Monday, January 22, 2007

torres del paine, parte uno

Through the fogged windows of the bus we stared flatly out at the grey porridge morning. Feeling that deep inside mix of excitement and unease as we took the early transfer to the Torres del Paine National Park. Excited and equipped to hike 120km over 9 days and a bit worried that not a single distinct shape could be made out thru the heavy fog and condensed breath. Without even discussing it we knew we wanted to hike the full circuit around this far southern chilean mountain range. It would be the longest hike either of us had ever taken. 9 days of food would weigh us down. Weather, we had heard so many times, was extremely unstable. Torrents of rain, crippling winds, even snowstorms were possible at any time of the year. All this sat in my mind as we exited the bus into the misty morning. After slipping into our rain gear, we feasted on the last fresh food for 9 long days. True to the talk, as we finished the last hard boiled egg and avocado, the skies lightened and the drizzle slowed. We hit the trail with a kiss and an energized excitement. After a few detours we came out of a dusty ascent into a sun-specked field of daisies waving whimsically in the breeze, and settled in for a rest. Over the next 3 days the trail climbed and descended into lush valleys, traversing muddy flats and high rocky ridges. We drank straight from the rivers rushing out of the Torre mountains, which stood always to our left as we circumnavigated them. The weather was fine; rain, then sun, then rain and sun again...
At the end of the third day we stayed at our first official campsite and took cold outdoor showers to the bemusement of the staff and other hikers. The next day we would cross the pass.

El paso John Garner rises to only a bit over 6000 feet, but at this latitude that is significant. We woke early to a cold windy drizzling morning and ate a hearty breakfast, hitting the trail at 8:30. As quick as we rose above the tree line, the wind swooped in. We bent against the gusts, heads down, hoods cinched up tight. Struggling up scree slopes or hopping boulders, the wind incessantly blew in our faces - slowing us, frustrating us, chilling the cheeks, and irritating the eyes. Higher we climbed over loose, naked rock, raising our eyes with difficulty to spot the small orange marker stones and cairns. The unending wind whipped over the pass, a low saddle surrounded by sharp peaks. As we neared it, the temperature dropped and the intermittent gusts became so strong that Tamara actually fell over a few times. It was difficult, but not impossible, and i revelled in the raw power: THIS is Patagonia! i yelled into the maw of the mountain.
Heads down, concentrating only on placing on foot in front of the other, we crossed a small snowfield to reach the pass - marked unceremoniously by a pile of rocks. No wonder. Even to raise the eyes a moment meant a blast of high velocity frozen rain that seemed to scour any exposed skin.
Still headlong into the wind, we let gravity pull us downhill as the wind held us upright: descending weightlessly until small scrubs curbed the wind and we could look up.

The sight occurred to us more than it hit us. Eyes stinging from the pass, legs wobbly, we sat and gazed out over an extraterrestrial landscape. Glacier Grey filled the balley below us. With no way to judge its scale, it appeared like a mirage or a window into another world. The glacier indeed is its own world. Flat smooth plains of ice bisected by slowly flowing rivers of ice carving their way downwards towards the front face of the glacier at Lago Grey. Farther out, crevasses break the open fields of white ice. Further still, cracks appear and mountains of ice bulge upwards. Deeper into this frozen world, sharp spires of dense-blue ice pierce the surface, commanding oneĀ“s attention and imaginings. I sat and pictured myself exploring this world on foot - how sublime and still and strange it must be close up.

Tamara writes in her journal:
To our left was Lago Grey, stretching out in the distance, to our Right the icefield moving-on seemingly infinitely. We were at a vantage point, close enough to the icefield to make out the texture and colorful magnificence. The dark blue pools of water/ice between the stark white ridges. The sheer beauty brought me to tears. So magnificent, it was the greatest work of art I had ever seen. The ancient ice moving with a quality of unfathomable slowness brought shivers down my spine. I felt as if I were looking out on a new world, or more accurately an ancient one. Lifeless, stark, and utterly stunning. This was not a human world.


At 11:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you guys are my heroes!

anthony n adriel


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