As I rolled out of Puerto Natales with Flavia close to a month ago, I was more than content to have experienced the park with her, enjoying its tranquility and presence on the Patagonian skyline from afar. After years of lacing up my running shoes, throwing some water and a few GU’s on my back, and doing two days worth of mileage in a long morning, the thought of hauling six days of food and having to say hola six thousand times was, well, not super enticing. I’ll come back and run it someday.
On the way down to Ushuaia a text from AC saying she needed a break from Boulder’s winter and wanted to come down for a visit put the "O" back on the table. A few more loose confirmations and Bus-Sur dropped her out into a rainy Puerto Natales night with a backpack light on food and heavy on new Surly Knards… After a day sourcing last minute things, we arrived at Campamento Las Torres, dropped our bags and headed up to the Laguna for the afternoon to watch the clouds do their thing around the granite spires.
The following morning, we muscled up and over the first hill of the Circuit out into the sublime lowlands forming the northern edge of the park. Silvery blue Paine River wandered through the valley with an occasional dark blue laguna cradled along its edge. Slipping easily between updates on families, shared friends, and new comings and goings in each of our lives made me grateful for our friendship over these years.
AC pranced along with her springy Boulder legs and negative-ounce Mountain House Freeze Dried meals. Even being immersed in jaw-dropping beauty couldn't calm my back from screaming at me to throw out everything except the almonds and HTFU. Operation Fat Pig starts now.
We fumed into Campamento Dickson under perfect light, stopping atop the ridge for a while to admire the little camping hamlet from afar before an elevator shaft descent down to the valley floor.
Welcome back to Patagonia AC...Breath it in.
After an easy day up to Campamento Los Perros to lounge about at the foot of the glacier in the sun and eat down some of my pack weight, we exited the forested sections the following morning and headed up and over Paso John Gardner.
Named after British mountaineer John Gardner, who established the Circuit trail in 1976 with two other Torres del Paine rangers, the Pass offered up spectacular views of Grey Glacier under perfect blue skies
in all directions as the glacier serpentined out of the mountains. From the glint in Esther's eye as she described their previous trek, I knew it was going to be good but standing atop Paso Gardner in near windless conditions was epic.
We spent the better part of the afternoon moving along its edge in awe, stopping to listen to its steady melt-off before another elevator shaft descent dropped us at Campamento Grey and onto the notorious "W" portion of the Circuit. Bro’s bro’ing each other across the field of tents and a cold beer on a leather couch in the refugio next to trekkers in their crisp post-trekking slacks led to thoughts of cutting out the last stretch of the Circuit and taking the more tranquil "Q" out of the park.
But after scoring a last minute reservation at Campamento Italiano, we decided to keep looping, as the bro'ing luckily seemed contained to the camps.
Even with all of the "W's" population issues, the entire massif is stunningly beautiful and definitely worthy a reprise with the opportunity to experience its entirety and hidden moments at a nice slow pace. Every day seemed to offer up a new breathtaking surprise as we crested hills and rounded corners.
And, we were fortunate to meet Miguel and Carlota from Portugal/Bristol. With Miguel leading the charge sporting the JC Penny mountain-man look, the matching trekking pole couple filled us with stories of their adventures WWOOF'ing, Portlandia knowledge, tent-eating horses, and soul-destroying tattoos. Many laughs were had over shared trail and mealtime.
One last look behind to Valle del Francés as the following morning served up blue skies and baking sun
while we eased through the last few miles of the Circuit along the edge of Lago Nordenskjöld and its glacial blue waters.
With Tolle at the forefront of a lot of conversations between AC and me and the trees, Torres del Paine offered up the perfect opportunity to strengthen the bonds of our friendship and begin resetting my mind as the next leg of the trip looms. Ushuaia opened up a deeper overthinking rut than I had expected and time on the trails lent a sense of calm. I’m not sure who wrote it originally, but there’s a great quote about overthinking: “Overthinking ruins friendships and relationships. Overthinking creates problems you never had. Don’t overthink, just overflow with good vibes.” There’s a rock on a cairn on the way up to Britanico full of good vibes.
With AC "sarging" the Circuit in five days, we had a few more days on hand to enjoy Puerto Natales. Initially crawling the walls to get up north since I've spent enough time here to be able to run for mayor, spending more time scratching the city's surface gave me a much deeper appreciation of its happy hippy vibe. Being a new regular at El Living reset my stomach with vegetables after a month of Esther and Finn's cookie-waving influences... And Emilia at Cafe and Books sketched us a map of local treks and sent us out to Laguna Sofia for a bit of solitude and not much activity beyond swimming and breathing in and breathing out.
Nights brought time on the steps of the local skatepark hanging out with aspiring Rodney Mullen's and those carrying on Dave Mirra's spirit.