Chile: Base of the Towers (Las Torres)

In preparation for our trip to Torres del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia, I had obviously seen numerous incredible pictures of the Towers (Las Torres). I had also seen many awe-inspiring pictures from my parents’ hike to the base of the towers year earlier, so at some level I felt like I knew what to expect. Our drive into the park the day before greatly heightened our excitement to see the Torres up close as well. As we arrived at our hotel the evening before, the Towers shot up just past the Horns imploring us to visit (not that we needed any further motivation). Logically, I’d have to admit that the wonders of nature possess a wild, stoic indifference to our human sensibilities; however, nature’s simple ability to nurture the human imagination and adventurous spirit is undeniable. There are certain mountains and wonders of the world that seem far too implausible for the human imagination to create; perhaps too disproportionate to have been created by a God or Gods. Whether one lives with religious persuasion or religious evasion; the more one explores the universe the more one is challenged to expand the boundaries of our spiritual or earthly existences.

Before I step into the start our hike to the base of the towers, I wanted to make sure to provide this brief reflection on my time in Torres del Paine National Park. The trip stirred emotions and feelings that would be unjust for me to have glossed over in my account. My future entries will delve deeper into this, so I suppose jumping into the hike now is best.

Going into our trip, we did not have a set agenda regarding which days we would go on which hikes. The evening before we reviewed the weather forecast and weighed our options as we watched the perpetual ripples torrent anxiously across Lago Pehoe. The weather in Patagonia is notoriously unpredictable and can shift with a unique suddenness. My knowledge is inadequate to provide a proper meteorological explanation; however, Patagonia’s extreme southern location and exposure to harsh winds off the nearby oceans is a major factor to be certain. Several days later, we experienced the inimitably chilling winds of the Strait of Magellan. We visited at the beginning of southern hemisphere summer, but still the term ‘wind chill’ was given new definition. Back to the day before on our; the forecast promised very strong winds in the afternoon, but seeing the base of Las Torres was a huge priority and desire for our trip. The warmth and calm of our beautiful hotel and soothing spirit of our Pisco Sours made the decision easier as well (I will discuss Pisco in more detail later, but for now I will simply define it as a delicious South American brandy fermented from black grapes). Alas, we decided to start our hike early and go for it! We were rewarded handsomely for this decision at every turn as our day progressed.

Official sign
It is easy to quickly fall in love with Torres del Paine National Park.
The entirety of our hike provided awesome views of unique, new landscapes.
The first segment of the hike heads up the valley alongside Rio Ascenio, which you cross just before reaching Refugio El Chileno.
Crossing Rio Ascenio
Las Torres and Nido del Condor awaiting our ascent!
Next, a high quality trail weaves through a beautiful forested section.
A view of the Condor (the striated rock mass to the right) as we crossed the trees. Nido del Condor was a magnificent sight, so I wanted to point it out individually for a moment as it will shortly be completely upstaged by the towers.
As we transitioned from the trees to the rocky moraine, the Towers dramatically pierced the skyline.
The glacier moraine up to the base of the towers! My parents visited several years earlier and reported that the route used to be fairly underdeveloped or non-existent. Our trek up was far more straightforward as a substantial amount of work was done to create a gentler path up. The gentler path up was welcomed as we gawked upward at Las Torres instead of carefully on our footing!
One more great look at Cerro Nido de Cóndor before our focus gravitates to the Torres.
Almost there!
Being towered over…
Las Torres; just before gaining the high point of our hike.
One final push and the full majesty of the Towers would be on display.
Boom! We couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day as we enjoyed a peaceful, delicious lunch. Also, our brisk pace up (and early start) gave us the area almost entirely to ourselves for a time. I’m not sure that it would’ve been that crowded regardless, but we passed several other groups on the way back down.
Las Torres!
To give you a little perspective: The beautiful lake is at 860m (2,822ft) and the highest tower is 2,850m (9,350′)! The way the Torres rocket up is truly amazing and leaves one in utter awe. Also of note, the southern tower (the left-most) is actually the tallest.
The southern tower shoots up to 9,350 feet or 2,850 meters.
The central tower reaches 9,186ft (2,800m)
The northern tower is 8,530 feet above sea level (2,600m).
We turned our backs on Las Torres to take a quick photo. Most of our lunch was spent laughing and staring at the astonishing towers. The brilliant turquoise of the lake and bold blue of the sky completed the implausibility of the tableaux.
Las Torres
Torres del Paine translates to Blue Towers of the Sky. The word ‘Paine’ is not Spanish, but rather originates from the language of the Tehuelche people of Patagonia.
This picture may look similar to others I’ve already included, but trust me when I tell you that it was incredibly difficult for me to narrow down to select only a few. The weather was perfect and we took a massive number of pictures. With each look, the towers beauty only grew; too captivating not to attempt to freeze in time.
Before we head back down, I thought this cloud looked like a question mark. The sight of a question mark was all too fitting as gazing upon Torres del Paine generates an endless array of queries. Geological and elemental forces can explain the formations of the majesty on display, but scientific forces alone seem insufficient to properly elucidate.
As we descended the hill, the famous Patagonian winds drifted in. The branches of the trees in the area lean heavily in a single direction in response to the persistence of the mighty winds. While my introduction in this entry discussed the Patagonian winds, we enjoyed a truly beautiful day with relatively limited wind. However, the winds on the way back down were impressive!
Back down in Valle de Ascenio
A view of Lago Nordenskjöld on way back down. (Named after a Swedish geologist/explorer).
Back at Hotel Las Torres (the hike’s starting point). The peak in the background is Mount Almirante Nieto, which we hiked past as we entered Valle de Ascenio. The fact that I haven’t mentioned the beautiful mountain until now is a sign of how unforgettable the rest of the hike. Or, perhaps it is a simply a mark of my imprudence as a storyteller.
Better late than never…
My sister, me, Dad, Mom, and our guide Cristina enjoying a beer. We drank Austral Calafate Ale which is brewed in Punta Arenas. It is uniquely flavored beer that tastes reminiscent of blueberry. Calafate is a berry native to Patagonia; according to legend, eating calafate berries ensures that one will one day return to Patagonia. At the time, I was somewhat skeptical of the power of calafate, but I decided I better drink another calafate beer to do everything in power to ensure I can one day experience Patagonia again! (On a side note, I have since confirmed that the legend of the calafate berry is widespread and not just a folksy story told by our guide. I certainly hope to perpetuate the legend and return myself!)

**Stats on our hike for the day: 11.8 miles, 2,700ft of vertical or 19km, 820m of vertical for the metrically inclined.**

P.S. Here is a video of our hike to the base of the towers! This is footage taken with our GoPro. I initially made this video for my family (and myself), so it may be a little longer than ideal. It was simply too painful or untruthful for me to edit our footage any further. I believe the picture summary of the day pretty well told of our hike, but check it out if you’re interested in more! Also, if you want a glimpse of the Patagonian winds I mentioned; jump to about 17:30 in the video for a good look. You can see the extreme bend of the trees in response to the areas wind patterns. The curvature of the GoPro lens exaggerates this slightly, but the way the branches adapt to survive in the wind is pretty cool.

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