I’m getting towards the pointy end of my list of favourite mountain treks…and quite literally with this entry. Chile’s multi-pronged Torres del Paine are one of South America’s pin-up images, with the massif’s sharp peaks rising as bent and broken as a fisherman’s fingers.
The lake at the base of the eponymous towers
I hiked through the Torres del Paine near the beginning of last year, in the days following a mighty bushfire that scorched more than 17,000 hectares, burning right across the trail, adding drama to an already dramatic landscape.
There are two main treks in the Torres del Paine: the circuit and the more popular and densely scenic W Trek, which traverses the foot of the range as well as burrowing into the gorgeous Ascencio and Frances valleys (thus forming a W shape) that split the massif. The walk through the Ascencio Valley rises to a lake pooled at the base of the very towers that give the massif its name, while the latter valley skirts the Frances Glacier to an outcrop ringed by a defensive wall of summits. When I trekked here, I added another arm to the route, veering off-track into a secondary valley beside the ‘cuernos’ – the massif’s horns – rising past a climbers’ camp and continuing through a mass of scree until I could touch the main escarpment. It was a side trip that somehow turned into a rock pilgrimage; I just had to touch that escarpment.
The winds around the Torres are as fierce as the scenery and provided perhaps my most enduring memories of the place. One day, as I rose over a ridge, a tent flew over my head, tearing on branches as it went. The nearest camping area upwind was more than 10 kilometres away.
Wind-blown rainbow on Lago Nordenskjold
Another day, as I hiked along the shores of Lago Nordenskjold, wind gusts charged across the lake, gathering water as they came. Curtains of water rose up to 50 metres into the air, transforming into rainbows. As each gust hit the shore, hikers dropped to the ground – I tried standing up to one gust and finished up about five metres away – and a wall of water was dumped over them.
I was hiking that day with a guy from nearby Puerto Natales and when I asked him about the wind speed, he suggested it was probably around 140km/h. He also shrugged as if to say it was just another summer day in those parts. Patagonia is not a subtle place.
* The adventures continue across at Facebook.