Patagonia, Buses, and Tasty Sandwiches Part II

Written by Brian Burnham of Cirque Productions, Creators of TREK – A Journey on the Appalachian Trail

Another long bus ride ensues, we’re talking 30+ hours here. We catch a connection on a Micro en route to our destination, El Chalten. The advice of our mountaineer shop worker comes to mind as our bus climbs the pass, and the road becomes gradually more precarious. I decide to stare at the sky rather than the road, and take note of all the constellations that seem so foreign to me. I feel myself spinning an wonder if it’s a strange combination of Quilmes beer and the altitude, but a quick check of the faces around me confirm that our bus is actually spinning down the road. We land in a ditch and the driver swears. He gets out of his seat as though he has an agenda, so I guess this happens pretty regularly. He tosses some chains on the tires and we were off again.

We arrived at our destination without further incident, and were dropped off at the one open building in town which was the bus station/restaurant/supply store/hostel/local bar all in one. We quickly got our bearings and headed off to explore the backcountry within an hour of arrival. The wilderness was just as its reputation had promised. The trail had laid untouched for days, and recent fresh snow erased any sign of people. The infamous Patagonian spires of the Fitz Roy range loomed 3,000 vertical feet over us as we passed through their shadow into the Lago Torre valley. The intensity of the sun called for sunglasses every step of the way, but didn’t do much to raise the temperature over freezing. We had been warned in town about bitter cold evenings, and brutal snow storms, so we had come prepared.

Our campsite for the evening brought us to the edge of the solidly frozen Lago Torre with its surrounding blue glacier and granite peaks in the immediate vicinity. Sunset came at the usual time of around 5pm and the temperature plummeted far below its previous status of freezing. We warmed ourselves next to a small brush fire on the snow, and drank mint tea to help pass some evening time so we wouldn’t be sentenced to our sleeping bags for 15 straight dark cold hours. Our first little hike into the mountains whet our appetite for more exploration, so we consulted the guides to find what lay further into the green lake filled Patagonia region.

One could not visit Patagonia without heading to Torres Del Paine for at least one day. We had no thoughts of a stay that brief. Our Micro left the base town of Puerto Natales and embarked on the 3-hour journey over a potholed dirt road. The day was uncharacteristically clear and crisp, and afforded us views of the splendor the attracts so many people to Torres Del Paine. The Cero Torres spires also rise 3000 vertical feet, and when contrasted to the surrounding flat dessert tundra and reflective salt lakes, they are just that much more awe inspiring.