I just showered away that nine-day, Patagonian grime… it feels pretty amazing right now. The hamburger that I’m going to eat in two hours is going to be equally amazing. And the beer I drink… and most everything for the next few days! =) It feels good to be off the trail.
Torres del Paine National Park is a strange, beautiful, sometimes frustrating, but always interesting place. Let’s see if I can paint a picture. We did the full circuit hike, which circumnavigated the Paine Massif. The first four days are spent on the less-crowded “backside” of the park. We were surprised to encounter at least 50 tents at the campsites, each of the four nights. Most everyone does the same amount of hiking each day, so we quickly met a few people and really enjoyed their company. Our new friends from Wisconsin, Brazil, Chile and the Philippines greeted us with smiles and good conversation after hard days and long miles.
We were also surprised at the number of people who were hiking the circuit with no backpacking experience to speak of. Lot’s of Europeans and south Americans informed us that this was the first time they had carried anything on their backs with the intent of sleeping in the woods. This is still just beyond us. How do you sign up for a 9-day trek, 100+ kilometers long hike through some of the most extreme weather, if you’ve never done backpacking before!? These people were equal parts frustrating and inspiring. We helped adjust packs, set up tents and watched people cook with real skillets over their large propane stoves. We saw the largest packs imaginable, with all of the Doite brand rental equipment strapped to the outside (what was inside those packs?). But these people did the same thing we did. They didn’t cheat* like some we met along the trail. They didn’t do it the way we did, but they completed the thing, and that was certainly admirable.
The more crowded, but also more beautiful, frontside of the park gave us an even more polarized love/hate feeling. Instead of 50 tents, there were well over 100 each night. We were confronted with ever increasing backpacking ignorance and disrespect for nature. There was evidence of forest fires everywhere, much of it new since the last time I visited, six years ago. But the views are incomparable… We were interviewed by a CONAF (Chilean Park Rangers) employee on our fifth night. He asked us for ideas on how to improve the park experience. I suggested that they look into limiting the number that can enter the park each day. I don’t know if this is the right thing to do, but the increasing popularity and commercialization of the park can’t be sustainable. Oof, do you feel like you’re reading Bill Bryson’s A Walk in the Woods? OK, I promise many more photos in the near future!
*cheaters ride horses, hire porters, and day hike between refugios (therefore not carrying tents/sleeping bags). most of them get showers daily.