Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Torres del Paine

the National Geographic boat! coming in to port, Puerto Natales, Chile

There is an interesting dichotomy of man vs. nature in the park, and there were times when I felt frustrated by the obvious presence of humans, but in the end the spell of the towers has won my heart and the memories I have of my six days there are forever etched in my mind. People come from across the world to trek the famous 'W' and 'O' circuits. Some come with fresh new gear only to take snapshots of themselves at the lookout points when their shuttle stops for photo-ops on the way to their 5-star 'Refugio'. Others come with great ambitions to conquer mountains and give up after two days of bad weather. But many come with good hearts and an honest love of the outdoors which makes Torres del Paine, Chile an absolute 'must see'. For these people, to experience this place on earth is truly a blessing. My friend Adam, who I met in Ushuaia, enjoyed the back side of the park with Andrew so much, that he came back in with me to do the W.

Adam makes for quite the backpacking companion. After 14 months travelling in South America, he is an endless library of stories, not to mention that he  has a passion for salsa and ballroom dancing, and an uncanny memory for song lyrics, anything from the old jukebox classics to Disney soundtracks... not exactly what you would expect from a rugged mountain guy who grew up on a farm in British Colombia and managed to escape three pirate attacks while canoeing down the Amazon River. We spent six days on the circuit, which really only requires four, but we decided to make a relaxed go at it and enjoy our commitment free lives. I was grateful for his company, for hours of laughing and singing on the trail, for the endless animated stories, and for the sacred moments of quiet reflection that we shared over these six days. Adam, you're quite the character my friend, I look forward to seeing what life has in store for you as you begin your next chapter...

first glimpse, day 1

The magic of Torres del Paine is found in the moments when you stray from the trail to sequester your own camping spot, and in the times when you've lost the other hikers and find yourself alone basking in the quiet glory of the scenery. It is also found in those encounters with enjoyable strangers who have come for the same reason you have; to witness nature at its very best.

secret camp spot, night 1

cloud reflections, day 2
These are the people who share in your pain at the sight of the charred forest and curse the negligence that has forever scarred this pristine landscape (last year 50% of the park was burned down after a tourist lit their toilet paper on fire...). They too shudder at the sight  of the monstrous hotel that has absolutely no place existing in this park.
burnt down to nothing, day 2

feel your pain tree brother
Noah, Alex, Leah & Anne
They are the ones you meet on the crest of a hill eating trail mix in quiet awe of the view below. You share an energy with these people that deeply connects you for these few days you are together in the woods and you are always happy to see them when you catch up to each other on the trail or when you see them come strolling into the next campsite. It is not often that I seek the company of other hikers but I so enjoyed being in the presence of some of these people and being able to share this experience together. All such dynamic individuals out doing what we love to do. My favorite encounter by far was with the VanLoens. This Seattle family brought back so many memories from the time we spent in Cuenca with the Scherr's that I immediately felt like I knew their story. Alex,12 and Leah, 10 are two of the most well behaved and good spirited kids I have ever met. They're out here trekking with the best of us, enduring rain, cold, wind, and never once complaining. I doubt they realize it now, but they are the two luckiest people in the park. Their parents, Anne and Noah are taking them on a one year Radical Family Sabbatical (this link will take you to Matt Scherr's new website that he created upon returning to Vail after a year abroad with his family in Ecuador) through Peru, Chile, Tahiti, New Zealand and Australia. They now make the second family I have met in South America that have chosen to do things a little differently. This is my favorite part about travelling; these encounters with people who truly stimulate the imagination and demonstrate what is takes to turn dreams into reality. Thank god for people like Anne and Noah, for people who understand what it means to live outside the box. Coming from a country full of opportunities yet so often closed minded in regard to family structure and abstract education, the VanLoen's are proof that life is what you make it- the world is their playground and their classroom, and home is where the heart is. "The Journey is the Reward" ( click the link to follow along their world journey)

reunited with Adam for another woodland adventure, check his blog at www.pucek.ca

Priya & Darshan, the yogi/mountaineering couple from Austin, & Kylie, the easy going Aussie gal, follow Priya's blog at: www.priyayoga.com/travel 

glacier views, day 3

Panoramic Yoga. headstand in the wind....not quite there

oooh too far and crash. crushed Adam

lenga forest, day 3

This is an excerpt I wrote at the Mirador Britanico. We spent the entire afternoon on the third day just sitting in silence, watching and trying to absorb our surroundings.

