Onward to the West! We headed up I-90 and drove through Deadwood just to see it on our way to Devil’s Tower. We spent the night at the KOA just outside the park where they had filmed the movie Close Encounter of the Third Kind! The next morning we hiked the big loop around the tower. It was pretty amazing and we both said we wanted to come back and climb it one day. There were a lot of climbers spread across the tower making their ascents on the 867-foot geologic wonder.
Sioux Falls, Mitchell, Hill City, Custer, Keystone, Wall Drug, Badlands NP
Leaving Lake Itasca State Park, we struck out Southwest to South Dakota. There are plenty more places we’d like to visit in Minnesota, but because of its proximity to IL, we plan to come back sometime in the future on a week or weekend trip. First stop in the Dakotas was Sioux Falls, SD. Had to check out the town’s main attraction and namesake – Sioux Falls! It’s an iconic and sizable waterfall around which the city has created a park, and is doubly cool because it’s surrounded by rock formations that are fun for climbing! We enjoyed doing some rock scrambling and jumping around to get various perspectives of the falls. Also: The visitor center has a five-story viewing tower we climbed to get a wider, bird’s eye perspective!
I spent the afternoon at a picnic bench near the falls doing some work on my laptop and just enjoying the sight and sounds of the pounding water. It is wonderful to be able to make your workspace wherever in the world you want it to be. In the shade of the conifers next to Sioux Falls in South Dakota was my “office for the day.” I feel very thankful to be able to do this, and know it may not last forever so I plan to take in each moment of that career freedom whenever I can. The very earliest thing I can remember wanting in life is just to be outside – come sun, come rain, come snow.
Had a great experience and connection point at our brewery choice for the evening in downtown Sioux Falls. The name was WoodGrain Brewing, and if you’re in the area – HIGHLY recommend. It was a slow night, so the head brewer Steve came out and joined us to talk craft beer and offer some samples. He was awesome! And their Peanut Butter Werewolf is THE BEST peanut butter beer David and I have ever had…which is saying something cuz we’ve had a lot. We asked how he got it to be so much more thick and flavorful, and he told us that he actually brewed it with real peanut butter instead of peanut butter powder like every other brewery uses. Because of the natural oils that exist in peanut butter, he said the cleaning process after making the beer is 3x times as long and a pain in the butt. Buuuuut clearly WORTH IT for the superior product with a hilarious name aka PB Werewolf. Anyways, good conversation with brewer and bartender, an awesome couple of flights, and Steve going in the back to surprise us with 2 free bombers made for a solid end to our first evening in South Dakota.
Stopped in Mitchell, SD on our way west to see “The World’s Only Corn Palace,” a giant building covered in Western-themed images made entirely out of ears of corn. It’s only on the outside though, as I don’t think corn ears would hold up well structurally. A pretty cool idea to represent for midwestern corn country! I loved how they creatively incorporated the natural darker and lighter kinds of maize/corns into the images for shading and depth.
Since we knew John & Ann (David’s parents) were in Custer, we decided to drive across the state and surprise them for John’s birthday! David talked to them on the phone and got the name of the KOA they were staying at so we booked a few nights at the campsite next door. We asked where they were at the office and snuck right up on them while they were grilling hamburgers! They were very surprised. Mission accomplished.
The next morning we were up before dawn for the annual Buffalo Roundup that happens inside of Custer State Park. 20,000 people were expected to attend to see the 1,500 buffalo that would be stampeding on by into the corrals. We were in a long line to get to the huge “parking lot” and walk down with our chairs to find a spot in the crowd. They even had a huge pancake breakfast for everyone and we made it just in time before they stopped serving.
The roundup itself was really cool! Don’t often get to see that amount of buffalo altogether, nor as close up as we got to be, and there were a bunch of cowboys and cowgirls at the back end herding them along while on horseback. It did seem to be less bison than we had been told to expect, but I think that was because of too much hype/unrealistic expectations, or maybe covid had something to do with it…I’m not sure how, but I’m throwing it out there because it seems to affect everything else. Still – very glad we got to be there and watch the running buffalo and their calves!
