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Patagonian Adventure

March 29, 2015

in Other Travel

Torres de Paine, credit K Forster photo: K Forster

Wow. That’s what I said nearly every day in Patagonia…”Wow!”

Patagonia is an epic landscape, ripe with adventure. What was once the desolate and inhospitable end-of-known-land, filling the hearts of early explorers with trepidation, is today a wonderland of glaciers, water, wildlife, and…fun!

On the Chilean side is Torres de Paine–a land so full of glaciers that the aboriginal people called it blue (paine), nevermind the staggering rock formations cut in the ice age, the sweeping grasslands, and the snaking rivers. The landscape changes around every corner, and iconic rock formations are so plentiful that I took as many pictures of mountains as when I’m in Nepal.

On the Argentinian side, the infamous spire of Cerro Torre and the jagged Fitzroy massif (that you’ll recognize from the Patagonia clothing logo) have been inspiring incredible climbing feats for over 60 years. Last year, Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell completed the first ever traverse of Fitzroy and its 9 satellite peaks: over 13,000 vertical feet in 5 days!

IMG_4760 Fitzroy Massif

 

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In between the National Parks, sweeping golden grasslands and sheep farms give way to turquoise blue lakes nestled between the arresting mountains. Stories fill the geography…In 1521 Magellan discovered a passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific, resulting in the first circumnavigation of the earth. Fearsome giant natives were documented and gave the region its name “patagon” (big feet). In the early 1900’s, sheep barons ran the largest sheep company in the world and built homes that look like movie backdrops. One day we stop for lunch where Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid used to hide out between robberies. Everywhere here, the landscape is magnificent, worthy of legends, blockbuster movies, or myths in the making.

Throughout Patagonia, we spotted a plethora of wildlife: circling condors, flocks of wild rheas (like a small ostrich), guanacos (similar to a llama), red fox, grey fox, ibises, herons, great buzzard eagles, and more bird species than I could count. We also engaged in one adventure after another…two treks (one 6-day, then another 3-day) were split by kayaking with icebergs, a glacier hike, a boat tour of the glacier face, inflatable zodiac rides, a winding river ride, a catamaran ferry ride, and a border crossing.

Condor, credit K Forster photo: K Forster

 

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The trekking itself was unexpectedly delightful. The trails are well-maintained, and the elevation change generally gradual. We found comfortable beds and hot showers every night, an abundance of local wine on the trail and some delicious local cuisine in the towns. We could fill our water bottles from most of the streams–the water is pure and uncontaminated. We had record good weather (never even pulled out our full rain gear!) and caught clear panoramas of all the famous mountains and glaciers. At night, the Southern Cross and a dizzying billion unfamiliar stars were strewn across the heavens. Moreover, Patagonia is probably the best place in the world to see miles of glaciers without the complications of extreme altitude. The highest point on the trek was only 3900 feet (yes, feet!), but we found icebergs calving off and floating in the lakes. Unbelievable!

One of the greatest highlights of the trip was the hike out onto Glacier Grey. After some instruction on using crampons and ice axes, we all proceeded out for a mesmerizing hike in a world of blue ice. Because the glacier is not snow covered, it’s easy and safe to explore, check out moulins (vertical wells in the glacier more than 100 feet deep), cross mini-rivers on the surface, and pause for a cup of tea to soak in the extreme landscape (glad we brought that thermos!).

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Patagonia was at times vivaciously sunny or mystically foggy. Wind was ever-present. Locals were friendly and welcoming. Wine flowed easily. Days were filled with adventure. In a land so wild and pristine, “Wow!” comes easily and often. Don’t take my word for it–come find out for yourself in 2016!

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