’re someone who has any experience hiking and is in decent shape, take the hike time they give you and divide it in half. We were thinking that might be the situation here as well, and it was not. Instead, it was like they wanted to give an estimate of how long it would actually take! Imagine that!

Pretty pink flowers along the way
Trail flowers
Grey Lake with some small glacier pieces floating around
Laguna Grey with the first glimpses of glacier pieces. Can you see them?
The hiking trail leading towards snowy mountains
The rocky trail. My feet did NOT like those rocks on the way back.
Grey Lake with its pretty, mountainous surroundings
So. Pretty.
Actually though, my toes were screaming.
Grey Lake with a faint rainbow
Rainbow! We could see both ends of it, too!
Dead tree skeletons
The tour guide on our ride into the park the day before explained why the park is super strict about where you can set fires (only in designated cooking areas). There have been a couple of forest fires accidentally set by hikers, and thanks to the strong winds, they spread crazy quickly and destroyed huge areas of the park. I don’t know if that’s what happened to these trees, but anytime we walked through a tree graveyard, I assumed they were tourist fire trees. They’re eerie, aren’t they? Like sad tree skeletons.
View of a little river gorge from the bridge
We crossed this super cool river along the way
View of the trail with Grey Glacier and Grey Lake in the background
That view… <3

From Grey Campsite, we went on a hunt for the Glacier Grey lookout point (yes, another glacier!). I say “hunt” because the lookout’s location was SO not obvious. Every other trail in the park was extremely well-marked, so I don’t know what happened with this one. After it was all over, I still wasn’t confident that we ended up in the right place. Oh, well. We did find a high point with good views, and what more do you need? Mike’s response to the glacier: “It’s not that cool.” Well, since we were hiking ON a glacier two days prior, yeah, seeing one across a lake wasn’t as impressive. I still thought it was cool though… because everyone knows that glaciers are made of ice! (Bad joke, ignore me.)

View of Grey Glacier and Lake Grey
Checking out Grey Glacier from our “lookout”
Mountains near the glacier. The continuation of the trail runs along the base of them.
Forest view with yellow and orange leaves on the ground
I love the colors!!

When the wind at the “lookout” became too much for even Mike (he said he was getting cold which is something I don’t think I’ve ever heard him say before), we headed back to the main trail. We had one more side trip to take before going all the way back to Paine Grande. There are a couple of suspension bridges near where the O trek meets up with the west side of the W, and I wanted to check at least one of them out. I don’t know what Mike wanted, but I assumed he’d be fine with it because he’s always up for doing more. I guessed that reaching the first one would take about an hour and a half of hiking from the campsite, and apparently at that point in time, an hour and a half extra in each direction (after already being out for 4 hours so far) seemed like a reasonable thing to do

Plank bridge along the way
There were so many fun little bridges and things along the way! I was impressed with the trail building.

For possibly the first time in my life, my estimate was exactly right (estimating is not a strength of mine), and we were there in an hour and a half. I thought the bridge was awesome. It seemed like some people were afraid to walk across, but things like that don’t scare me (I’m only scared of ACTUALLY scary things, like oranges). The height/potential instability probably made me like it even more.

View of the suspension bridge from the side
The suspension bridge! With some random girl crossing
Mike on the suspension bridge
Mike striking a pose
Me crossing the bridge
Venturing across the suspension bridge!

I felt like it was worth the extra time to get there, plus we also got a slightly closer view of the glacier. We crossed and thought about going to the next bridge as well, but as soon as we hit some stairs (maybe like 10 minutes after crossing the bridge), my legs said no way and we turned around.

Slightly closer view of Grey Glacier from below the suspension bridge
Another glacier view
Grey Glacier from slightly closer
Our closest glacier view of the day… aka not very close at all

The walk back to our campsite was painful. Up-and-back hikes are always a little rough because you know that however far you go is how far you’ll have to return. I’d just about reached my limit on the “go”… so the return was rough. My feet hurt. My legs were tired. I had this irritating knee pain that couldn’t seem to decide which knee it wanted to afflict more, so it settled on harassing both. Mike was in his “power through” mode, and I was in my “slowly crumble into pieces” mode. Not compatible.

