I wrote in my journal on September 10, “I’m scared I made a huge mistake regarding my spring break plans…I know I’ll have to quit either from hunger, exhaustion, or the cold.”
While it’s true that my entire journal is a piece of melodrama, I actually did have adequate reasons to be nervous about hiking for 5 days in Torres del Paine National Park in the southern tip of Chile. Patagonia is known for its ferocious winds generated by the mountains and glaciers, and for its unpredictable rain and snowstorms. Furthermore, I personally had not “worked out” since last November so I was worried about my own lack of physical strength and endurance compared to the other 5 girls with whom I traveled.
Torres del Paine is such a remote destination that it took us a couple days to get there: we flew to El Calafate, Argentina Friday night, bussed to Puerto Natales, Chile on Saturday morning, and then took another bus to the National Park on Sunday. Crossing the Argentina/Chile border proved to be a bad omen for me as I stood outside in line to get my passport stamped: even in multiple layers it was so cold and windy and all I could see were hundreds of sheep dotting the brown plains. So far it didn’t seem worth the trouble, but within hours Patagonia had proven me wrong.
On day 1 (Sunday), we hiked for about 9 hours on extremely uneven terrain for 19 km (11.8 miles). We trekked over rocks, sand, muddy forests, and ultimately icy snow before reaching our destination: Base Torres. These tall granite towers are the token symbols that one sees when you Google Image “Torres del Paine.”
Day 2 tested my patience as we took a wrong turn in the beginning that added three hours to our “easy 5-6 hour hike.” This day seemed to be the most challenging because it tested our mental strength: we began the day expecting a relaxing walk, but found ourselves fighting sore muscles and racing the sunset to get to our next camp.
Our program’s itinerary warned us that Day 3 would be the longest and most physically demanding climb of the trip at 10-12 hours and 25.3 km (15.7 miles) up icy slopes. However, this day turned out to be the favorite for most of my group because it was so rewarding. The first part of the trail was abreast Lake Nordenskjöld in all its turquoise glory. The middle section ascended into the mountains until we reached French Valley Lookout where we heard and saw mini avalanches every 5 or so minutes. Finally, Day 3’s hike led us up icy slopes to “Campamento Británico” and the culminating views of the day. Up at the top, we were surrounded 360 degrees by snow-capped peaks and granite towers.
Wednesday was our fourth and final hiking day and we ventured back to where we started from on Sunday. Although at this point there were many bruised toenails and aching knees, we were on a high from the overwhelming beauty surrounding us at every turn.
As it turns out, all six of us went into the trip with brewing reservations, but I learned that there is hardly a better way to get close to people than to go through the same highs and lows in the same concentrated period of time. When Lindsay slipped and her whole calf sunk into a mud pit, or when nobody could sleep because the refugio was too cold, or when I accidentally melted my leggings on the fireplace, we found that there was no better way to deal with the pain or inconveniences than to have a sense of humor and laugh about it. My spring break is so far the highlight of my study abroad experience and if anyone has the opportunity to visit Patagonia, I would highly recommend hiking the "W Circuit" in Torres del Paine.
For more pictures visit my Flickr at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/132576727@N03/albums
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<div>My name is Lucy McNamara and I am twenty years old. I am from Bolton, Massachusetts but am currently studying <span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">history as a junior at the University of Virginia. I am the tenth out of twelve children in my family, thus I am an </span><span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">experienced arguer and am considering law school! I love to read, write, cook, and take photographs, and I could not be </span><span style="font-size: 13.0080003738403px; line-height: 1.538em;">more excited to share all my new experiences in Buenos Aires with you.</span></div>