Enjoyed an afternoon birthday lunch at Mt. Rushmore Brewing and then took a scenic drive up the Needles Highway. Beautiful! Those Cathedral Spires are a sight to behold. Tall, narrow, and reaching high in the sky so you sometimes have to crane your neck to see the tops! Passed through the Needle’s Eye Tunnel at the top, a thrilling and long granite tunnel barely wide enough for a single car to pass through at a time…so you just hope someone isn’t coming through the opposite direction.
On the other side, climbed around on some more granite spires and saw the “Needle’s Eye” namesake formation. It really does look like a giant eye of a sewing needle!
The next day, the four of us spent the day walking the town and shopping in Keystone and Hill City, two more small, historic towns in the Black Hills. Lunched at the Ruby House, an old saloon decked out in Western garb and decor – felt like a step back in time. Also played a sunset game of mini-golf in Keystone, which ended up just being more hilarity because the course was NOT well maintained, very steep since it was on the side of a mountain, and sometimes almost impossible to actually get the ball in the hole when you were a foot away! Had us laughing at our ridiculously high scores later. After golf, we hunted down this brewery/winery that we had wanted to visit called Firehouse.
Always nice to spend a few days mid-traveling with family! Glad we got make some fun memories together for my father-in-law’s birthday weekend.
We left them and headed back east to check out the famous Wall Drug store and Badlands National Park! Wall Drug started out as just a tiny drug store in 1931 and has grown into a ~76,000 square foot tourist attraction with everything you can think of: Souvenir shops, Western shops, bookstores, full restaurant, an indoor “Cowboy Alley” that is essentially a mall, a museum with local historical photos, backyard for kids to play in, a giant animatronic T-Rex, and more. It is a must-stop with 5 cent coffee and one of the best breakfasts we have ever had – the flapjacks are out of this world! Ice cream and free ice water are among a lot of things they advertise on their TONS of billboards you will see driving down I-90.
And just South of Wall, SD…the BADLANDS! We’ve wanted to visit Badlands National Park for quite a few years now, and finally had the opportunity to spend a few days there. It was magical.
Heading west from Apostle Islands we stopped in Duluth, MN for a day. They have a lakeshore walk and a stunning rose garden situated high up on the cliff overlooking lake Superior. SO many different colors and shapes of roses! Since we were there on a Saturday, a wedding was taking place in the garden and we just happened to be there at the opportune moment and witnessed the ‘first look’ of the bride & groom!
We knew of larger brewery in Duluth called Bent Paddle that makes some quality brews and *of course* had to check it out. Due to covid, people were only allowed to stay for 90 minutes. We hung out their for our full time allotment and then headed down the street to Fitger’s Brewhouse for dinner. This place was in an old downtown building right on the lake where they share a hallway with a sort of indoor mall with shops. Like a lot of brewpubs, the food was fantastic and most of the beer was decent with a few beers having some prominent off-flavors. And our server was really nice and wanted to hear all about our travels and where we still planned to go! People seem very excited to listen to our story, and many express sentiment that they wish their situation would allow them do the same.
The next day we drove over to Lake Itasca State Park, which happens to be the headwaters of the Mighty Mississippi! They have a lot of backpacking campsites in the park so we booked a site online. When we got there, none of the workers could understand why someone with an RV would want to backpack and tent camp instead of staying at the RV campsites. It was hilarious to us but we think we got in free because none of them knew where to direct us? Not sure but the park was beautiful and in full display of Midwestern fall colors!
After about a 4.5 mile hike to our site for the night, we were pleasantly surprised to find that our campsite was a private site on a lake and we even had our own toilet! Complete with a log bench and a fire pit.
The last place we visited was the famous headwaters spot where the river actually begins flowing off of Lake Itasca. It was fun to walk across the rocks that had been placed there a long time ago for people to experience walking across the origin point…and to imagine how much bigger it grows as it flows state to state!
The Apostle Islands National Shoreline is a group of 21 islands of the coast of Wisconsin in Lake Superior. They are known for their beautiful, forested shorelines and especially for the sea caves! We stayed 3 nights here and explored the area. This hike south of Bayfield is called Houghton Falls Trail.
The only brewery in the area was South Shore Brewing so we checked it out – apparently the building used to be a bowling alley! The owner was our bartender and told us all about the history of the brewery. His beers were not too bad and there were a few we really liked.
