Never in my life did I predict that I would hike 17 miles in one day to three massive peaks only a few hours from Antarctica.
My parents are avid travelers. Let me reiterate. Travelers. Not vacationers. We got up at 5 a.m. four times on this trip to drive over two hours to the remote trails that populate the peaks of the Torres del Paine National Park. We drove two hours through the plains dotted with leaping guanaco, which are like wild llamas, and saw the famous “towers” of the park in the distance. The trail was relatively smooth for the first few miles; lush and rolling green hills stretched out behind us while we pushed towards the rocky ridges.
We walked along a beautiful mountain ridge with a rushing river underneath us. The sun was scorching, and although I am a woman in STEM, I forgot how hemispheres work. It was summer! My family and I came upon the “refugio”, strategically placed shelters along the W-trek in Patagonia. I had a cup of coffee here, and it might have been the best cup of coffee I’ve ever had in my entire life, whether that be because I was exhausted or because I was sitting in the middle of a gorgeous national park on the other side of the world, which I haven’t figured out yet. Leaving the refugio, we entered the Lenga Forest. The first moments of shade we experienced were a blessing since the sun was hot and intense.
Two miles of ups and downs through dense brush put us at the base of the challenge—the final boulder crawl. At first glance, you can see massive boulders that extend upwards into what seems like infinity. Although we were only a half mile from the gorgeous towers and the glacial lake below them, it took about an hour and a half to carefully scale the rocks. We turned the final corner around a humongous rock that blocked the view of the destination—a beautiful crystal blue lake stretched from our feet to the base of the towers hundreds of feet away. Gray rock pillars extended into the sky, the tops of which were covered by the clouds, which made us imagine their true height. After eight miles up the mountain, we made it. The shock we felt when we saw something so massive is a feeling I hope everyone gets to experience.
An hour or so passed, and we began the same descent back to the trailhead. After over twelve hours of hiking, our adventure ended with a total of 17 miles of hiking up and down two mountains, as well as over 40,000 steps completed. We were some of the first to enter the park at around 7 a.m. and were the last to leave. My mom constantly reminded my younger siblings that “slow and steady wins the race.” My youngest brother, who is 10, was an absolute trooper. Imagine hiking 17 miles at under 5 feet tall! We were rewarded for the completion of our “quest” by spotting wild flamingos on the way home!
This was such an amazing experience, and although it was extremely difficult and we all woke up the sorest we’ve ever been, it was worth it. We even got home before the sunset at 11 p.m.! This was probably the coolest thing I have ever done in my life.
Lucy Pellenbarg, MC'23