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Torres del Paine : The Adventure Begins

I had just quit my job and flown across the planet to Chile. A week earlier, I was living in Egypt, working my life away for the corporate machine. Now, I was ready to chase my dream of travelling the length of the Pan-American highway over the next year, or however long it would take.

The three amigos in Valle del Francés.

Joey and I had linked up a few days earlier in Santiago de Chile, and we’d booked a one-way flight to Patagonia with only one thing in mind: hiking the legendary Torres del Paine. Only problem was, this usually requires meticulous planning, with visitors booking their camping reservations months ahead of arriving. Predictably, all the campsites were booked out, and we rocked up to the local hub with barely a semblance of a plan. Hardly the ideal start to what was meant to be an epic adventure.

Luckily, we had good company. We first met Mia at a hostel in Puerto Natales. She’s the type of person who’s down to embark on an impromptu multi-day hike with two random dudes she just met the day before. She fit right in.

The three of us bonded over Calafate Sours (delicious drinks made from a local berry) and quickly discovered that the sum of our parts had infinite potential. Against all odds, we were able to throw together a vague plan for a three-day hike starting the next morning at 6AM. The hike would culminate with sunrise over the world-famous viewpoint of Las Tres Torres. We called it the N-Trek (a reference to the W- and O-Treks typical visitors undertake).

First views over the Torres del Paine massif.

The next morning, we almost missed the bus to the national park because Joey’s passport was stuck in a locker he’d lost the key to. Then we almost missed the boat ride in after spending too long admiring the mind-blowing views near the park entrance. On top of that, our last-minute sleeping arrangement was all three of us bundled in a two-person tent. No challenge was going to stop us though, and we were committed to hiking the famous Torres del Paine.

A brief riverside break with views of Paine Grande's peaks and glaciers.

Remnants of recent forest fires amidst new growth.

Nothing quite as refreshing as drinking the ice-cold waters of a melting glacier.

The first part of the hike took us over sparse steppes strewn with white charred trees, and along glacier lagoons with a backdrop of towering multi-colored peaks and ridges. We crossed raging rivers of melt-water and hiked through dense sub-polar forests. Before reaching our campsite, we took a detour up the Valle del Francés, a valley which separates the enormous Paine Grande and Torres massifs.

Leaving our backpacks behind and hiking through Valle del Francés.

A thunderous landslide off the Glaciar del Francés.

The Torres del Paine massif.

More views of the Torres massif.

That night, watching the vivid sunset over an enormous lagoon, all we could think about was how lucky we’d been in pulling this altogether less than 24 hours ago. We spent hours watching the star-lit sky, spotting satellites flying over us, all the while earth-wrenching sounds emanated regularly from the huge glacier up the valley, cracking and collapsing. It felt very surreal.

Breakfast views worthy of a banana and chocolate sandwich.

Day two, we followed a trail that took us between the Torres massif and the bright blue Nordenskjöld lagoon. We were blessed with blue skies, and sights of condors flying high above us. Staring at these incredible primal landscapes, I found it hard to believe that less than two weeks earlier I had been living in the deserts of Egypt, on the other side of the world.

Joey and Mia in front of Paine Grande.

Laguna Nordenskjöld, and the location of my first ever swim in a glacier lake.

Day 2, hiking alongside the lagoon.

A distant waterfall makes its way down from the massifs.

The hike took us through marshlands and up through the steep valley of the Rio Asencio. We were getting nearer, and could even spot a distinctive landmark in the distance from our campsite.

Look familiar?

That evening, we were too excited to go to sleep, and instead watched the night sky for hours again, chatting about everything and nothing. The next day, we woke up two hours before sunrise for the final stretch and hiked through pitch black forests and up a steep rock face to the green melt-water lake at the base of the towers. Sunrise briefly illuminated the jagged peaks looming over us, before low-lying clouds covered the sky and the peaks. We had arrived just on time, I expected nothing less of our luck. Satisfied, we all bundled together in a sleeping bag high up on the moraines surrounding the lake, and admired the crazy sight as the sky grew bright.

Las Tres Torres, our final destination.

It was cold, we’d woken at 4AM, and we were slightly hungover from too much hip-flask rum the night before, but we definitely made the most of being here.

On our way back down, we reflected on how well our unconventional approach to visiting Torres del Paine had turned out. Our last minute arrangements had paid off enormously, and if this was any indication as to how the next years of traveling would go, I was stoked. The exhilarating hike, the world-class views, and the otherworldly landscapes all played a role, but the most important part had been being able to experience those things with friends both old and new.

Now for a round of Calafate Sours please!


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