The highlight was definitely our sea kayaking tour around Sand Island where we got to kayak all over and throughout the sea caves on the islands coast! There were some points where we were so far under the island that it was pitch black and we almost hit our heads a few times. So cool!
The next day we hiked along the northern shoreline of Wisconsin on the Bayfield peninsula – the peninsula sits just South of the Apostle Islands. Due to the nature of the weathering here, the caves are even BIGGER than the ones we’d kayaked through the day before! It was too late in the season for kayak rentals in this area so we will just have to go back later to explore those bad boys from the water (anybody care to join?). The hike along the cliff’s edge above the caves was awesome in itself, though. We think these pictures speak for themselves.
Galena, IL ~ Potosi, WI ~ Decorah, IA ~ Eau Claire, WI ~ Chippewa Falls, WI
For the next few days we stayed in Galena, Illinois where we were married 3 years ago. We had dinner in the DeSoto House Hotel where we all stayed that weekend. There are a lot of little shops and restaurants downtown to visit and we had a great time.
Next we drove up to Potosi, WI to visit Potosi Brewing Company and the National Beer Museum. This was a treat because not only is this place been here a long time, but their beer was great and the museum was really cool. They have used a natural spring for their brewing water since 1852!
David has always wanted to visit Toppling Goliath Brewing Company in Decorah, Iowa so we took a small detour west. We had their beers at our wedding and they are tasty!
There was a small park called Pulpit Rock near our campsite that overlooked the river, so we explored!
Now we were back on our way north through Wisconsin. Spent a night in Eau Claire to visit Leinenkugels Brewing Company and the Leinie Lodge. It just reminded us of college days long past. We took the tour, although we couldn’t go into any of the buildings except the Lodge because of Covid.
Our first stop after leaving Batavia was Madison, Wisconsin. Gabrielle used to live here so it was sad how many places we used to go to were closed and/or boarded up because of the protests and Covid. We did hit a lot of familiar spots and a few breweries we had always wanted to visit.
We also got to visit Aunt Chintz, Uncle Mike & their family who live nearby.
Finally got to go to Brunkow’s Dairy Farm in Darlington, WI which is our all time favorite dairy. Gabrielle was pumped! She used to get their cheese at the Madison farmer’s market when she lived here.
Our last day in the park was our sunrise hike to the iconic Towers. We awoke at 3:30 am to make it to the top before sunrise. In the dining hall of the campsite we found some other groups getting coffee before turning their headlamps on and trekking up the mountain. My headlamp unfortunately was dead so I had to use our solar blowup camping lantern tied to my chest. In my mind I was sure I looked like Iron Man. It was completely black when we started. We could only see small bouncing lights in front of us as we passed some groups on the way up. At one point we had a guy behind us and we think he was scared to go in front of us because every time we stopped, he would stop and wait for us to continue going first – weird though that he never spoke a word. Maybe he was a ghost.
After about 45 min we had made it above the tree line and were now facing a long stretch of boulder scrambles in the pre-dawn darkness. We were following this French couple that seemed to know where they were going. We could see other people’s headlamps way up the mountain from us, so we all just kept climbing up, hoping we were on the actual trail. It was just starting to become a little lighter when we finally found the trail again. Now we were only a short way from the Towers. You have to just keep looking for the randomly placed trail markers until you ascend to the see them off in the distance looming over you. You round the corner to take your first look at this pristine mountain lake that sits at the base of the Towers. People were already spread around just waiting and hoping for the clouds to clear and the sunrise to hit the tops of the towers any minute now.
Unfortunately for all of us there that morning, the clouds lingered. So we found a spot and met some other Americans as we waited. The local fox was about, probably on his usual daily routine of begging for food and searching for crumbs. He came and went sniffing around and you could tell that he was pretty used to people.
At a certain point, you could tell the sun had already come up behind us but it was being blocked by clouds to the east. The chatter amongst the crowd was growing as people were getting impatient and started climbing some of the rocks on the lake to take pictures. It was excitement met with disappointment knowing you had to go because you still had a lot of hiking ahead of you and you weren’t going to be able to see the Towers. They never did fully come out but these were some of my best shots:
Staying as long as we could, the sun did peek through a couple of times. Even though we didn’t get to see the full towers it their entirety, it is still amazing and awe-inspiring to be in the presence of these granite towers on the top of a mountain. And of course…it was just another reason to come back here someday!
