“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity” – John Muir
The title says it all. I was fortunate enough to spend a month down in Chilean and Argentinean Patagonia, making new friends and seeing some of the most stunning and wild nature I have ever witnessed in my life. It was a beautiful, exhausting, invigorating time. Over the course of my travels, I found myself in Punta Arenas, Puerto Natales, El Calafate, El Chaltén, and Ushuaia, though I spent much of my time away from the towns and cities in the awe-inspiring wilderness. Here is a map to help you understand the scale of Patagonia:
And here are some pictures! My first big adventure was spending a few days hiking the ‘W’ trek in Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park with a group through REI Eco Camp. Torres del Paine is a breathtaking corner of this world. The sunsets look like this:
The sunrises look like this:
This little domed abode was my home for a few nights. I want to live here.
And the night skies look like this:
Over three days, we hiked ~60 kilometers of the ‘W’ trek.
That’s me in the back! I love that hat..
New friends are wonderful! Can you tell this is at the beginning of the first day?
At a lookout point in the French Valley. Huge chunks of ice occasionally fell from the surrounding mountains, looking like distant waterfalls.
I found sublime beauty everywhere I turned.
Those are the Cuernos del Paine in the background. All this nature was so neat it made my heart swell with joy.
Guanacos in their natural habitat! They are adorable (and also rather delicious in a spin on pastel de choclo, a Chilean staple!)
Getting close to Glacier Grey.
Getting very close to Glacier Grey.
We even had pisco sours–with glacier ice! A crewman-turned-bartender chipped off some ice from a passing ice floe and plunked a piece in each of our drinks.
It’s just too bad my surroundings were so uninspiring.
After an arduous trek on the third day, I stumbled (literally) upon these iconic granite massifs. The leftmost one, Torre Sur, is 8,200 feet tall.
It was difficult to believe this view was real. Do yourself a favor and go here sometime during your lifetime.
There are times in life you just have to be still and ponder what it means to be alive.
Next, I caught a bus to El Calafate, Argentina.
Sometimes I search the great beyond.
And sometimes I search within.
This is the enormous Perito Moreno Glacier (note the people in the lower left corner for scale.) It was truly stunning to behold, but I wasn’t content to just look at it…
…So I walked on it! (Almost didn’t clear this yawning chasm.) I even drank glacier water and it was the most refreshing water I have ever tasted (other than the living water of Jesus)
Yet again, I jumped because I was happy. I have a problem, I know.
My next stop was El Chaltén, Argentina. It is a tiny mountain village hundreds of kilometers from any other town. It may not have a natural gas connection, water connection, or central power supply, but it does have some of the best hiking in Patagonia! It is nestled among majestic mountains, rushing rivers and waterfalls, and enchanting forests.
This is how El Chaltén greeted me the night I arrived. Due to clouds, snow, heavy rain, and fierce winds, I would not see that peak – Mount Fitz Roy – for the next five days.
Sunrises and silhouettes.
The view along the Lago Torre trail.
It took me many hours to reach this spot. The rain and wind were severe, not to mention the snow. Fitz Roy was hiding! In all, I hiked 24 km this day.
This lovely waterfall was just a short walk from town.
On the sixth day after I last saw this jagged peak, I was given the gift of this alpenglow sunrise.
Then, I took a 24 hour bus ride south to Ushuaia, the “southernmost city in the world.” The voyage crisscrossed the Argentinean and Chilean borders, and the scenery outside the bus window was varied yet consistently mesmerizing.
Here is an example of said scenery.
Our bus even got help from a ferry.
Once in Ushuaia, I took a boat tour on the Beagle Channel, so named when the HMS Beagle passed through, carrying a young Charles Darwin.
So many sea lions! They’ve really mastered the art of lounging.
Ok, now that’s adorable.
Seagulls guarding the Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse.
Cormorants gliding through the blue.
I even got to explore one of the largest islands, which was home to a diverse array of flora and fauna.
No idea what this sign says..
Father Alberto María de Agostini (1883-1960) was the first person to summit this peak in 1912. He is widely considered one of, if not the, most important explorers of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego.
After a couple days in Ushuaia, I took another long bus ride north to Puerto Natales, Chile, to end my adventure where it began. I spent four days aboard this Navimag Ferry, taking in more than 2000 kilometers of fjords, channels, mountains, forests, volcanoes, wildlife, sunsets, and open ocean.
(photo credit: Navimag Ferries)
The red line was our route from Puerto Natales up to Puerto Montt.
On the first day, our captain fearlessly guided us through Angostura White, the narrowest pass of the voyage at only 80 meters wide.
It was quite an edenic journey.
For days, views like this were all around me.
Even when the weather seemed bad, there was beauty to be found.
Friends are fun. There was a light, temperate breeze this day.
The little statue of the Virgin Mary protects sailors as they venture into the frigid waters of Patagonia.
I suppose that statue must have been placed there after this shipwreck. Its hull is riddled with bullet holes from years of Chilean Navy target practice.
When it was too cold to stay outside, cards were a popular activity! This is the face I make when I think I am about to win.
We spent half a day and a night on the open ocean, where the swells reached 4-5 meters in height!
There was even a moment at dinner when a rogue wave caused everyone’s trays to slide across the tables. Most were caught before they crashed to the floor.
I even (sort of) saw my first whale in the wild! See the little puff of water from a whale’s blowhole just below the horizon? See it??
I’ve seen thousands of sunsets in my life, but they never get old.
After four days, it was almost time to trade my sea legs in for dry land!
What an indelible experience. One month, six hostels, 100 kilometers hiked, one glacier walked on, 2500 pictures taken, 2000 kilometers ferried, and a few new friends later, I finally made it back home to Valparaíso. I will cherish the memories I made in Patagonia for the rest of my life. One of those memories is of lying on the ground in Torres del Paine National Park at 1:00 am, staring up at the endless chandeliers of stars; at our swirling, gauzy Milky Way galaxy; at the occasional shooting star slicing through the dark. As I lay there, the ethereal song “Dauðalogn” by Sigur Rós swelling in my ears, eyes wide open, I realized I didn’t have to come to the end of the world for an experience. We are all here, on this planet, ferrying hearts and brains and memories and dreams, breathing.
That is an adventure all unto itself.
– Ben Groner III