The trail snaking up a mountain
We went from that nice, wide, rocky trail to this little, skinny, hiding-from-you trail.
Charred tree skeletons along the trail
Tree graveyard.
View of the lake with the water blowing in the wind
Windy, windy, windy

Thanks to a series of brief “second winds” (hehehe) – more like second, third, and fourth winds – I survived (meanwhile, the actual winds were NOT helping). Barely. Mike seemed fine the whole time which made me feel extra pathetic, but he collapsed into the tent when we got back which made me think that maybe he was a little tired too? I had some stellar blisters on my toes which explains the foot pain. My general assessment of my physical condition was, “I’m going to die,” for the first hour of sprawling on the ground, followed by, “Well, maybe not but I definitely need new feet.” I suppose this is what happens when you go straight from 30-minute dance workouts in your living room to 9.5 hour, 17-mile day hikes. Thank goodness I knew that was going to be our longest day because I don’t think I could have done it again without a little recovery time. I felt slightly more alive after a hot shower but was not feeling terribly confident about Day 2.

Me looking like I'm about to blow away

My alarm jolted me awake at 5:15AM, and it didn’t take long for the feelings of soreness and tiredness to sink in. Ugh. Mornings are the worst. Especially early mornings after long days of hiking on glaciers (I know, your feelings of sympathy must be overwhelming). But, we had a bus to Chile to catch, and staying in bed wasn’t an option.

I booked our bus online before the trip because we wanted to take a slightly less common route to save time. Instead of bussing from El Calafate to a town in Chile and then from that town to the national park, I found a company that goes directly from El Calafate to the park. It was a little more expensive but essentially saved us an entire day. Worth it when you have limited time! Booking things online always makes me nervous, so I spent the morning crossing my fingers that the bus was actually going to show up. They sent a confirmation email with a pick-up time of “6:15AM +/- 2 minutes”. That seemed crazy because how can you only give yourself a 4-minute window? Well, turns out that you can’t… or at least you shouldn’t. The bus came at 6:45 which isn’t actually bad, but by then I had already spent 25 minutes going over alternate plans in my head, wondering at what time I should start to seriously panic. Moral of the story (and the ongoing struggle of my life) is that I need to chill and not worry so much.

Mountains along the drive
Decent bus views

It took about 3 hours to get to the border checkpoint between Argentina and Chile. Everyone got off the bus to get stamped out of Argentina, back onto the bus to drive to the Chile checkpoint, and back off again to get into Chile. They’re a little intense about preventing people from bringing fresh foods and uncooked meats into the country, so we had to fill out a form declaring what types of food we had with us while a dog sniffed everyone’s luggage from under the bus. We had lunch meat that was okay because it was cooked and some eggs that were acceptable because they were hard-boiled. Customs was another thing I was irrationally worried about, and of course, it all worked out just fine.

The border adventure took around an hour and a half and then we got onto a smaller bus with the other people who were going directly to the park. We soon realized that most of the people on our bus were doing a day tour which seems absolutely insane. It’s like 10 hours on the road for max 3 hours of actual driving in the park. Oh well. That situation worked to our benefit because instead of taking us straight to our final destination, we got to stop at the viewpoints along the way and listen to the tour guide give background info.

Sarmiento Lake with mountains in the far distance
Our first glimpse of the park across Sarmiento Lake.
Another picture of Sarmiento Lake with a slightly different foreground
Yes this is practically the exact same picture, but I love them both so much and couldn’t decide which to cut so here they both are.

Parque Nacional Torres del Paine was established as a protected area in 1959 after being severely damaged by cattle farming and intentional fires set to clear the land for that purpose. “Paine” means “blue” in the indigenous Tehuelche language, and the “towers of blue” are three granite peaks that form the park’s most distinctive landmark.