At some point on the trail going back down the mountain, because it was now light out, we were able to see how utterly OFF TRAIL we had been when we going over the steep rock scramble. The actual trail was much easier and made way more sense. We were cracking up looking over at this giant boulders we had been scaling for no reason.
Below on the left is a picture looking down what we had climbed up – the trail curves off to the right through the tree line, as you can see in the picture on the bottom right. But just went STRAIGHT up in the dark, just seeing that people’s headlamps were way up top so we figure it was the way to go. I’m sure we weren’t the first people to make this mistake in the dark.
We made it back to Chileno campsite a little before the lunch hour and we still had to take down our tent and hike back down to the welcome center. One of the campsite workers came over to our tent as we were packing up telling us we needed to leave so others could have our spot. She was nice about it and we packed up pretty quick. Now we could just chill for a bit at the tables outside the dining hall for lunch. We could see the towers somewhat from the campsite and it looked a little cloudy still. Saying goodbye after lunch, we set off back down the windy pass.
This day was especially tiring because we essentially did TWO difficult hikes in one. From Chileno campsite, up to the Towers and back, was 7 miles. That’s a full day in itself, not to mention one of the steeper parts of the O circuit! But we also got to do that part with very light packs, as we had left our whole campsite still pitched down in the valley. Post-lunch, we had to strap on the full, heavier packs and do another 3.5 miles back up through the windy pass and then down to base Central…even though our legs had decided they were already done for the day when we sat down for lunch! Toughed it out though, as our bus ride out of the park and back to reality awaited us at the bottom.
The rest of our way back down was filled with a lot of reflection about our last 12 days there and how it was better than we could have imagined. We were pretty tired and it was a good nine miles or more that day. We made it to the Central refugio near the welcome center and bus pick-up, and still had an hour or so to spare. Time for a well deserved meal and beer! So hungry, tired, and slap happy, we ordered a bunch of food that consisted almost entirely of straight carbs with varying cheese. Demolished it all though….and then, ZONKED OUT on the bus ride, hour and a half back to Puerto Natales .
Pictures tell the whole story (also, you can see on the beer label how the towers look without cloud covering):
The next morning, back at our Airbnb and with wifi, we began to dig through what had happened in the world while we were hiking the O circuit in Torres del Paine National Park.
March 3rd – March 15th, 2020
If you think about that timeline, the coronavirus had just entered New York and Seattle. Italy hadn’t gotten bad yet. And the virus had not entered South America yet. It was around the times of the toilet paper panic in the US…
Argentina had already shut their borders. All the national parks were closing. Torres del Paine closed 2 days after we left – we barely got to complete out entire trek. We met many people who were just arriving in town to go start their trek only to find out they couldn’t. Hotels and hostels were closing left and right. Airbnb hosts didn’t want us because we were American and anyone from America or Europe was considered a risk. We tried to tell many hosts that we had been in South America for 70 days so there was no way we had COVID19 but the answers were still no. Our current host Maria was so gracious and understood our unfolding dilemma and told us we could stay as long as we wanted with her.
The kindness of strangers that we experienced in South America is something that I really can not overstate. Having had this brief but rewarding experience, I wonder about the perspective of US citizens that there was so much fear (even pre-pandemic) to travel to South American countries…sadly in recent years, our country has really developed a fear of the unknown.
It was the email from the US Embassy in Santiago, Chile that made our final decision. The email stated that if you are a US citizen, you should book flights home immediately before commercial flights were no longer available and Chile’s borders close. We called our parents and told them we were coming home in 3 days. Of course we were totally crushed, not only because this amazing trip we had only just started was cut short, but additionally shocked by how exponentially WORSE this epidemic had grown while we were off the grid.
It was a lot to take in on March 16th – Gabrielle actually got nauseous from reading the news that day.
Three days left in Puerto Natales until we took a bus to Punta Arenas to board a flight to Santiago to Atlanta to St. Louis. We decided to make the best of things and we enjoyed some final shopping for treasures and keepsakes, delicious Chilean food, wandered the streets, and gazed at the mountains across the bay to the West and North.
