The mighty Torres del Paine

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

We had gazed at them since our arrival in the park – and this morning, after Hernán removed a monstrous thorn from my foot, we set out for the Torres, those awe-inspiring towers of granite that rise above all else. The sky was clear and it looked like it was shaping up to be another beautiful day. “We have to be ready for anything though,” Hernán cautioned.

Hiking from the EcoCamp, we connected with the winding uphill path to Ascencio Valley — the valley that supports the eastern face of the Towers’ base. Dry mountain spots, beech forests and small rivers were passed as we made our way along the scenic route.

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At a rest point about 3 hours in, the group was broken into several teams, based on speed and condition. The last several days had begun to take their toll on some members. Burt’s knee was also bothering him but he remained determined to making it to the summit.

Our final challenge of the trek was the moraine, a steep mountain of stones and boulders. Here, you can see the “trail,” marked by orange rods — as well as a shot (taken level) that provides some perspective on the angle we were hiking at.

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And then, slowly, suddenly, they came into view.

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My lead group, sweating and panting, hit the peak in 28 minutes, a good 15 minutes before any of Hernán’s past groups. It usually takes a solid hour, he said. Before us was one of the most magnificent sights that I’ve ever witnessed.

Three gigantic granite monoliths — the remains of a great cirque sheared away by the forces of glacial ice — stood beautifully before us. And in front of these famous Torres del Paine sat a vibrant glacial lake. We observed 5 minutes of silence, simply taking it all in.

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More than half the time, the Towers, which rise almost 10,000 feet, are hidden in clouds. Yet we lucked out today, and even had some sun to partially illuminate the rock wall.

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On our way back down the slippery slope, we kept the Torres in our rear-view mirror. It was simply hard to take our eyes off of them.

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At the EcoCamp, we rested and waited for the others to return. Two hours later, Burt was back. Hopped up on ten Advil, he had made it with his bum knee — but now, was not feeling great. Perhaps the best way to demonstrate this trek’s toll on us is through a visual representation. Here is Burt three days ago, upon our arrival. Look how happy he is!

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And this is Burt upon his return.

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Was it all worth it? As our Canadian friends from Ushuaia would say: you betcha.

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