While hiking the Torres del Paine national park you should never forget the role of history in the footsteps you take.
As humanity strives to explore further and further into the unknown of outer space, it was what became known as the Torres del Paine national park in Chile, which would have astounded us in our quest for the unknown 12,000 years ago.
Patagonia in South America – which bisects both Argentina and Chile – was the last frontier civilisation reached and occupied in a pursuit around the globe, which began in modern day Kenya.
Desire for exploring, quest for further adventure surely brought them to focus bright-eyed with astonishment, amazement and incredulity at three imposing, formidable granite towers, which form the fulcrum of the Torres del Paine national park.
The Torres (“towers” in Spanish) form the majestic centre piece to multi-day hiking, where the weather is as varied as a Shakespearean protagonist.
To hike over a mountain pass with winds reaching over 100 km/h and rain constantly spitting into your face shouldn’t be fun, shouldn’t be exhilarating, but in Patagonia it is. Your hands are freezing inside layered hiking gloves, while your feet trudge through an ever deepening entanglement of snow, leaving you fighting to balance and move forward against a ferocious wind and a trundling surface.
But you never stop smiling. Because you realise with every step you are experiencing a feeling few times in your life you will ever encounter. Mother Nature throwing a wave of its unkempt emotion at you and two basic instincts set in; the first to continue exploring and the second to survive as you know you may not be comfortable, may even be questioning your sanity, but the prospects of giving up and accepting your fate is anathema to your instincts honed by evolution over millenia.
So you smile, endure and at the moment you arrive over the pass, and overlook a glacier surrounded by snow-capped mountains, you realise that Patagonia has given you a life lesson that it has thought people for 12,000 years. To persevere is to achieve.
And so, you continue to weave your way around the magical Torres encountering glaciers, snow-capped peaks and stoic forests (several forest fires caused by campers have done damage to many forests in the area).
Constantly you look to the sky. The dark, loomy heavens give the French valley a Nightmare at Christmas feel, UFO-shaped clouds on calm days lend you to a world of outer space, while strong winds whip up rainbow colours in calm lakes.
It’s the weather which mystifies this wonderful place. It changes relentlessly, forcing no comfort. During seven days of hiking the circuit trail, it began sunny, then rained for 24 hours straight, was sunny again with ever rising winds, which then calmed and it snowed. After that it rained with over 100 km winds, the sun came out with high winds, then it rained again and finished with a calm sunny day.
But how glorious it all is. The interchangable conditions perfectly compliment our emotions, leading to a heightened state of feeling reflected not by the continued pounding on the soles of our feet or the weight on our backs, but by the colour of the sky. Patagonia is alive. It breathes, inhales, cries and bleeds just like we all do. To be amongst it is to be a part of its emotion and you become enriched by it. Patagonia without the weather would be like a peacock without its feathers and nowhere is this more apparent than at the Torres del Paine national park.
Experiencing something which you will remember forever always require one thing to make it feel complete; a chance for reflection. Your thoughts at the time define it. An amazing moment which doesn’t allow for a period of reflection leads you to feel you failed to appreciate what you were a part of.
So, on my seventh and last day of hiking, I perched myself on a rock in complete darkness at the viewing point of the three granite towers awaiting the sun to rise over those impregnable Torres once more. I had the perfect backdrop to reflect on what the first people to set eyes on them 12,000 years ago thought.
Were they inspired? Intimidated? Cautious? Mystified? And what of everyone since then who’s peered up at them, whether it be with the backdrop of clear blue skies or a faded outline through the clouds with Mother Nature beating at them once more? We will never know. But one thing is for sure though. Despite all types of weather imaginable, the towers remain impenetrable. Just like our desire to explore.
The Torres del Paine National Park is located in southern Chile. It is best reached through the town of Puerto Natales, 120 km south of the park. Two hikes are popular. The “W” hike, which is 4-5 days in length and takes in the southern side of the park and the “circuit”, a circular route of almost all of the park which takes 7-9 days. Day hikes, day tours and boat tours are also available.