While there were still no confirmed coronavirus cases in this region of Chile, the influence of the media/pandemic had already hit this little town at the Southern end of the world. Places were closing with signs about COVID19. The small grocery stores were starting to look bare with long lines outside. Mask wearing was becoming more and more prevalent. Many stores had signs in their front windows that read “Sin Desinfectante.” It’s Spanish for “no sanitizer.”
Trekking the O circuit in Torres del Paine – 80 miles over the course of 12 days – was an iconic end to an unforgettable and phenomenal backpacking trip, albeit shorter than originally expected. We felt welcomed and safe at all of the homes that opened their doors to us in Argentina, Uruguay, and Chile. While we certainly saw the signs of poverty and injustice in many places, we also observed so much good will and small joys, as well as evidence of people EVERYWHERE trying to stand up and fight for change to make a better society and a better world.
…Which I guess is a theme we can all relate to no matter where we are. And it’s been made even more vivid by the realities that this year has brought – realities that have often been there all along, but are finally coming more into focus now that things have happened that made people see.
Not if but WHEN it is safe to travel there again in the future, David and I look forward to exploring new places in that amazing continent that sits to our South, and will surely return to some of our most treasured places.
We awoke in Torres Central campsite to the sound of the morning chattering parakeets back at work on the food hunt. This was going to be an easy day for us since we didn’t have too far to travel up to the Chileno campsite. Taking our time, we got up and walked over to the Welcome center for coffee and donuts! We also loaded up on a sandwich to split for lunch and a big bag of these veggie root chips. After packing up camp we are headed back towards the Hotel Las Torres, which we’d pass along today’s route up the valley.
On the trail there, we were commenting on how light we felt, how accomplished we already were from everything we had already tackled, and how excited we were for the last two days to see the iconic Towers. This experience has been so different and more amazing than anything else we’d ever done before.
Hotel Las Torres is a pretty grand and sprawling place with multiple buildings joined together from the main lobby area. They house multiple barns on the property with livestock and horses. There are also greenhouses where they grow vegetables for the farm to table restaurant. If you want luxury at the end of the world, this was it. We stopped in to look around and cozy up to the lobby bar for a beer. Little did we know that they have a little “nano brewery” onsite that makes just one beer – a hoppy pale ale that is made with endemic hops that they grow in the greenhouses! Maybe it was partially the excitement and hype of the moment, but we thought it was spectacular.
We left the Hotel on a high note and with a little buzz rolling, we headed back up the mountain. After passing the point where the trails converge, we were passed again by the horses that were carrying supplies up the mountain to the campsite. Before you get to Chileno you must go through the Windy Pass. Its not visible until right at the top of the canyon crux.
There was a cool lookout point that I told Gabrielle to run up ahead so I could take her picture. Unfortunately, it was closed off, most likely for restoration purposes.
It began to drizzle near the end of our hike, but the views did not disappoint!
We made it to the Chileno campsite, halfway up the valley to the Torres (towers), with lots of time to spare so we looked around for a bit and then set up our tent on our platform which was VERY high up off the ground on one side!
After some showers, it was time to feast. We could not use our camp stove at Chileno because of the high winds restricting open flame/high fire danger, so we had to buy tickets to the dinner in the lodge. It worked out well, though, because we had wanted to try at least one of the refugio’s paid meals, so how fitting for our last night in the park! The night’s special was a scrumptious salmon platter with salad, grilled veggies and a creamy lemon polenta that went perfectly with the salmon…Yum! We made friends with some other Americans and shared some steins of the Torres del Paine Helles Bock beer from Cereveza Austral that we had come to love so much. Its label is a picture of the Towers so, I mean…you gotta drink that beer when you’re in the closest campsite to the towers and you can SEE them dominating the horizon from your seat in the dining room.
Everything was eaten and they wouldn’t give us seconds even with Gabrielle asking nicely for more multiple times! The server just kept laughing and telling us there was only so much for everyone. It was amazing though and we retired to our tent very satisfied. The alarm was going to come early for our sunrise hike to the Towers and we slept like two fatted pigs.
As luck would have it, the story of our 10th day on the trail was another perfectly clear blue sky with lush sunshine touching everything and giving it the fantastic hues that only sunshine can give. Oh, what a life it was to awaken to the wild of Patagonia every morning.
