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Day 74 – Torres del Paine Day 4 – Things Every Hiker Could Know (A Walk Through the Valle Frances)

December 23, 2010

Location: Valle Frances, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

Date: Thursday, December 23, 2010

Today we hiked Valle Frances (French Valley, and NOT “Francis” Valley), the most stunning section of the “W” trail. Glaciers hung off mountainsides and melted into ravines, creating a roaring river of the cleanest, freshest water on earth. We traversed hillsides covered in rocks–mountainsides ground up by the pressure of ice over thousands of years. Every once in a while we’d hear a sound like a shotgun blast and look up to see an avalanche cascading down the facing mountain. The sun shown bright and the green of the trees and the brown of the rocks stood in contrast to the sheets of blue and white ice slathered on the mountains. I found myself wondering, “Is there another way to describe this without using the word ‘mountain’ so much?”

It was gorgeous. It was heavenly. And, unlike yesterday, it wasn’t raining.

Then it came to me. After accumulating a total of four days of trekking experience, I am a trekking expert. With that in mind, here are some things I think every hiker should know.

#1 It’s Going To Suck

Believe it. If you’re going out for more than an overnighter, some part of your trip will blow. If nothing else, you’ll get tired of carrying your pack. You’ll also realize there’s no proper toilets, that you’ll be eating like a homeless person who went on a $5 grocery store shopping spree, and that as cool as nature is, it can’t connect to the internet. Once you realize that you’ll probably either drown in a rainstorm or a puddle of your own sweat, your time away from civilization will go better.

#2 Get Trekking Poles

I love them. Not only do they take some pressure off your legs and shift them to your arms, it gives you something to focus on.

“Right pole here. Left pole there. Right pole up, pull with right arm. Left pole to the side to avoid rock. Golly! I hardly notice I’m covered in mud and gasping for breath!”

Seriously. Distraction helps. Trekking poles: as much a mental aid as a physical one.

#3 Find Your Granola Bar

A friend, Doug, mentioned to me that, when he did the  Torres del Paina “W” trail, he always looked forward to the granola bar he knew he’d enjoy at the end of the every day once he reached camp. Before my extensive four days of experience, I thought this was crazy.

Now I understand. On the first day at Torres del Paine, my granola bar was taking off my soaked pants. On the second day it was a meal of salami, rice, chili, and rehydrated mushrooms. On the third it was taking a nap. Today it was buying a Snickers bar at Refugio Pehoe. Every day you must find a reason not to throw yourself off a cliff because you’re tired of walking. You must find your granola bar.

#4 If Necessary, Give Up

Catch that last bit about “Refugio Pehoe”? Yup. We backtracked today. We skipped a 7 hour hike with our packs to Refugio Los Torres and traded it for a three hour hike back to Pehoe, and a boat/bus/van ride to Refugio Los Torres.

Trekking is supposed to be fun. I’ve already had my death march (See: Day 1) and I just wasn’t up for another one. Call me a coward. Call me a quitter. I’ll call myself “a happy camper.” Who cares if I did a “V I” instead of a “W”? I didn’t need to carry my bag for 7 more hours next to a lake to feel like I’d experienced the grandeur of this place.

And that’s what it’s all about, really. Being happy. Enjoying nature, however you like it.

Give me some poles, a granola bar, and an alternative way out and I’m down with some hiking or trekking or whatever the hell you want to call it. Now about that whole internet thing. . .

GALLERY: Click through to see a host more pictures of by far the most picturesque day in Torres del Paine, including one of Mervyn making yet another silly face.

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