Day 1 (Looking Outward):
Via bus, then boat, we reached the starting line of our first hike. The palpable nervousness is never mentioned, but evident in tightened laughs and longer silences. Despite adequate preparation, tension lingers. Within the first twenty minutes of trekking, conversation naturally gives way to admiration of our surroundings. We walked through some regions recently impacted by forest fires, leaving behind black and white skeletons of trees. The sounds of nature amplify in the absence of conversation. The crunch of gravel under our boots, the whisper of streams crisscrossing the path, the relentless wind funneled through the valleys, and the occasional creak of the Lenga trees. All punctuated by the unending hum of rivers that fade in and out as we crest the hills. As we approached the main lookout that served as the midpoint to this section, we walked on a narrow ridge. A jagged mountain face reaches into the clouds on our right while icebergs drift in the wide lake to our left. Once we then stepped onto the ridge marked as the “Mirador de Lago Grey”, a ferocious wind introduced a stunning view of earths most powerful terraforming tool, a glacier. Visibly stretching tens of kilometers long, kilometers wide, and many meters above the water; it’s awesome to remember the larger portion is still obscured beneath the surface. As the campground came into view, we collectively released the breath we didn’t realize we were holding. We fell asleep under wonderful stars with day one under our belts.
Day 2 (Looking Inward):
We were to retrace our steps of the day before, to complete the first arm of the “W” shaped hike. Despite crossing the same landscapes as the day before, my attention was still torn between the beauty of the sights and a desire not to trip on the terrain. Personally, the hours seemed to glide by on the second passing, leaving space for contemplation. The serenity of the trail began to blend together my thoughts in a meditative way only to have my reverie disturbed at each break to a focus on snacks, water, and small conversation. When we reached the lookout on the second day, the weather was clearer, and a significant portion of the glacier was newly revealed, only adding to the sense of awe. However, it does make me wonder what other experiences we will miss simply by chance or circumstance. In contrast to the glacier’s power, the charred regions of the forest reminded us of its fragility. It was blackened proof that something as small as a cigarette butt could have lasting and widespread effect. A young tree growing in the middle of the path restored hope that if we continue to respect it, the forest will show its resilience and return. We continued with the glacial winds at our back and found a rhythm missing from the first day. At the end of day 2, the same grassy region that served as a tense beginning yesterday now existed as a serene reward at the end of today. I felt a pang of disappointment to see the campground appear. The simplicity of trail life is seductive; the only worry is putting one foot in front of the other. Humans evolved to simply walk after all.
Day 3 (Effort):
Our first of two big days, the plan was to travel a total of 23.1 kilometers with a push to the middle point of the W before turning around and making it partially around the second bend for camp. We set off as soon as the trail opened with the knowledge that we needed to push the pace of the previous two days to complete our goal. Even with a rough regimented schedule, it slowly became clear that we would not make it to the top as a single group. The group chose to splinter in accordance to how fast we were willing to move. Everybody reached Campamiento Italiano, 12 people made it to Mirador Francés, and 7 reached the final Mirador Britannica. The front group had to sprint-walk the final hour to stay on schedule. All our calves were burning and chests heaving, but the feeling when we cleared the final scramble of rocks was transcendent. To keep on schedule, the celebration at the top was brief, but the photos and sense of triumph will last. On the way back we were able to take it slower and enjoy knowing we were back on pace. Despite later agreement that Mirador Francés is the better view, I am deeply satisfied that a majority of us completed the original plan. We squeezed our way between the two mountains that the whole route flanked. Seeing every angle revealed just how gargantuan they were. The glacial-formed valley we walked through was littered with views to admire and places to stop and smell the roses. By the end, the combined physical exhaustion and the mental stress of splitting into groups ended up damaging the group’s collective rhythm. However, after a filling dinner and a delicious desert, a gentleman walked out with a pan flute, a guitar, and a 12 string ukulele-esque instrument. He performed 4 songs. An enchanting melody with the pan flute’s magical sound, an irregular-tempo piercing tune with the 12-string, a traditional Andes dancing groove highlighted by his energetic vocals, and a soulful encore with a guitar-backed flute melody. Personally, those goosebumps I felt at his passionate performance melted my tension and allowed me to sleep easy that night.
Day 4 (Recuperation):
The start of the day was hard, in the same way that restarting an engine is hard. All the fanfare leading up to and including the first 30 min took willpower and strength. But after the first jumpstart, we fell back into rhythm on the trail. The knowledge that it would be our last trek with our large bags and the boujeeist basecamp fueled us forward. In transit, I found myself relaxing back into the meditative space where your thoughts have a weird way of blending together next to the steady pace of footsteps. While most are banal, occasionally a bit of gold will rise to the top with a clarity I can’t remember finding in daily life. Despite our primary goal of the day being to reach the base of the titular Torres hike, something about walking through those open fields on the rolling hills made a deep impression. Before this semester I did not consider myself a backpacker or a camper and I’m not sure I am now, but all this has left a mark. We aren’t even finished yet, but I can sense the mark. Maybe it’s evolution, maybe I’m being dramatic, or maybe those crazy dirtbags are on to something, but regardless I felt my soul on that trail. I’m sure a cheesy quote about journeys and destinations could tie it all together into a great life lesson, but I’m content to leave it at that. We reached camp 45 minutes early.
Day 5 (Closure):
We arose quite early to ensure a relaxing final hike day. Fortunately, we were able to take only essentials in a day bag, forgoing the weight of tents, clothes, and sleeping gear. Our sore legs and weathered shoulders still groaned, but two hours before the sun rose, we set out. With the stars slowly fading, the sun lit up the valley to our right, leaving the stream sparkling with color. Even with copious breaks, our rebuilt momentum carried us straight uphill ahead of pace. Cruising straight to the final kilometer, we reached the final challenge. Not steepest, rockiest terrain, nor harshest, coldest wind, nor biting sleet could shake our resolve. All of those came to pass, but we hardly noticed. A strange thing it is to see your efforts come to full fruition. After what could’ve been a minute or an hour, we reached the final destination and promptly sat down for lunch. The lake at the end was cold and windy, but d*mn if it wasn’t the most beautiful spot in the world to our tired eyes. The three Torres were tipped with clouds and the wind whipped up enough to form fleeting rainbows in the mist. Full fruition never tasted better. The way back down felt too short and I was surprised to feel regret at not having another hike. With memories and photos, we shuttled to our bus and crossed the finish line to this chapter of our adventure.