Friday, January 23, 2009
“You are crazy. Let me say this with more gusto: C-R-A-Z-Y,” wrote my friend Cybele, and I agreed completely. The last time I set off on a multi-day journey into the wilderness I was gripped with fear and doubt, and Cybele confirmed that I had lost my mind by attempting New Zealand’s Milford Track. But having survived – dare I say, even enjoyed – the experience, I was ready to do it again. Now that’s what’s really C-R-A-Z-Y.
Tomorrow we set off for Torres del Paine National Park to hike the famed “W” circuit, so named for the shape of the trail, an anticipated highlight of our trip to South America. In fact, it’s what got us dreaming about visiting the continent nearly 10 years ago. I’ll never forget the dusty pink spires splashed across the front page of the Seattle Times’ travel section one Sunday, looking like some wind-swept no man’s land. They looked like the kind of mountains that Froddo struggled up on his way to Mordor. “Where’s that?” I asked Maikael. I couldn’t believe it when he responded, “South America,” a place I had always associated with steamy jungles and crushing heat. More than any place I had ever seen, it looked like the ends of the earth, and I found it impossible to believe that, not only could you visit those ragged peaks, but you could climb amongst them. We wanted to go there. Badly. As our bus idled at the Chilean border crossing yesterday, those same craggy spires looming in the distance, it was hard to believe we were finally here.
To prepare for our big adventure, our hostel, Erratic Rock, hosts a daily information session. Run by two guys from Oregon, Rustyn, one half of the duo, gave an engaging talk about the ins and outs of hiking the W, from how to get to the park to what to pack (and more importantly, what to leave at home). He often leads guided hikes into the parks for “richies,” people looking for comfortable, short stints into the wilderness. “But they’re tourists, not trekkers, and there’s a difference. They’ll walk an hour in, stop for a beer, give themselves a high five, and walk right back out.” I wanted to be a hiker.
In Patagonia, the wind is fierce. Rustyn reported gusts that can lift a grown man off the ground and deposit him in another location; holding on to one’s tent can quickly become akin to flying a kite. That’s how crazy the wind is. Still, despite the area’s notoriously intense weather, there is no special gear required. Rustyn is a proponent of adopting “the stink uniform,” consisting of one quick-dry top and pair of pants that will be our outfit for the next six days. At nights we get to change into comfy, dry pants, shirts, and socks. That’s it: no special Goretex or super dooper shoes. “Some Australians hike it in flip flops,” he assured us.
This experience will be different from hiking the Milford Track in many ways. While we’ll be out on the trail for six days, as opposed to Milford’s four, our accommodations will be deluxe in comparison. A series of refugios, which are souped up dorms, boast equipment rentals, full meal services, hot showers, and swanky bars. This was a major selling point for me, as we will have to pack very little into the park, making the load light and the walking all the easier. Hikers have an option to camp instead of staying at the refugios, the latter being a considerably more expensive option, but did I mention the hot showers and full meals? And we won’t be following the same path as we did on the Milford Track, meaning we probably won’t share the same sense of camaraderie with our fellow hikers. But did I mention the full bar?
I haven’t gotten cold feet. In fact, I’m a lot less nervous than when I started the Milford Track. Rustyn assured us that completing the W equals a lifetime of street cred in the hiking world. Even if we do enjoy a glass of wine every evening. And did I mention the hot showers?
We’ll be back to civilization the evening of January 29th!4 comments