My camera is still without a battery, so my words shall share my vision...
It doesn´t look that big. I have certainly seen, and climbed, bigger.
-My thoughts approaching Torres del Paine (TDP) National Park in Chile
With nearly fourty kilometers to go, the mountains loomed imposing but not overwhelmingly so in the distance. As our ride, a middle-aged Chilean woman on a long trip around Patagonia, continued to drive towards the park, the scale of the peaks we were headed towards began to register in my mind. The road had long ago turned from pavement to dirt, something which I have become accustomed to here in South America, the bumps tranferring through the suspension a real feeling of adventure and that "off the beaten path" feeling. Eventually the entrance, a small building housing a few rangers with an outbuilding for a toilet and not much else, came into view. We slowed to a stop when flagged down by a ranger, dressed in the nearly international dark olive-green colors of wilderness rangers everywhere. My partner and I climbed out of the car, wishing the woman a pleasant journey and simultaneous utterance of "gracias." We were here. We walked into the building, registering our intent (The Circuit, a 130km trek), paid our fee (18,000 CLP, around $32), and walked over to the bathroom to fill our water containers and set off.
The bleak prarie seemed to stretch out in front of us endlessly, broken only by the towering mountains to our left, and the everpresent river to our right. We trekked across fields, criss-crossing horse trails complete with hoofprints and mounds of dung, crossing small streams on logs and rocks strategically laid out to facilitate crossing, to our first campamento (camping spot) for the evening. We set up our tent, cooked a basic meal of spiced lentils, and crashed out, the sun still up at nearly 10PM, with an everpresent wind fighting for control of the tent against my strategically placed pegs.
Morning saw us wake...not so early. This was to become common along our trip, never really in a hurry to rise and break camp, contrary to my normal trekking routine. Lazily we made a basic breakfast, with some assistance from the rangers living at the camp (Hot water was provided), packed up, and headed out. The night before we had discussed our plan, to skip the next campamento (18km) and instead proceeed to the base of the pass, approximately 30km away. We learned from our hosts that the distances were, well, inexact, but the times were roughly accurate for the average traveler. As we hiked, we began to pass individuals and travelers whom we had seen leave camp much earlier than we had. By the time we arrived half way, to eat lunch 18km later, we realized that we were hiking much faster than the average, and would need to adjust our time estimates.
The climb out of Campamento Dickson coencided with a light rain, and an increase in the everpresent wind. We had long since lost the river to our right, though the mountains to our left were becomming larger by the minute, individual glaciers visible hanging off of mixed-rock cliffs, with heterogeneous bands of rock presenting a dizzying array of blacks, browns, and light beige. A light rain reminded me that we were, in fact, in the mountains, and that care must be taken to avoid injury and misforture. Clouds seemed to come and go at a whim, promising rain and then showing blue sky without shedding a drop, or showing a beautiful blue sky while dripping from apparently nowhere. After another dozen kilometers or so, we scrambled up a glacial take to take in an awesome sight- a lake bordered on one side by a mountain, on the other by a dam completely made of glacial skree, with a massive white and blue glacier feeding the frigid water and occasional ice floe in front of us. Silt had turned the water a mixture of opaque blue with brown tints, though an incredible wind, nearly strong enough to blow me over even without a backpack, discouraged intense contemplation. Soon thereafter we arrived at our camp for the night, Campamento Perro, our last stop before The Pass.
But that is a story for another time...