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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Trekking in Torres Del Paine

    Everyone knows about Rocky Point as a spring break destination. Cabo, as well. But for a real spring break adventure, you have to head south – way south.

    I, along with six other UA students studying abroad at the Universidad de ViÇña del Mar in Chile this semester, decided to forgo beaches and beer for backpacks and bunk beds.

    We ventured a little bit off the beaten path, spending six days at the end of the world in southern Patagonia.

    We started our journey Sept. 17, catching a flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, the southernmost city on the continent.

    Punta Arenas is situated on the Strait of Magellan and is the jumping-off point for most people headed to Antarctica, Tierra del Fuego and our destination, Torres del Paine National Park.

    After spending the night in Punta Arenas, we took a three-hour bus ride to Puerto Natales, the closest town to Torres del Paine, to deposit our luggage at a hostel and plan our excursions into the park.

    Torres del Paine is world-renowned for its beauty and is a popular destination for hikers, bikers and kayakers alike.

    Designated a World Biosphere Reserve by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1978, the park is best known for the Paine Massif, and especially the Paine Towers.

    Rising dramatically from the surrounding flat lands, the Paine Massif is breathtaking for sure, but the Towers are without a doubt the icon of the park.

    They are featured on nearly all Chilean postcards and calendars and are what primarily attracted us to the park. The granite towers reach a height of around 8,000 feet, and are so exotically shaped that it is hard to believe they were crafted by nature.

    The most popular hikes in the park, the “”W”” and the “”Circuit,”” take five days and nine days, respectively, to complete.

    Since my companions and I didn’t have anywhere near that kind of time, we opted for a one-day hike directly to the Towers.

    We awoke at 6 a.m. for a quick breakfast and then piled into a van for the two-hour drive into the park.

    The hike started at the Hosteria Las Torres. Our journey was mainly flat for the first thirty minutes or so but then the trail started to slope up the mountain.

    Because we were in Patagonia in late winter – most people don’t come until December or January, when it’s warmer – we were dressed like we were climbing Mount Everest.

    But as soon as we started hiking, the layers came flying off. First came the jackets. Ten minutes later, the sweatshirts. Then the thermals. Less than an hour into the hike I was hiking in just a T-shirt. Not exactly the outfit I was expecting to hike up to a snow-capped peak in.

    Our guide set a pretty fast pace and we soon found out he was on the verge of becoming a professional mountain climber before he tore his pectoral saving a friend from falling to his death two years ago.

    After an hour of climbing, we turned a corner and began our descent into Ascension Valley. After a quick water break next to the river, we set off through the forest, weaving our way through trees and across streams.

    The fresh, clean stream water originated from the snow-capped mountains above. It was so amazing that people in our group were replacing their store-bought bottled water with the stream water.

    During one of these stream binges, our guide informed us that the guy who did Sylvester Stallone’s climbing stunts in “”Cliffhanger”” had been at the park a few years earlier to climb the towers. With that interesting piece of trivia in mind, we gathered our amazing mountain water and continued up the trail.

    Eventually we cleared the forest and came to the base of an enormous hill of boulders that stood between the summit and us. We started climbing and literally were on all fours at times, scrambling up rocks and trying not to look down. It was hard work but all worth it once we reached the top.

    The trail ended at the base of the Towers, and the view was unlike anything I have ever seen in my life. Rising majestically above a frozen lake, the Towers were so mesmerizing it was literally impossible not to stare in awe for several minutes.

    The Towers of Paine resemble three mammoth tombstones, and at a height of around 3,000 feet, they are the highest natural sheer drops in the world, according to www.onedayhikes.com.

    Eventually we managed to look away long enough to feast on a lunch of ham and crackers. After staring at the Towers for about an hour or so, we put our packs back on and headed back down the boulder mountain.

    Eventually we all made it back to the van, exhausted and ready for a beer, but thrilled at having just hiked one of the most beautiful day hikes in the world.

    It took us about seven hours to complete the nine-mile hike – good time according to our guide. We rose more than 2,460 feet in elevation over the course of the journey, and, believe me, everyone felt it the next day.

    The next few days were spent meandering around the park, taking a boat trip to see the Grey Glacier, visiting the Cave of the Milodon and scoping out an amazing waterfall.

    I was disappointed we didn’t have time to go kayaking or mountain biking, but the hike alone was enough to make it an amazing trip.

    Spring break 2007 in Torres del Paine was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

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