A guanaco that we passed on the way to the park
A guanaco chillin’ by the road

The park is diverse in its landscapes, plant and animal life, and climate. There are glaciers, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls, over 500 different types of plants, and 25 native mammals (including a very high concentration of pumas… hurrah!). There are grasslands, shrublands, forests, and deserts. We were amazed by how quickly the entire landscape could change during a day of hiking. Along the way, the guide pointed out some of the different animals. We saw guanacos (similar to llamas), flamingoes, and rheas (large flightless birds).

 

A lesser rhea bird by the side of the road
Spotted! Mike took this picture of a rhea. They’re huge!
Pixelated flamingos near the shores of a lake
Flamingos! Sorry they’re so pixelated but hey, phone zoom has its limits and they were VERY far away (I’m usually very anti-zoom on phones, but trust me, without the zoom you wouldn’t have been able to see them at all).

When we got to the park entrance, we all got off the bus to pay the entry fee, and Mike and I had to register to let them know that we were planning to stay in the park. Some of the people on the tour were confused about what they needed to do, and the guide explained that they only needed to register if they were planning to hike and stay overnight. Someone’s response was, “Why would anyone want to do that?” Ha. The park ranger went over some standard safety stuff with us and gave us park maps which, side note, were incredibly nice. Not only were they very useful information-wise, but they were also made of this soft plastic-y material that made them incredibly durable. It definitely makes sense because of the extreme conditions in the park! Rain, wind, no problem!

Laguna Amarga with its white-ish water and shores
Laguna Amarga (Bitter Lake). It gets its color and weirdly white banks from calcium deposits.
Incredible blue lake
SO BLUE!

We made a few more viewpoint stops inside the park limits before Mike and I were dropped off at the Pudeto catamaran stop and everyone else continued on their merry tour way. Unfortunately, the next boat wasn’t leaving for another 2 hours, so we attempted to find a sheltered place to wait. The wind was insane! This was our first real taste of the famous Torres del Paine winds. The mixing of warm air from the equator and cold air from Antarctica causes strong winds, and since the southern tip of South America is SO far south, there aren’t many land masses in the way to slow them down. I call them the winds blown ‘round the world. It certainly felt like they had a world’s worth of acceleration time.

Mike and me with a lake and mountain backdrop
The girl who took this picture for us asked if I wanted to take another picture because wouldn’t I regret not looking normal? The answer is no, I don’t. No fake smiles here! Instead, it will always remind me of how cold and windy it was.
Me looking like I'm about to blow away
So windy.
Me laughing after nearly blowing away
Impossible to take a normal picture.
Blue lake with big mountains in the distance
Those mountains in the background are exactly where we were headed to hike… not really UP the mountains, but around the bases of them.
Another incredible lake with mountains view
Seriously none of this looks real but I promise I’m not tryna scam you, this is actually what it looks like.
Lake Nordenskjol with mountains in the background
Lake Nordenskjol. Mike and I were baffled by this because the name belongs in Iceland…
Mike and me with a lake and moutains
One cute pic of the two of us. Side note, pretty sure everyone we met thought we were a couple at first and I’m like… we look identical.

The catamaran left right on time (something that consistently threw me off on this trip. My previous South America experiences led me to expect things to always be operating behind schedule, but everything in Patagonia was crazy prompt!), and it took about 30 minutes to go from Pudeto to Paine Grande where we were camping for the night. The water was the same, bright blue as we experienced in Iceland. Beautiful! We only lasted for like 2 minutes outside before we decided to hide from the wind below decks.

Crazy blue water with cloudy mountains in the background
View from the catamaran… mountains looking nice and mysterious, shrouded in clouds.
View from the catamaran
More cloudy shroudy mountains.

On the other side, the catamaran left us right next to our campsite for the night. Oh, and when we were on our way off the boat, Mike went to get our bags and smacked his head on the low ceiling of the baggage area. He sliced his head open (not too badly, but it still wasn’t good) and was started bleeding everywhere. So we were 2/2 for bloody injuries and days of the trip.

