Torres del Paine Part 4: The Final Flight, Chilean Patagonia

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April 16th 2007
Published: August 9th 2007
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2 days left in the park- and I cant say I minded. The weather was wet, the showers all cold and I was doubting my travel plans. Knowing the gorgeous Chilean Mediterranean Climate climate link, why didn't I spend my entire vacation in the Santiago area? I could have been climbing 5000 meter mountains and glaciers link, sunning myself on the beach with beautiful Chilean girls link, dipping in hot springs and hiking to Alpine Lakes El Yeso- all under a gorgeous blue sky and full sunshine. I don't regret this trip to Torres, but I am coming back here on better terms when I take my year long trip through Chile in 2 more years.

For my last day I drove to the shores of Lago Grey. Going west towards the glaciated and forested peaks, the weather deteriorated again. This is how it works in Torres- the more west you go, the more forest there is, the more rain/wind/clouds you can expect. The shoreline was uneventful due to the weather. I stopped by the official Ranger station at Rio Serrano, where it was a nature lovers delight. While the cold rain poured outside, I read extensively(english displays too thank god) about the geologic and natural history of Torres del Paine. there were aerial photos, historical maps and a 2x2 meter raised relief model of the park! Anyone who knows me knows I can stare at raised relief models of mountains for hours. I think it makes me feel like a giant, or god. I was the only person in this large building for at least 30 minutes, not even a ranger was around! Yes, the tourist season has definitely ended.

While I was tracing my travels on the raised relief map and imagining my next summertime(keyword-SUMMER) trip to Torres del Paine in 2009, 3 Chileans arrived, 2 men and a woman. They browsed a bit, and found themselves looking at the relief map with me. We only exchanged brief greetings, when a ranger arrived from the back- so this place does have rangers! He was typical Chilean... he was very white and looked British. He could have easily come out and started speaking perfect english, but instead greeted everyone with the thickest Chilean accent I have heard to date.

I've heard stories about the Chilean accent and experienced a bit of it, but this was different. The last letters of every word were dropped, consonants were lazy, and I coudn't catch half of the words he was saying. This is where my hundreds of hours of watching Mexican TV just to be able to articulate the words was useless! "Mas Grande" is "magrand", "Los Cuernos" is "loshcuerno" etc.. What greatly helped was his meter long magic wand, a intructional wand used to point out things on the raised relief map as he was explaining them. He talked about so much, probably 20-30 minutes of interactive lecture.

He said the Cuernos are commonly mistaken for the Torres. He talked about the Huemuls and Pumas. He talked a lot amount about the importance of the Rio Paine which begins on the backside of the Torres Massif at Lago Dickson. The river wraps around the mountains of Torres del Paine, draining every river, lake and glacial melt of Torres del Paine. At the visitors center where it joins with the massive Lago del Toro it becomes the majestic 40 km long Rio Serrano which drains into the Pacific Ocean. He pointed out some of the areas destroyed by great fires, talked of the first ascents of the Torres and Cuernos by foreigners and Chileans. As I watched his lips I knew he was speaking Spanish, but sometimes he lapsed into Chilean spanish which was completely unintelligible. He finished and needed to go.

The others looked a bit more and asked if I was Argentinian. Since we only exchanged greetings(in my best accent I could muster) they couldn't yet tell I was a gringo from the north! It only took one more sentence for that, I said I was from California and we Californians were fighting for independence from the rest of the USA. They thought I was serious until I told them I was joking, and the fact they mistook a very white American tourist for a local gos to show just how European this part of South America really is. I needed to go sightseeing, so off I went to find something to hike to.

I drove soooo slowly, hoping to spot a Huemul- an endemic deer native to the Chilean and Argentinian Andes. This endangered, national animal of Chile is found in isolated populations in the Andes from Chillan to Torres del Paine. Habitat loss, major Hydroelectric projects in Chilean Patagonia and overgrazing are severe threats to its continued survival.

I didn't see any of the beasts. I did find a road-cut through a steep ridge that looked perfect for climbing, so I geared up and set off into the wind. It was fantastic, 15 minutes of hiking later I found myself at an overlook of all of the major park attractions. The trees were contorted from wind and rain, the low alpine plants were sporting fresh purple berries and the rock was all slate. I even stumbled on a glacial erratic or two! It was a great place to sit for a few hours and the marvelous interplay of water and rock that makes up Torres del Paine National Park. I reflected on my trip and what a good time I had after all was said and done. I was eager to get to Santiago to meet my friend Lore, eager to go back to warmth and eager to go home.

At just the moment of thinking I should leave along with the setting sun, an Andean Condor flew right overhead. Camera ready, I snapped his picture as he circled around me and flew in front of the glaciers and peaks.

He was a reflection of my trip to Torres del Paine, flying alone in this formidible place to enjoy the views from on high. He went low and high, circling back towards me as I made noises to get his attention. Then he was gone, soaring out of sight on the gusts of wind without flapping his 2 meter long wings once. Yes, it was time to leave Torred del Paine. The National Park did live up to its expectation of "The most Beautiful National Park in the World". But that was just one piece of the puzzle, the other being "The most beautiful and least visited National Park in the World", "The National Park with the most Unpredictable Weather" and "The most Impossible Landscape of any National Park in the World". Something like that, everyone who has visited knows an experience there is beyond all words...

Stephen Hayden Photography

Additional photos below
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16th July 2007

Great pics!
Wow! Again I'm really jealous. These pictures really turned out great. I'm impressed. Sounds like you didn't have a good time, huh? Just playing. I'm sure you were in heaven! Take care, Angela
13th September 2007

World Heritage
Wow your pics are fantastic. These photos capture the wildness of this remote region. I am glad Chile kept this park and hope to someday visit when I am rich and away from the drudgery of my dark cubicle world.
13th September 2007

all are welcome...
Im sure Torres del Paine would be happy to see you, and I know the friendly Chileans would be happy too! Your welcoming would be filled with gale force winds, chilly rain, maybe snow and for sure constnat change in the weather- this is the welcoming everyone gets at Torres!
17th January 2009

torres del paine weather
previous poster believes that everyone gets horrible weather in Torres del Paine national park here in Chile. I am a guide in Patagonia and visit the park frequently. Many days are simply perfect, with mostly sun and hardly any wind. Others can be pretty harsh. But you can't say that the universal condition is rain and strong winds, just that you need to be prepared for strong variations and temperature ranges. Enjoy your visit.
17th January 2009

on the contrary
The impresson may be from my blog that the weather was "Bad"... but really if you read previous posts some of the comments about "being here on better terms" had more to do with my wallet being stolen! besides, I fully expected-like anyone should- that going to Torres del Paine, or any other polar region, in the fall would mean cold, rain and snow. Never once did I say 'horrible', 'terrible' or 'bad' when referencing the weather!!! On the contrary my friend vellbruixot, I know that if it wasn't for the rain, cold and wind- I wouldn't have gotten the great pictures or the solitude I had hoped would come from the trip.

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