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Torres del Paine - Update from the Field

Our group celebrates the first night in Torres del Pain

South America Program Director Kirsten Gardner spent the past month leading a group of hikers through Patagonia on one or our special anniversary trips! She's back in the office now and we will posting bits from the blogs she wrote while on the road every few days (internet connection to upload photos can be sketchy down south!)

A cloudy day with Los Torres behind us  
After two days of exploring the cities of Santiago and Valparaiso (highlighted by earthquake tremors on the first evening!) our group of ten hikers was ready to hit the trails in Torres del Paine National Park.  Patagonia’s famed natural beauty and unpredictable weather did not disappoint. In three days we experienced torrential downpours, clear nights with perfect views of the Milky Way, cloudy mornings, 70 degree afternoons without a cloud in the sky, perfect ruby-red sunrises on the Los Torres spires and a healthy dose of wind.  Based from the EcoCamp in the eastern sector of the Park, we had easy access to a variety of trailheads each morning and were welcomed back home with pisco sours, warm (huge!) beds and wood-burning stoves in our suite domes each evening.

One of the appeals of our Hiker’s Patagonia itinerary is the ability to be flexible each day with the opportunity to hike as little or as much as you want to.  A few hikers in our group preferred shorter options of 4-8 miles and were escorted each day through beech forests and along hidden lagoons and large glacial lakes, avoiding steep elevation gains and difficult footing.  One woman in the group is a watercolor artist and chose to spend her afternoons painting the mountains, flora and fauna of Patagonia in a beautiful sketchbook that she shared with us each evening. Her name is Jacqueline Newbold and you can see the paintings and sketches from this trip (as well as her other work) on her website www.newboldart.com and on her blog at www.djnewbold.blogspot.com

Learning how pumas ambush guanacos
Wildland co-leaders Kirsten & Bryan

Sammy, one of our Eco-Camp guides, points out cave paintings in the park
Playing with a condor feather

Examining a recent puma kill


Wildlife is more abundant at the lower elevations and numerous guanacos with their young chulengos, rheas, ibis, alpine geese, flamingos and foxes were spotted and photographed.  Within the first twelve hours in the park we had already seen more than two dozen Andean condors, several types of Carancha and black-chested buzzard eagles at close range as they squabbled over scraps.  The puma eluded us but a hike through one of their favorite hunting rounds was littered with the bleached bones of guanacos and one more recent kill, a sign that the pumas of Torres del Paine are alive and well. 

Hiking towards the French Valley


 Hikers who chose the more active option each day logged a total of 45 miles that included the steep trek to the base of Los Torres, a hike through the French Valley accompanied, at times, by 75 mile per hour winds and a final beautiful hike above aquamarine Lago Nordenskjold to Los Cuernos.  Here our fantastic guides Arrnan and Sammy took our ambitious group on a steep scramble not normally offered to hikers.  An hour of off-roading uphill along a very primitive trail used mostly by climbers led to a spectacular bolder-strewn meadow at the base of Los Cuernos with a view high over the lake.  We lazed in the sun, enjoyed a celebratory nip of whiskey and took turns trying to climb on a series of cracked boulders.  Oh, and there was a rainbow over the lake the entire time.  The icing on the cake (and real treat for our tired feet) was a surprise that the guides radioed in while we were on the trail.  Two pick-up trucks with a case of cold cerveza greeted our group at the end of the trail and instead of hiking the last mile back to the EcoCamp, we had a sunset tailgate party!

Upland Geese
Getting wrapped up during lunch time...

To finish this fabulous hike to the base of Los Cuernos!

Playing on the rocks in the sun


The wind is just incredible. In the French Valley you could actually see the strong gusts coming as a solid force across the lake, with the downward pressure creating erratic waterspouts before it entered the forest and nearly knocked you over.  On the scramble up to Los Cuernos (and part of the reason the hike is not regularly offered), infrequent bursts of 80 mph winds had us dropping to the ground and clutching rocks and roots for dear life! It’s all part of the adventure - now onward to Argentina for Perito Moreno Glacier and Cerro Fitz Roy!

Fiery sunrise on Los Torres

sunshine and great views on the last day!

Keeping it wild,

Kirsten Gardner
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