We checked in and went to scout out a spot for our tent. Every blog I read before the trip recommended putting your tent near the edge of the mountain to help block some of the wind… which was great to know, except there was literally no space left next to the mountain. No blocked wind for us! It was a fun adventure trying to assemble the tent without blowing away. Once we got inside, neither of us wanted to leave again (also, is it just me or is it incredibly hard to get out of tents?), but I rallied and took a surprisingly hot and satisfying shower before getting ready for bed. We played a few rounds of Hanabi, Mike’s favorite card game, and then passed out. It was probably good that we didn’t have an intense day because even without doing a lot of hiking, we were completely wiped. Plus, we were starting our big trek the next day! We had an upcoming stretch of four fairly intense days of hiking, and as I said in my voice journal for the day, “I’m mildly terrified, but it should be good.” Optimistic!

(Side note, my journaling strategy for the trip was to do voice journals instead of written ones to save time. It worked… okay-ish? I’ll just say that voice recordings are definitely not a strength of mine, as anyone who’s ever received a voicemail from me can attest.)

Looking back at the Paine Grande campground and facilities
Paine Grande campsite. The buildings have beds inside if you’re not doing it on the cheap like us. To the right, you can see tents set up by the mountain.
Hanabi cards from our game
We played a perfect game in Hanabi, nbd but we’re kind of awesome. (It’s a cooperative game which means we both won.)

Our first full day started out bright and early with a 7AM bus pickup from our hostel. In writing that, I realize that 7AM isn’t actually that early, but on vacation after a day of travelling… just give me this, okay? This was our only day with an actual organized tour, and it was nice to not have to think for ourselves on our first day. We were headed to nearby Glaciers National Park for a glacier trekking (aka WALKING ON A GLACIER HOW COOL IS THAT) tour on Perito Moreno Glacier.

Perito Moreno Glacier from afar
Perito Moreno Glacier

The bus ride from El Calafate to the park entrance took about an hour and a half, and we were thinking that we got lucky with the weather because it was a beautiful day. NOPE. Almost as soon as we entered the park, it started to rain and the bus windows fogged up, making it seem even more dreary and impossible to see outside. The tour guide explained that it rains VERY often in the park. Even though it’s not too far from El Calafate, it gets an average of 900mm (35”) of rain annually, and El Calafate gets around 200mm (8”). So yeah… minor difference.

Entrance ticket for Parque Nacional Los Glaciares
I took this picture of my ticket like a real nerd… but the reason I’m including this is so you can check out the nice blue sky in the background and appreciate the fact that this is the only picture where that’s the case.
The world's sturdiest wheelchair
Mike got a kick out of this wheelchair inside the visitors’ center.

At our first stop, we got to see the glacier from afar. There are a bunch of metal walkways where you check out the glacier from different viewpoints. Of course, Mike wanted to walk on as many of them as possible, so we added a couple of little offshoots onto the route that the guide recommended. She also stressed that since it was raining, we should be extra careful because the walkways get slippery in the rain. I’m sure you know where I’m going with this… I ate it. Hard. I slipped down a flight of maybe 6 stairs and stayed on my butt at the bottom for a second to figure out how I was feeling. I could tell my legs were a little banged up, but I felt okay until Mike said, “Your thumb!” and I looked down to find a huge gash in my finger. Perfect. Fingertips love to bleed, too. Thankfully, we were nearly finished with our wandering at that point (and the views were beautiful, by the way, even with the rain and the freezing cold and my bleeding finger), so I didn’t have much more to endure before we got back to the bus and the guide hunted down a band-aid for me.

Walkways at Perito Moreno Glacier
My nemesis (the walkways, not Mike). I’m pretty sure this was taken pre-fall
View of Perito Moreno Glacier
If you happen to be there at the right moment, you might be lucky enough to see part of the glacier fall off into the lake below. We weren’t lucky… but it’s supposed to be very cool, and every time we heard a loud noise, everyone would quickly turn to look at the glacier in the hopes that something was happening.
Me thumbs-upping our cold and rainy walk
Looking happy and dry, right? (Ha! I wish)
Glacier pieces in the water
How tall do you think the glacier is above the water? One of the signs said that the edge is about 70m above the water level… which means there’s even more below the water level. I don’t know how tall I would have guessed (and I’m also the world’s worst estimator), but it would not have been 70m. That’s crazy!
Sightseeing walkways at platforms at the glacier
I did think that the walkways were super cool… up until my (literal) downfall
Cool view from one of the viewing platforms
Some walkway views
Another Perito Moreno Glacier view
How many times can I post basically the same picture? I don’t know, but at least one more!
Mike and me with the prettiest glacier backdrop
I’m hiding my bleeding finger behind Mike’s back. Also, we are so wet.

