Torres Del Paine
Mar 9, 2012
I’m currently stuck in the airport in Montevideo, Uruguay en route to Cordoba, Argentina after an incredible and hectic week visiting Southern Chile and camping in Patagonia. After two not so amazing results in the Chilean Futures, my French companion and I decided to take a week off and hike the famous “W” route in a national park called Torres Del Paine. At 67 km (42 mi), this was by far the longest hike I have ever set out on, and carrying a heavy pack filled with food, clothes, sleeping bag, tent, cooking gear, etc. was
challenging. It could not have been more rewarding though and I will remember it as a highlight in all the traveling I have done. Unfortunately, we did not return in time to make it to Mendoza for the first Argentinian tournament, but it will be good to recover a little in Cordoba where we will play a prequalifying event starting Wednesday. My body is definitely bruised and battered from the trip and could use a rest.
Regarding the trek though, it takes a lot of effort and planning just to reach such a remote hiking spot, and not having expected pursuing such an outing at all, neither Nick nor I were prepared for our journey. It did not help us that we misinterpreted our Spanish flight confirmations before going out the night before we left, causing Nick to miss the flight entirely and me to board it having slept not a wink. But lets just say the logistics of getting to Torres, renting all the gear, and basically everything else involved in preparing to live in the wild for a week was a journey in and of itself. We ended up taking an extra day in Puerto Natales, the sleepy little town close to the park—by close I mean three hours by bus—gathering our wits and all that we would need to survive the expedition. This day is what cost us making it back in time to play Mendoza. But that seems to be how traveling goes sometimes.
Anyway, what followed was an incredible adventure through glacial lakes and rivers, surrounded by the most dramatic snow covered peaks and mountains that I have ever seen. We even saw one of the only glaciers in the world that is actually growing, in spite of global warming. The pace we maintained in order to finish the hike in five days was challenging, although we did meet some crazy people that did it in four and I’ve heard of a lunatic ultra-marathoner completing an even longer version of the course in eighteen hours. That cannot be much fun. Our longest day of hiking was 23 km (14 mi and about eight hours), which was especially rough for me since that happened to be my day to carry the tent, and for the most part we had beautiful weather, although in Patagonia it changes by the hour and we often found ourselves stripping almost naked staggering up a hill, only to be met at the top by a passing hail cloud.
We met a couple French girls—Louise and Noemi— on the boat carrying us to the starting point. It took us three flights, three long bus rides, and an hour voyage in a catamaran in order to put ourselves deep enough in the woods that we needed to walk home. Fortunately we weren’t the only ones doing it though, and it was nice to make some friends to walk with. They were cute, tough little things that were fun to have around. But neither spoke great English. So I often found myself on the outside as the three French chattered on and on, mile after mile. Nick would occasionally translate a bit for me, but I definitely learned to not even hear spoken French. Louise was actually more adept in Spanish, meaning we were able to make a few interesting attempts at conversation in a language foreign to both of us. But for the most part it was just nice having company along the way and having people to share and trade our food with. Nick and I did end up hiking a couple of the days by ourselves which gave me a small respite from the language barrier, but I was able to do a fair amount of soul searching on the trip while I was often left alone to my thoughts and my heavy pack.
The third night of the trip we camped at one of the official Refugios, which are log cabin type places that people can rent rooms at and buy expensive food from if they don’t want to bother carrying a heavy bag. Nick and I broke down and bought dinner, which ended up turning into beers and dinner, and eventually wine and Pisco Sours (typical Chilean cocktail) for desert. We had a great night sharing bottles with all the other hikers and it was awesome to find a happy little community brought together by the mutual experience of lugging one’s body and soul through mountains and trails and pain. I must say as idyllic and mystical as I can describe the experience, the reality of it was an uncomfortable struggle to pull oneself up huge hills carrying a bag that digs into your shoulders and rubs raw anywhere that it comes into contact. I know I don’t sound like much of an Oregonian but I was surprised how hard it was and how much mental strain it took to keep at it for six to eight hours a day, although as I often told myself, I didn’t a choice. It was well worth the effort though in experiencing a region of the world that felt literally untouched by civilization.
