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Day 75 – Torres del Paine Day 5 – Death by Blowing (Journey to Campamento Torres)

December 24, 2010

Location: Hike to Campamento Torres, Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile

Date: Friday, December 24, 2010

I should not be in a good mood. When something tries to kill you I think you’re supposed to be scared. Or miserable. Or at least annoyed.

I, however, am not. I am thrilled. Perhaps it’s because this is the first time that man or Nature has ever tried to kill me with wind.

To explain. Today, Christmas Eve in Torres del Paine, the goal was to reach Campamento Torres the campsite at the base of the rock formation after which this national park is named. Why? Because it’s the closest you can overnight to the Torres which, reportedly, are best seen at dawn and because the campsite is free (did I mention I’m cheap?).

Easy enough. The hike is only three and a half hours long and our backpacks were considerably lighter now that we’d consumed most of our food. We’d even get to take a break at Refugio Chileno for Christmas Eve dinner.

The day went as planned. The day was warm with an occasional drizzle despite the sunshine. It was uphill, but I had my trekking poles and was in a proper groove.

Then it happened. As we approached the pass, the wind picked up. Gusts at first. Then steady with even stronger bursts. I started having to lean into the wind, then use my poles to brace myself against the stronger gusts.

Then all hell broke loose. The gale threw one of a pair of descending hikers at me. She screamed, I braced for impact and the inevitable fall off the cliff, but she managed to use a cliffside tree to brace and throw herself back into the mountain.

“Sorry!” she screamed above the din.

“No problem! We’re alive, right?” I yelled back.

At that moment, 200 yards ahead of me I saw someone’s blue sleep mat fly off the side of the mountain, torn from the straps on his or her backpack by the storm. It tumbled down into the canyon below.

“Did you see that?” I screamed. “This is awesome!”

I waited for the wind to die down to a steady 30 mph (50 km/h) breeze and sprinted up the mountain. When the gusts picked up again, I threw myself back into the mountainside and waited for a break. Dust, rocks, twigs, and loose backpack straps all whipped at exposed skin. Nature was trying to lash me to death with my own equipment.

Up ahead, I could see the trail crest at a narrow point in the pass. Lumbering ahead with the big bag, I made the pass and dove for cover just as the wind picked up. I looked up and saw a group huddled with me. We couldn’t talk it was so loud. None of us dared stand lest the wind kick us and our the non non-aerodynamic gear strapped to our backs off its mountain.

We waited for five minutes. Everyone did. In the distance I could see groups of people, hunkered down waiting for a lull.

Then it happened. One of the most awesome things I’ve seen. An avalanche of wind and dust (see pic above, one of my favorites of the trip so far). It ripped down from the peak, driving airborne sandpaper at a terrific speed. The wall of molecules engulfed the path 250 yards ahead. Nature’s sandblaster.

I yelled and pointed. The group in front of me turned around and looked. The guy at the lead turned back at me and we grinned at each other. Spectacular.

When the avalanche passed, everyone made a break for wherever they were headed. Run run run, feel the wind pick up and throw yourself into the mountain hopefully behind some rocks. Repeat. There were moments where it felt like someone had flung a rope around my bag and was trying to drag me down the cliff. God bless the trekking poles.

I can tell you that Christmas dinner we had at Refugio Chileno hours later tasted good. I can tell you the supposed 1.5 hour hike from Campamento Chileno to Campamento Torres that we did afterwards only took 45 minutes. I can tell you that there’s no wind on that portion of the trail because it’s mostly covered by trees. I can tell you that this isn’t the prettiest hike, but it was by far the most exciting.

Nature took a swing, but it missed. It tried to drag me off a mountain, but its grip slipped. And there’s me and a stranger, yelling and exchanging manic grins.

Death by wind? I’ll take it any day over drowning.

GALLERY: No bonus pics today. Mervyn recommends you look at that lead pic again.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. February 14, 2011 12:41 pm

    Was it Churchill who said there was nothing so exhilarating as having someone shoot at you, but miss?

    This sounds similar.

    Glad you came through OK.

    I know it’s not nice to notice, but you aren’t really “catching up”, are you?

    Please don’t stop – we’re all having too much fun!


    • March 6, 2011 6:51 pm

      Yeah. It’s been rough catching up. I have good reasons for it, though. At least I like to think they’re good reasons.

      More posts coming and I will eventually catch up. Promise!

  2. Doug permalink
    February 14, 2011 1:00 pm

    I guess I had better weather than you. Maybe you should have gone the opposite direction. You know with the wind. Sweet dust storm pic.

    • March 6, 2011 6:51 pm

      Unfortunately, you have to walk in and out of the valley up to the Torres the same way. I think the wind is just a random thing, in part affected by the time of day you decide to tackle the pass. I was looking forward to doing it with the wind at my back but the next day was much more tame. 😦

  3. Doris permalink
    February 20, 2011 10:22 pm

    Amazing! What a story.

    And to Latinos, Cumbia = Christmas Carols.

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