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Published: November 10th 2015
I left you stranded, but as it turns out a fool and her bus are soon reunited, and I am soon on a plane bound for Chileś extreme south.
This was one flight that did not require such trivial diversions as drinks trolleys and in-flight entertainment - instead I am unable to believe the spectacle that is an almost unbroken chain of snowy peaks. Heading ever south-ward, they are punctuated by serpentine glaciers of a scale that had me hold my breath (I guess even oxygen was superfluous). Then the view is abruptly cut by a plunge into steel-grey cloud. Seat belts strain as the plane drops sharply, before a burst back into daylight and we are in a dramatic bank over the ocean and heading for desolate Punta Arenas.
Here weatherboard cottages in bright but pealing paint are tormented by antarctic winds, and the streets at 8pm deserted - this is Saturday, people!. My new companion Jen and I took the prevailing advice 'dont linger', and were soon headed for the more tourist-friendly Puerto Natales.
The same icy blasts follow, but the welcome is warmer as us tourists (local and not-so) are generously dispensed all gear and advice possibly required for trekking. Our goal? the renown Parque Nacional Torres Del Paine. Maryanne and Adrienne (Canadian mother and daughter) have joined Jen and myself, and anticipation builds on the ride into the park. As we confir anxiously if we have loaded sufficient dehydrated, salt-laden delicacies for the 100 km 'W' trek, a sharp turn of the bus and the distant 'Torres' (towers) are suddenly revealed. I step eagerly from the bus, and am callously whipped from behind and all but lifted off the ground. The gusts here have a deservedly ferocious reputation, but it looks like Patagonia has whipped my butt already! A short launch ride across broken turquoise waters has the gortex brigade at the western arm of the 'W', and off I start. For a very short time I am grateful of my pack weight, as relentless gusts repeat attempts to separate me and the ground. I concentrate on little but staying perpendicular until mid-afternoon, when high in the first valley the wind 'machine' suffers an abrupt power failure, and in the stillness a distant ray catches the pale blue of ǵlacier grey'.
Day 2 finds myself and my companions camped at the bottom of the 'Valle Frances', an anticipated highlight. Though lacking some amenities of our first camp (ie no hot showers or cold beer) it is charmingly concealed in forrest that cringes from the wind. A short wander on pack-weary legs is rewarded by a vast, almost overhanging ampitheatre, where glaciers hundreds of metres above cling as if afraid of heights. Every so often, the wind-free stillness is sliced by a chunk of glacier losing its desperate battle with gravity, and the resulting avalanche shakes the valley in a manner that wound not disgrace a jet engine.
By the fourth night, dusk would close on a cosily compact camp below the 'Torres' the park is named for. Tents spring up from the forrest floor like obscenely coloured fungi, and murmurs in many languages blend as all in camp discuss our common goal - a pre dawn assault on the Torres viewpoint.
4am, our feet (some more elastoplast than skin) weary but determined to plod one final hour up. 5am approaches, and perfect still is disturbed only by rhythmic scree-crunch. A blood-red horizon hints at the Torres, now improbably close and looming to neck-crunching heights. Adrienne an myself huddle in down 'nests' and finally allow excitement to seep in, we WILL be the fortunate minority to catch the brief blush of sunrise as it hits the 3 torres, lighting their razored and glaciated sides. In minutes, they are again cloud-bound, and a fleeting few downhill hours have us on the bus to town and celebratory Pisco sours.
Our group of 4 has since grown (common ground covered allows for collection of trail companions like static cling), and so we celebrate. Angelica, 65, has completed the prestigeous Full circuit (almost double the length of our trek!). Tim and Celia became engaged at the Torres view point. And me? I rescued those with non-functioning camp stoves from cold dinner on multiple occasions, thanks to my pernikety planning. Go Bec!
Tot: 0.493s; Tpl: 0.013s; cc: 7; qc: 49; dbt: 0.0124s; 1; m:saturn w:www (126.96.36.199); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.3mb