I’m trying not to be too romantic right now, but I have to a little. It was powerful seeing the terrain stretch out before me, acknowledging the size and permanence of landmasses that have been forming and evolving forever. You just couldn’t help but pause and consider your own significance in the face of such presence and history. While it may have started with a throbbing headache and the realization that I had broken my kindle in the night squashing a spider that Nick had already killed, I will always remember the fourth day of our hike because I reached a level of peace and tranquility that I don’t think I have ever felt before, at least since I was a small child and was unconscious to it.
Maybe it was the beauty surrounding me, or just the glow of having worked and walked my way through a nasty hangover, but somehow I found a state of mind where my burdens and worries seemed to slide away from me, as though I was shedding a layer of skin that was too tight. I felt loose and light, vibrantly aware of the feel of the world around me. I know I sound like some hippy, Buddhist, or something but it was an enlightening experience being taken in by my surroundings with nothing but miles of lush trails in front of me and the sole purpose of making it ever-forward. As much as I hated it, the challenge of carrying the pack demanded a presence to the movements and it felt good knowing that my body was strong enough to assume that burden while leaving my mind to pursue its own process.
I remember there was a specific moment, after having our lunch of Nutella sandwiches—what can I say, I’m traveling with a Frenchman—when Nick and I both laid down to nap on this huge rock that looked out across an emerald lake with rolling hills in the distance. I must have been half asleep but I was aware enough to intimately feel the sun and wind battling over my body. For something like twenty minutes I simply basked in the firing of my senses as I rooted for the sun to warm me and drive away the cold breeze that was sending shivers through my legs and back. Again, I know I sound a bit outlandish, but I really was shocked at how aware and alive I was to my senses, like a blind man who has adapted to
the loss of his sight by strengthening and reorganizing his other options. What I am saying is that somehow and for whatever reason, for a brief period I put down the weight of managing and manipulating a life filled to the brim with plans, hopes, desires, regrets, fears, and relationships. And in their absence I found myself in a state of sensitive awareness that was surprising to me, both in the experience of it and in its unfamiliarity.
Unfortunately, as could be expected, I lost such sensitivity when I returned from the trek, and even later on that day a bit, when my legs and back began to tire and I got distracted as I did every evening by the struggle of finishing the days hike. But the memory of such a heightened awareness is something that I am trying to hold onto as I reenter the world and attempt to put my life back together and go on with my trip and figuring out my tennis. It has definitely been hard to maintain as the weights and burdens of planning and organizing have been violently reintroduced to my psyche, but I
think it was valuable to have a taste of what life can feel like when you free your mind up a bit. Maybe someday I’ll master the art of finding that tranquility amidst all the clutter that surrounds us, but at least I’ve found something to work towards. For now I guess I’ll just have to split the concept between the distracted regions of my mind labeled hopes and desires, and return to it a little later when I have time or when I run off into the woods again.
All in all, I had a great trip and am sad it is over, as nice as it is to be sleeping in a soft bed
and waking up to a warm shower. The week was hard, and fun, and a great break from the grind of preparing for one tournament after another. It was nice to just be a traveler for a week but I am looking forward to getting back on track and hitting the tennis and training hard again. I only have one tournament left in South America before heading home and I want to make it count.
For now though, I am hopeful that my plane will take off soon and I won’t be stuck in Uruguay for too much longer. Today started at 4:30 am and it is now 10 pm and I am still waiting for my connecting flight. Maybe I can find a little peace and tranquility hiding somewhere around here to help me get through the night.
Patagonia by the Numbers:
67- km hiked
5- Days of hiking
4- Nights in the tent
4- Nights of Rain
4- Nights of misery
1- Night of eating and fraternizing at a Refugio
1- Awful hangover
70- Percent of hikers that are French. Really, its ridiculous.
347- Photos taken
68- Photos deleted
2- Jars of Nutella finished
3- Flights and buses to get to Torres
7- Rocks pondered on
1- Kindle broken in a fit of drunken panic
1- Spider witnessed in the tent
6- Spider bites found on body
$20- Price of entering Torres Del Paine
$23- Price of buying dinner in Torres Del Paine
$0- Price of camping in Torres Del Paine
$53- Price of drinking in Torres Del Paine
$80- Price of new kindle
Priceless- Memories of sharing drinks in Torres Del Paine
Priceless- Experiencing tranquility in Torres Del Paine
Priceless- Having gone to Torres Del Paine