Los Cuernos campsite and refugio sits on a slope that curves down toward the edge of the lake, Lago Nordenskjold. As such, our tent site was on a wooden platform, which was commonplace for any of the campsites that sat on uneven ground. The sun rose up over hills and hit our tent early, as we were situated in an area that was mainly brush and small trees, so very little tree cover to block sunlight. And it was quite perfect in that regard, as we got to truly drink in the majesty of the Los Cuernos rock formations and granite spires to which we were in such close proximity.
Awe-inspiring. And with the moon just above it, too!
Someone sitting next to us the night before at dinner had mentioned they occasionally had fresh bread leftover and available for purchase in the morning. As an afterthought, we went to the refugio’s front desk to ask and found that the morning luck was still with us: They had a warm, freshly baked full loaf of bread available, and even a couple eggs if we wanted to pay a little extra! We bought 6 eggs and a loaf and treated ourselves to an incredibly simple and storybook-level-good breakfast of scrambled eggs and bread.
I don’t think either of us have ever enjoyed hot scrambled eggs and fresh, warm bread as much as we did on this day. Whoever said it first wasn’t lying when they said it’s all about perspective. Perspective helps you find the joy in the simplest of things….even if you’ve done the same thing a hundred times before in your life, that ONE time can be totally different 🙂
Happy minds and happy bellies, we struck out to the East and began our trek to Campsite Central (Cen-TRAL). There was a fun little hill just next to the Los Cuernos campsite, and it gave fantastic views for the start of our hike.
Not for the first time (nor the last), I thought to myself how we could’ve sat and stayed on that boulder a good while longer, simply looking, listening, and breathing in and out.
Fluffy clouds sat cushioned amongst jagged rock formations above us as we went, and made for beautiful, wispy, and sunny contrast against the dark stone.
We crossed many small streams and medium-sized waterfalls this day, and the amount of detail you could observe in the water was intense and exciting. With the sunlight piercing every part and shadow of the water, you can see through it and it is just as crystal clear as your imagination wills it to be, like something out of a dream.
I would stop and want to fill my water bottle with more fresh water, even though it was still half full from the stream we’d crossed a mile back! The mere fact that you can just fill your water bottle with any of these stream’s water invigorated me to just keep doing it whenever I got the chance. I mean, how often in your life to you get to drink this caliber of pristine, naturally-occurring agua? Without a doubt, I planned to SAVOR that shit like these were our last days in Patagonia……. (And yes, the irony of that statement just slays me).
Had a calm lunch on our own at a clifftop spot about halfway through our day. We could still see Los Cuernos in the distance, getting smaller and smaller. This day took us alongside the southern edge of a different peak, Monte Almirante Nieto, or in English “admiral grandchild.” Not quite sure why it’s named that, but I’m sure there’s a story behind it.
Those of you that read our previous days’ posts from our hike in Torres del Paine may recall this: On our 8th day of this O circuit, we went through a valley that had frequent daily avalanches from hanging glaciers that were warmed in the daylight. You would hear an intensely loud crack like thunder, and then the avalanche of snow would plummet down followed by a new waterfall that sprang from where the snow had been shifted. It is just the most incredible thing to witness. I bring it up again now because what was just so, SO cool is that we could STILL hear the avalanches that entire day – and we were hiking continuously away from it! Every time we’d hear the sound of a seeming crash of thunder in the distance behind us, it brought a smile to our faces. It was almost like….we had a shared secret, and anyone hiking in the opposite direction towards that valley didn’t yet know that secret 🙂
Even when we arrived at our campground for that night, Torres Central, we could still hear the avalanche thunder, albeit more muffled. The distance at that point was about 14 or 15 miles. What a wild and crazy thing she is, that Nature.
Also, lots of fun bridges to swing from!
FYI, not recommended to do with a full backpack on. My arms almost died.
Near the end of this day’s trek, we passed by a tranquil little lagoon. It was almost like glass – not a ripple on the water. Until I poked it with my hiking pole.
We ran into two older ladies with a guide that had walked up to the lagoon from the Hotel, only a short mile or so. We had pleasant conversation – one of the ladies was American. When she found out that we had been out in the wilderness for the past 10 days and didn’t have any access to phone service, wifi, or news, she elevated to a new level of alarm and took it upon herself to start telling us of the state of emergency the world was in and how we needed to get back to the States ASAP because COVID-19 was taking over the planet.
