Going Places: Torres del Paine (continued)

May 5, 2004
Outside Magazine
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Bill Holmes is currently touring South America by bicycle with his wife, Nancy Holmes. Read their dispatches in the Andean Adventure.
Torres del Paine
Soaring towers of granite beckon
climbers from around the world

Few people
besides climbers
ever visit the valley.

Glaciers creep forward with
an air-splitting rumble

The park casts a spell stronger than worldly concerns.

Most visitors will not want to miss the Valle del Ascencio, home of the soaring granite towers for which the park is named. The demanding walk up to the mirador (viewpoint) can be done in a day with the comforting thought of returning to plush accommodations in the Hosteria las Torres.

Determined hikers can carry their tents all the way to Campamento Torres and listen to stories from beleaguered alpinists from around the world who no doubt have been waiting weeks in the rain for a chance to climb.

If you've got the time, it's well worth the effort to take a day hike from Campamento Chileno past Campamento Japones and into the Valle del Silencio. Few people besides climbers ever visit the valley.

Another treat is to take the boat across Lago Pehoe to the refugio. Along the way you will pass the Cuernos del Paine's sharply faceted towers capped in elegant black. From the refugio, you can make a return trip into the Valle del Frances, where you are enveloped by sheer cliffs reaching into the sky.

And if you are down this far south, you've just got to see an iceberg, right? Glacier Grey is your chance. Boat trips depart from the Hosteria Lago Grey and carry you through a maze of iridescent blue ice to the very edge of the Patagonian icecap. Here the air is split by the thundering rumbles of the glacier's imperceptible advance.

No true enthusiast, however, will want to leave the park without savoring its regal offering: the circuito. This week-long trek circumambulates the park's central massive and offers the visitor a chance to truly become familiar with the park's character — for better or worse. Along the circuit trail you will pass tranquil meadows with wandering brooks, dense alpine forests, and brilliant white glaciers spilling down from sheer granite monoliths. And, almost certainly, you will be rained on — here's a chance to test that tent and new raingear.

Regardless of your inclination, Torres del Paine is sure to reward the efforts you've taken to get here. The park casts a spell stronger than worldly concerns. Transfixed outside time, no longer will you worry about that house payment, that unfinished project, those complaining muscles. The impossible landscape stretches an eternity before your eyes and your mind floats above it all. And that's what coming to the End of the World is all about, isn't it?

©2000, Mariah Media Inc.

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