Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
When the alarm rang at 6:30 a.m., most of us were already up. It had been a terrible night’s rest; the sleeping bags had been confining, our room hot and the fellow hiker we were sharing a room with had snored away like a jackhammer. All ingredients for morning grumpiness.
Peering out of the window from my top bunk was a sight even worse — thick clouds and rain. We fumbled around in the dark and pulled on some still damp clothing. The refugio power kicked on at 7 a.m. and we finished packing up before a terrible breakfast of instant coffee, rubbery eggs and cornflakes with dehydrated milk. We were not happy.
As we set out along the shores of mountain-lined Lake Pehoe, the rain momentarily picked up. Prepared this time around, my GoreTex pants kept me dry. And then, just as suddenly as it had begun, it was gone. The rest of our hike was dry and relatively easy — just 11 kilometers. At certain points, winds off of Grey Glacier, which was our destination, topped 90 kilometers per hour. A gust was enough to make you wobble, if not completely knock you over.
A few hundred yards from the glacier, we had lunch before boarding a zodiac that would take us to the Grey II boat for a closer look at this massive (27 kilometers long and 6 kilometers wide) piece of ice. Even after witnessing Perito Moreno, it was an impressive sight.
The boat navigated the iceberg filled waters so that we could get a closer look. Pisco sours (with hunks of glacier ice) in hand, we headed to the upper deck.
Earlier in the day, another boat had dropped a dozen tourists off to walk the moraine. A huge piece of the glacier had calved off, filling the water with massive pieces of ice — and preventing the boat from retrieving its passengers. As our smaller zodiac zipped off to shore to rescue the stranded hikers, we realized why we had moved in such close proximity to the glacier, which provided an opportunity to snap some great, detailed shots.
Our boat turned around and headed south. Suddenly, the wind picked up, turning the placid lake into a rough ocean in the blink of an eye. We were soon engulfed in rolling swells and stomachs. Not fun. After reaching the lake’s other end, the zodiac whisked us to the shores of Grey Lake. Gale-force winds whipped up the beach’s small stones and pelted us in the backs.
The drive through the park back to EcoCamp was almost dream-like. The sun pierced through thick clouds, playfully lighting Los Cuernos. Horses roamed golden fields. Waterfalls overflowed with glaciar runoff. “Just one more photo,” the reverend called numerous times from the backseat as our van pulled over and we all fruitlessly attempted to capture this beauty on film.
We were beyond thrilled to be back in our dome and treated to a dinner of pumpkin soup, beef stir-fry with rice and key lime mousse. It was comforting to have returned here when rest and food were of the utmost importance.
Because tomorrow we were tackling the greatest challenge of all.