The next part of the tour was the main event: glacier trekking. The bus dropped us at a boat where we all loaded up to get closer to the glacier. It dropped us off across the lake, and we started our land trek to get to the starting point of the glacier trek. Along the way, we made a few stops to get suited up in our gear. First, we stopped in these little cabins where you could leave your stuff, and there, the guides outfitted people with the things that they absolutely should have brought with them… things like waterproof shoes (because walking on a block of frozen water in sneakers seemed like a good idea??), waterproof jackets (they tell you to expect rain), backpacks, etc. I was baffled by these people. Some were wearing jeans aka not what I would choose for physical activity and also the worst thing to wear when it’s wet and rainy. Did they get on the wrong bus? Come on people, pull it together.

Glacier boat view
On the boat ride. Quite the color palette, huh? Light grey, blue-grey, grey.

Once the group was appropriately dressed, we headed back out into the rain (much to everyone’s dismay) and walked maybe 15 minutes to the first basecamp where we were outfitted with harnesses and helmets (which we didn’t use at all, but they said it’s protocol so you have to wear them). Then, we walked another 40 minutes or so to the second basecamp. This walk was through the woods, mostly uphill, and I was ready to collapse by the time we got there. Good, right? Considering we hadn’t even started the walking-on-ice portion of the day.

The view on our way to the glacier trekking start point
Walking to basecamp #1
Closer view of the glacier
Getting closer!
Wooden walkways on our way to Perito Moreno Glacier trekking
These people in front of us got some last-minute ponchos, and good thing because it rained basically all day.
The first basecamp on the way to the trekking start point
Basecamp #1 dome huts in the distance

At basecamp #2, we were fitted with crampons. Prior to this trip, the crampons I was familiar with are those little metal claws that you wear to walk on icy sidewalks. These… these were not like that. It’s more like having the tips of six spears coming out of each foot. The guides told us to be careful not to spike ourselves or get our feet hooked on each other. Eek.

With our crampons in hand, we walked the last 10 minutes to the glacier where the guides helped us put them on. First though, we had to walk like 20 feet onto the ice without them, and it was terrifying. After that, you don’t question why they’re necessary!

Close-up view of the glacier edge
My brain can’t even comprehend the volume of this thing. Imagine how many cold beverages you could make with this much ice.
The group getting their crampons put on
The crampon installation area
Mike's crampons
Mike, showing off his foot spears.

First thought, “My gosh, did they just strap anvils to my feet? SO HEAVY.” Step, step, step. Second thought, “Thank goodness I have these anvils on my feet!” We divided up into smaller groups and headed out into the icy expanse. From afar, a glacier really looks like it’s covered in snow. It’s not. It’s ice. All ice. (I mean, there’s snow in the places where it’s snowing… but where we were, no snow.)

Near the edge especially, the ice was in these huge waves, and looking at it, I had no idea how we were going to go anywhere. We started walking up and down and up and down them, and the crampons are like magic. I felt like I had superpowers! (Possibly the world’s lamest superhero.)

The glacial wilderness
Up and down and up and down

The glacier has two main areas to it: the accumulation zone and the ablation zone. The accumulation zone is the upper part where it snows a lot, adding volume to the glacier. The guide said that it snows there around 300 days a year! We were in the ablation zone where the ice is melting and moving, so you can find rivers and lakes on the surface. Since the ice isn’t all moving at the same speed, sometimes it splits apart and forms these crazy deep cracks filled with the bluest water I’ve ever seen.

