I tuned into Patagonia in 2009 after seeing a film about climbing the Central Tower of the Torres del Paine. The quote I’ll always remember was about constant sleet and wind, “It doesn’t have to be fun to be fun.”
The plan to trek the “O-W circuit” in late December piggybacked on a friend’s PhD work off the Chilean coast. We had much better weather than those climbers and definitely had a ton of fun. Precipitation blew away as quickly as it blew in and gave way to the famous views of the bright orange Cuernos and Torres.
This is a place where geologic time makes sense. Sedimentary cliffs are folded and faulted, glaciers grind away at the valleys you’re walking through, and you hear the daily freeze thaw cycles eroding the mountains. In a matter of hours the trail passes through arid pampas, up into the alpine, and drops into forest of lengas and trilliums. The novelty of seeing condors in this landscape never wore off.
We’re strong hikers, but even so doing the usual 8-10 day (~75 mile) trek in 6 days was reasonable. That pace allowed time to share meals with parties from all 7 continents (if you count Antarctic researchers), drink our fill of vino chileno, and take naps every day. This was Christmas vacation after all. And while December days are short in the northern hemisphere, Patagonia’s high latitude meant 18 hours of daylight in the southern hemisphere.
Right away we observed that most trekkers had quit their jobs for multi-month travels, were on sabbatical, or waited until retirement to make this bucket list trip to the end of the world. We should all do that, but until then this trip can be done around holidays and weekends on about a week’s vacation and less than $2000 with time to spare for the beach walk to the end of the South American continent.
Contributed by John Wros, Team Skout Backcountry Member