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

Trying to be dramatic:) Cool picture though I thought.

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.

It was amazing how blue the icebergs were that broke off from the glacier and floated around Lake Grey. They practically glowed amidst the calm water and made for some spectacular sights.

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.

Glacier Grey. One of the only glaciers that is actually growing.

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.

The mountains crept right up to the edge of the water.

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.

Loise and Noemi. Two of the multitude of French I met hiking in Torres. I honestly heard more French than Spanish on the trip.

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.

Highest point in our hike. The spot is hemmed in by mountains on all sides and it was actually sunny and snowing for part of the time we relaxed up there. Just beautiful.

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.

I did a lot of pondering on the hike. This was a nice spot.

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.

Nice to be playful too. A successful handstand here, but I definitely almost killed myself once on the trip attempting one on the edge of a rock cliff.

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

Napping and relaxing after a great lunch of trail mix and Nutella sandwiches. Eight hours is a lot of hiking if you don't try to break it up a bit.

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

I kept being accused of being a GI Joe. I guess after getting my hair cut right before the trip I understand.

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.

We woke up at 5:30 am on the last morning to hike in the dark for an hour so we could watch the sunrise at the famous Torres Del Paine peaks, for which the park is named. What we found was a picturesque glacial lake and some impressive and dramatic rock formations.

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.

Celebrating the end of the hike in Hotel De Los Torres, waiting for the bus to go home. Nick says its very American of me to be able to sleep and hold a beer at the same time.

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

2- Loaves of bread taken down with the Nutella

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


3 responses to “Torres Del Paine”

  1. Chris Edwardsen says :

    Charlie, I’m really enjoying your blog. Your reflections on your experiences (hiking, matches, lost cell phone, etc.) are most entertaining. Of course Christine and I have backpacked for many years. Last summer we did a 30 miler in Jasper Nat.Park where we met 3 guys from (where else, France). We had full packs and did 16 miles in one day, which gave me more confidence in our “geezer” years. This summer we hope to do the 100 mile “Haute Route” in the Alps, which some friends did last summer. But no tents or sleeping bags – just huts, hostels and pensions.
    Your reflections and observations on the beauty of the natural world are something I easily identify with from our many outdoor adventures, but your insights into yourself and the events, good and bad, which you encounter are equally interesting to read. You’re a good writer and it’s great of you to share your trip with us.
    Good luck on your next leg. Your Mom says you’ll be in town for a short bit in the near future, so I hope we can say hello. My serve is improving but my cataract surgery is causing about a 5 week hiatus in my play. I still stay as active as possible, remembering that fate has cut short the lives of your Dad and many others younger than I. Robby was here from LA for a week and is now back down there trying to launch a start up company with some friends.
    Kelsey and Galvin are getting married in June. I’m glad Stephanie got on with NRDC. It’s my favorite of the “big” conservation groups, and I’ve donate to them for many years.

    Good luck


    • charliecutler says :

      Thanks so much for the kind words Chris. I appreciate you reading my blog and am happy you’ve been enjoying it. I’ve been traveling for a while now and I’ve found it to be really fun and theraputic to try to conceptualize the experiences I’m having. It makes me way more aware of how special this time is for me and I’m happy to finally be keeping a record of things, at least for memories sake.

      I’m glad to hear you and Christine are still running off and doing fun things. Hiking and camping is a new passion for me after growing up in a tennis family. Im afraid most of the camping i dis growing up was at the gorge, next to my car when I went to concerts. I was blown away by how fun and empowering it was though to do it right and see some place amazing. You’ll have to tell me about some of the trips you’ve been on next time I’m in town. I definitely want to pursue it more if I can.

      Give robby and Kelsy my best. Thats really exciting the wedding is coming up so soon. I had a feeling robby would thrive down in la. Hopefully I’ll get to visit him sometime soon. Thanks again for following my trip.



  2. Kelsey Edwardsen says :

    Charlie, I love this piece. Galvin and I loved backpacking through the Argentine Patagonia mountains a few years ago, and we need to return to hike through Torres del Paine in Chile! Thank you for inspiring us to get back out there. Hugs, Kelsey T. Edwardsen

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