Over the years, I have been fortunate enough to have hiked in some very special places. I have been given the opportunity to summit tall peaks and hike across some seriously harsh terrain - but one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had by far was my recent trek to the Base of the Towers in Torres Del Paine National Park. The landscape in this part of Chile is as striking as it is diverse: lush green forests, expansive grass and shrub lands, a backdrop of towering peaks, and glacier filled lakes and rivers. The amateur naturalist and the even more amateur geologist in me is indeed intrigued by Southern Chile.
Although it is only a one day hike, the trek to the Base of the Towers is quite challenging, but doable for most reasonably fit souls. But the trail is a steady uphill grind for about 4 hours, and in my case, the weather was quite unpredictable: my small group of fellow trekkers and I were subject to sudden gusts of winds that nearly knocked us off our feet. The way up isn’t smooth either, as you can imagine - a part of our trek was over rocks and uneven terrain. But that view, the fantastic view, made every huff and puff worthwhile. You really feel small in the presence of these natural giants.
I began my trek early one morning, after being picked up at my hotel in Puerto Natales to set off on the 70 mile journey to the Torres del Paine National Park. Designated a biosphere reserve by UNESCO in 1978, the vast area of land that comprises the park varies quite dramatically. The first hour or so had my fellow hikers and I traversing up a challenging series of switchbacks, but a breathtaking view of the Nordenskjöld Lake, and walking under the hanging glaciers of Mount Almirante Nieto was ample compensation for the effort it took to get there.
We continued on in this manner for several hours, taking as many breaks as the group needed. A longer break at Refugio El Chile came mid-hike, where I stopped to refresh and refuel, and steel up for the rest of the hike.
The next part of the journey was only marginally less challenging, but perhaps more beautiful. Spent walking through acres of beech forest, I was able to catch my breath here and truly admire how nature exists untouched. In fact, just as I slipped into a day dream of Hobbits and the Middle Way, the forest ended and give way to massive rock piles – the final hurdle between me and the towers.
Along more gravel-laden switchbacks, the final ascent seemed like it lasted several hours, but in fact lasted less than one. And then, the glorious turquoise lake appeared and I finally got to breath a huge sigh.
From there, it was, all downhill. I do not enjoy hiking downhill, so I found this 3 hour return journey to the van to be rather tiresome – and tiring. By the time we reached flat ground, I was wishing the trail would climb again, just to give my knees a rest from the downhill hike.
Yeah, pretty sorry thing to complain about, and that evening I rested up over a great Chilean meal and toasted the completion of another great Patagonian adventure.