(Soooooo….forgive me while I borrow an apropos line of Angelica’s from Hamilton for this moment and what was going through my head as this lady spoke to us….cue the music) “And I re-a-lize three fundamental truths at the EXACT SAME TIME.”
Number One: We probably would’ve been better off not hearing any of this and finishing our last two days in this park without the damn news of how the outside world was going to hell in a handbag. I mean…c’mon, lady.
Number Two: It was obvious that she did not understand the crash of negativity she was bringing to our vibe, and was probably thinking she was “saving” us and doing us a favor….I don’t hold it against her. I wasn’t angry. More just saddened by this sudden reality check and the simultaneous realization that we were likely going to have to face some somber stories and hard decision making in near future.
Number Three: Up to this literal second, every night we had camped in Torres del Paine people had NOT ONCE brought up the topic of the outside word and what was going on with coronavirus. I hadn’t even realized it until these very seconds that this lady made me realize it. Was the fact that it was never a conversation topic intentional? Accidental? Uncanny to say the least. Made me feel hopeful, too. Hopeful in that after a day of sharing the trail with fellow hikers, having encounters with wild animals, experiencing the peace and joy of being in the wilderness….that a group of strangers from various countries and backgrounds can come together and focus on THIS day, THESE memories, and not need to read things on their phones, post immediately about what they are doing, or hear about what is happening anywhere else other than Right. Here.
I think those are the kind of places where the root of happiness lives, metaphorically speaking. 10 straight days of an unspoken agreement to live in the “here and now” and forget the rest. What a change of pace it was, and a whole new perspective from what I’d become accustomed to in our country’s typical focal points and stressors that we (much of the time) bring upon our own shoulders – myself included!
Again….perspective is a blessing. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through these past 5 months without it. Hell, I don’t know how some people go through LIFE without it! I feel bad for them, though, because they are missing out on a depth and richness that is otherwise unreachable.
We finished the last ~mile to Torres Central. After heading over to the refugio’s hotspot, we paid the money to get an hour of wifi, let our parents know that we were healthy and significantly better than okay. Checked to see if Chile had locked down its borders (it hadn’t)…and then we let go of what we couldn’t control.
Put the phones away, walked back to our tent and enjoyed the now familiar bodily fatigue of a good, long day of exercise. Laughed at the hilarious squawking of the Austral parakeets that filled the campsite, drank a craft beer and watched the sun set over Monte Almirante Nieto.
**Disclaimer: There are far too many photos of me in this post and far too few of David. It’s really just because there are far less in quantity. I will now, from here on out, be making a point to stop and take more photos of my love while on the trail!
To see all of our photos from this day, click here:
We planned this day to be a short day, 2 mile walk from Campsite Frances to Los Cuernos Refugio. Since there was time to spare, we took our time getting up and ready in the morning and waited for everyone else to be on their way so we could actually have space to cook breakfast in the tiny kitchen area! We packed up and took some last pictures from the bathroom/kitchen area and set out for a nice afternoon stroll.
Our path ran along the big lake (Lago Nordenskjöld) most of the day up and down the terrain of the foothills. There were great examples of Lenga and Ñire trees everywhere and David pressed some leaves in his journal.
As we traipsed along the way we could still hear the occasional small avalanche behind us as Paine Grande and the glaciers of the Frances Valley melted in the sun.
Rounding new corners brought sights of new waterfalls flowing from way up high to trickling over the trail in front of us.
We took a nice long break for lunch sitting by the lake on a beach of rocks. Tranquility at its finest.
As we arrived to Los Cuernos refugio/campsite, the sun popped out and lit up the mountains!
This campsite was named after the iconic rock formations under which it is situated, Los Cuernos. Literally translated, it means “the horns,” which they resemble. The O trek of Torres del Paine is a circle trek, so you end up back where you started if you walk long enough. The area of land around which the O trek makes a ring is called the Paine Massif. It is a cluster of mountains, granite towers, and spectacular rock formations. Most any image of the Paine Massif features Los Cuernos front and center, as it is an unmistakable image of “the horns of Patagonia.”