Guest Blogger Kate Dernocoeur
“Patagonia”: my love for the word came long before the outdoor-wear company by that name was founded. Patagonia is not a country, but a region at the tip of South America that includes terrain in both Chile and Argentina. It spans the continent from the southern Atlantic across the Straits of Magellan (claimed by Chile in 1843) to the Pacific. It delves hundreds of miles inland across the beautiful flatness of the pampas (grassland), over immense glacial lakes and up the spine of the Andes. It hosts the world’s largest non-polar ice cap.
Years of wishing to see Patagonia firsthand evolved into reality for two weeks in 2010, when I journeyed there with my hiking/adventure buddy, Margaret Cheff.
We started in the port city of Punta Arenas, Chile. There, our group of six met our Patagonian-born guide T.C. Bahamondez. With T.C. and the other in-country staff from Mountain Travel Sobek, we visited both Torres del Paine (pronounced “Pine-ee”) National Park in Chile and Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina.
On the drive from the coast, we were surprised by the subtle ascension of the Andes over the horizon; one minute, you’re on level, seemingly endless pampas. The next, breath-taking spires and towers and granite and snow and glaciers are just…there, modestly at first, then with ever-increasing drama.
At Torres del Paine, we completed the celebrated “W Hike” up three beech-filled valleys to high ground in search of the world-famous views. Unfortunately, an atypical midsummer snowstorm blocked the Ascension Valley’s view of the three sheer granite towers. Our French Valley hike started well, but weather blocked the best views that day, too. On the third spoke of the “W” we hiked long and hard to the base of Grey Glacier, where lucky weather permitted the ferryboat to arrive and take us past glorious views of the four peaks of Paine.
Our first day in Argentina was spent viewing (and hiking in crampons!) on Perito Moreno Glacier. Then it was on to the town of El Chaltén. During the drive, the Andes again rose spectacularly from the pampas. Then we had three days hiking beneath the striking towers and needles of the Fitzroy massif. The highest tower (3375 meters or 11,073 feet), El Chaltén—meaning “the Smokey One”—has its own microclimate that often leaves it wreathed in clouds—but we saw it!
Wildlife sightings were exotic: many guanaco (in the llama family) with babies, choique (like ostriches), Magellanic woodpeckers, and many impressively large Andean condors.
The weather was typical: windy! Wind, I noted in my journal, “is an interesting character in this scenario…you know it’s windy when there are big ripples on little puddles.” Even for a tent-addict like me, this made it worthwhile to sleep in refugios (trailhouses) and hotels. The rigor came with the walking. In our eleven days, we hiked 48 miles in Chile and 42 in Argentina. Nonetheless, we gained weight, thanks to the amazing hospitality and excellent wines and beers of the region—but that’s an entirely additional story!
Kate is an avid traveler who uncharacteristically finds herself at the moment without reservations to anywhere—at least not yet.
Enjoy her previous DesignDestinations post about her trip to Nicaragua.