Warming up in Los Cuernos

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

“Wait, it’s so cold right now. I can’t get out from underneath my sloth skin,” Burt announced this morning. Indeed, the thermostat outside of our dome read just 30 degrees and our breath was visible. The double thermal sheets and top fur blanket — or “sloth skin” — had done a surprisingly good job of keeping us toasty overnight. But now, getting out of bed was a chore.

After a quick shower, we made our way down to breakfast: freshly baked bread, some solid scrambled eggs and a bowl of granola with yogurt. Today, Hernán told us, would be an “easy” hike of 13 kilometers — a “warm-up,” he said. We looked out of our dome at what was shaping up to be a beautiful day and thought about how lucky we had been with the weather. Common were stories of visitors to this park who saw nothing but sideways rain for four or five consecutive days. Hopefully our luck would last.

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We started our hike along a curly trail that ran alongside Lake Nordenskjold. Crossing rickety bridges, stone-jumping through creeks and meandering along winding paths provided an amazing introduction to the park.

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The group stopped for lunch on some rocks at the base of Los Cuernos (the Horns), sharp tusks of black sedimentary peaks that are one of the park’s focal points.

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Another few hours brought us to Refugio Los Cuernos, a camp alongside the lake. We were assigned Cabana #4, put down our bags and promptly took a 3-hour siesta.

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Dr. Jim woke us up for dinner, which was simple yet tasty: tomato soup, a well seasoned chicken breast served with quinoa and a blondie for dessert. Afterward, a bunch of us congregated on one of the cabana’s porches. We had brought some Jack Daniel’s in a plastic Pepsi bottle, which we broke out and passed around for swigs. The whole scene reminded me a bit of summer camp.

Except we were in Chile. In Torres del Paine National Park. On the banks of Lake Nordenskjold. In the middle of absolutely nowhere.

It was an exhilarating feeling.

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