Mike with some very blue water
Mike and an ice crack
Glacier crack
Have you ever seen water so blue?
Awesome glacier crack
I want to dive in… I want to not freeze to death. But it’s just so pretty that I want to stare at it all day and also swim in it. But it’s cold. BUT SO PRETTY.
Mike filling my water bottle with glacier water
Mike filling up my water bottle because no way was I trying to end up with ice cube fingers. The water tasted good but was a little too cold for my liking (hehehe)

The whole experience was awesome! Being on a glacier is like nothing I’ve ever experienced before. It’s like walking on a giant, abstract ice sculpture, and it’s a big mashup of white and blue and black (which is the dirt, but somehow even that is pretty). Also, just the concept of a glacier is insane. It’s a huge, dynamic piece of ice. They said that the deepest point from top to bottom is about 700 meters. The deepest point we stood on was about 500 meters. Looking down and trying to comprehend 500m of ice underneath my feet was impossible.

Looking down at my feet on the glacier
You’re looking at 500m-deep ice right now
Glacier waves
We walked on that. Doesn’t it seem like there’s no good place for a path? Well, that’s pretty much what I thought every time I looked ahead, and somehow, we always found a way (sometimes with the support of an ice ax….)
Me with a glacier lake
Contemplating going for a swim. KIDDING I’m not trying to turn into a human popsicle!
Endless glacier view, looking towards the accumulation zone
Ice and more ice, as far as the eyes can see. This is looking in the direction of the accumulation zone.

We walked around for about 3 hours, and it rained for about 2 hours and 55 minutes. There was one 5-minute period when the SUN even came out! And then it was gone again, and we were back to the grey and the dreary. The time flew by until maybe the last half hour when we were walking back to land. That’s when I realized how tired my legs were, and every anvil-laden step was a struggle. When we finally got to take our crampons off, my feel practically floated off the ground.

Me and Mike on the glacier
Me and Mike in a winter wonderland
A glacier river
Try to tell me that we haven’t left the planet. Those glowing blue spots on the mound? Spacey.
The largest glacier lake we saw
Glacier lake. This was the coolest. Like in temperature… HAHA I know I’m not funny. But ignore me and just enjoy the awesomeness of this lake like wut.
The glacier in the sun
Enjoying our 5 seconds of sun!
Glacier river in the distance
Glacier river with tiny speck people for scale (can you even see them? Kind of near the middle of the picture)
Waterfall near the glacier
Waterfall on the way back to basecamp #2

Of course, we still weren’t completely finished. We had to trek back to basecamp #2 and then basecamp #1 and finally to the cabins at the beginning where we got to sit inside and wait for the rest of the group to get back. I was thrilled to have a chance to sit indoors, take off my winter jacket, and eat some snacks. We barely ate all day because we were supposed to have lunch on the glacier, but the weather was so bad that no one wanted to stop.

The highlight of the day? Eating the chocolate cake that I brought for lunch dessert (the best way to end a day of hiking!). The second highlight of the day? Walking on a glacier. Kidding. Reverse those, but the cake comes in a VERY close second.

When we got back to town, we went straight to the grocery store to finish shopping for the upcoming leg of our trip. We were headed to Chile the next morning for a 4-day trek, so we needed to buy all of our food for the next 4 days. If it was just me, I would have taken 4 days’ worth of cake, but Mike eats too much. We’d never have been able to fit enough cake in our bags to feed him.

HOW ARE YOU REAL, MR. GLACIER???

I know, I know. I practically just welcomed you to Peru, and now we’re in Patagonia? What is this? Confusing, that’s what. But here we are, and if you ever want to hear about Patagonia (trust me, you do), the time is now.

The trip kind of came out of nowhere. Mike (my brother) had a two-week vacation and no plans, and I had no job and also no plans. An ideal pairing! We had talked briefly a couple of months earlier about maybe travelling together, but then it wasn’t mentioned again. I assumed that meant it wasn’t happening. NOPE. About three weeks before the departure date, we decided to go to Patagonia, and I was assigned the task of planning the trip.