I want so badly to be able to find the words to describe this feeling, to help you  understand the splendor that surrounds me, to make you see the colors, hear the wind...yet I find myself speechless. Yes, I can describe the halo of light radiating from behind the granite towers as the sun falls deeper in the sky. I can tell you about the contrast of the whipped cream snow against the crumbling black rocks, about the precarious way the glaciers sustain themselves on top of these jagged ridges, about the mantle of snow that threatens to slide at any moment, and of the frigid force of the wind fighting to throw me off this rock. I can try to recreate the paintbrush clouds that sail across the azure sky, the gradation of color and texture that wrap around the peaks, and about the constant rhythm of the river echoing through the valley as it rushes over the stones below. But what I cannot describe to you is the peace. I am conscious of these things that I've just told you, my eyes squint again the sun searching for the smallest of details, yet in the presence of it all my mind is quiet. The silent meditation is broken only by the desire to put it into words, to share this with you. But I am speechless and for this small moment, it is all mine. 

last rays at Mirador Britanico, day 3

sunset vista, day 3

glowing lake and storm rolling in, day 4
hojas de lenga, start of the snow day 4
dear tree, how did you do that?
laguna de los Torres, day 5

After returning back to camp from the Towers, we were pleased to see that the VanLoens had set up their tent next to ours, (Leah picked the spot after she spied my walking stick propped against the tree) and when the Indian/Aussie trio rolled in early that evening our little group was complete. Talk of a sunrise hike began floating around... I am always weary of waking early, specifically if it involves cold  mornings and freezing winds, but I promised I would try. I woke before the alarm went off, coming from a dream yoga session. The air sounded calm and I took this as a sign that we had to go up. We dressed in a hurry and popped our heads out of the tent. Already the stars were disappearing and the sky was turning all sorts of reds and yellows! We made a mad dash for it, practically running up the mountain. The others had gotten a bit of a start on us, but we caught up to them on the trail, and all straggled sleepy eyed up to the summit to be greeted by the most rewarding morning view maybe ever...

sunrise 5:30am, day 6

first light on the Torres, day 6
love at the Torres :)
buen dia amigooos! 

best family award 2012

hiking out
luxury at the base of the mountain, end of day 6

not exactly organic, but the view from here is pretty nice too

a much deserved cerveza to end the trek!
Cheers to all you beautiful people, to the starry nights, to the rain stopping, to the sun breaking through the clouds...to the glowing lakes and crystalline rivers, to the wind that can be heard coming from miles away as it thunders up the valley like a thousand stampeding hooves...to the tress that double over against it's force but somehow manage not to snap... to falling asleep to the earthshaking sound of avalanches sliding on distant mountains, and birds singing happily in the burnt trees. Cheers to memories with strangers who become inspiring friends. Enjoy the journey...


  1. Jessica!! You are amazing!! I am awed by your writing and am now hooked on your blog. Meeting you on the trail was a blessing. We KNOW you will come hang out in Seattle with us - you have a place to stay, hot tub included :-)


"There is no need to search; achievement leads nowhere. It makes no difference at all, so just be happy now! Love is the only reality of the world, because it is all One, you see. And the only laws are paradox, humor and change. There is no problem, never was, and never will be. Release your struggle, let go of your mind, throw away your concerns and relax into the world. No need to resist life; just do your best. Open your eyes and see that you are far more than you imagine. You are the world, you are the universe; you are yourself and everyone else too! It's all the marvelous play of God. Wake up, regain your humor. Don't worry, you are already free!" - Way of the Peaceful Warrior