My biggest recommendation? Don’t start planning your trip 3 weeks before you go. My gosh. I nearly lost my mind in that first week because I knew that there were things that needed to be figured out ASAP… like an itinerary so that we could buy our plane tickets and book places to stay. You know, those semi-essential details. The short timeline definitely complicated the process, especially because the “busy season” is around December – March. With a little maneuvering, I managed to come up with a rough plan, talked to Mike, and started booking things like crazy.

My “rough” plan (haha). I’m all about that wandering life when I have an extended period of time in which to travel, but for short timeframes, schedule schedule schedule! Within reason, of course. I’m not a total lunatic! (But maybe a little bit of a lunatic because I did also make a detailed schedule with times on it. But that’s just for reference!)
Here’s the tip of South America. Patagonia is generally considered to be the region south of the blue line I drew (very precise, I know).

Patagonia is the region that covers the southern tip of South America. It’s in two countries, Chile and Argentina, and borders three oceans, the Atlantic, the Pacific, and the Antarctic. It’s a weird place. In my pre-trip research, my general conclusion was that no rules of nature apply there. Everyone said to pack for all four seasons, even though we went in the summer, because you can feel like you’re experiencing all of them on the same day. People also couldn’t say enough about the strong winds, especially in the park we visited in Chile, Torres del Paine. So, we did our best to prepare for anything while also only packing in our backpacks. Simple. Mike had the bigger challenge because he insisted that he could take the whole tent in his bag… something I think he later regretted, but it was great for me!

I did my best not to look at pictures while I was making our plans because I didn’t want to have any expectations. I think I did a good job of that, but in hindsight, I also think that it wouldn’t have mattered what pictures I saw because they wouldn’t have looked real to me anyway. It’s like when you look at a picture of the Grand Canyon and think, “Yeah, that’s pretty. What’s the big deal?” versus when you’re there looking at it in person and your brain can’t begin to comprehend its size or the fact that what you’re seeing is real. That applies to anything magnificent, really. Pictures are great for giving you a taste, but you’ll always wonder if the water was really that blue, if it was really that impressive, if it was really that serene, etc.

Bus ride views

Mike and I flew out of New York on a direct flight to Buenos Aires, Argentina (hooray for 11-hour flights!), arrived in the middle of the night, and had about a 6-hour layover that got delayed to more like 8 (no complaints from me because I spent most of it sleeping on the floor of the terminal). We got our first taste of summer at the airport as we walked between terminals. We were spared the sun since it was the middle of the night, but even 15 minutes outside was MORE than enough, between the humidity and the fact that we were still mostly dressed for New York winter. My gosh.

From Buenos Aires, we flew to El Calafate, a town in Argentinian Patagonia and our main hub for the trip. Here’s the 5-second summary of my travel planning approach: I made a map of all the places people recommended going, scrapped the outliers, picked the ones that seemed to be at a reasonable distance from one another, and looked for the cheapest plane tickets (that still weren’t very cheap) to get us there. So, at the end of all that, we found ourselves in El Calafate.

This picture will forever make me laugh. It was taken from the airport just after we got off the plane, and the corridor was completely roadblocked by people taking this exact picture. Yes, it’s definitely pretty, but this is probably also the least magnificent view we saw during our trip. I should have taken a picture of the people practically standing on top of each other to get their pictures. Mike and I are too cool to do that, obviously… he took forever getting off the plane, so by the time we walked through the corridor, the crowd was gone and there was no fight required to snap this pic.

Our first day was fairly relaxed… and it was the last relaxed day of the whole trip (Mike’s approach to vacations is, “Let’s do everything. We can rest when it’s over.” My approach is, “Let’s do a lot and also not die from exhaustion.” Even though I planned it, this trip was more of the former than the latter). We got into town around 3 and spent the afternoon getting ourselves organized in preparation for the days to come and warming up our rusty Spanish. We had an early start the next day and planned to go to bed early so we didn’t hate ourselves in the morning… but, surprise! It didn’t get dark until around 10PM which made us completely lose track of time. Whoops. Off to a great start!

Looking (and feeling) nice and sleepy