Las Torres Hotel –> Campamento Serón (13km)
Meadows filled with wildflowers and wild horses, making new friends, and hip bruises.
My day started bright and early, catching the 7:30am bus from Puerto Natales to Torres del Paine. The entire bus ride was beautiful (and cold, and bumpy), but after 2.5 hours I could tell we were getting close, if not by the rising mountain peaks, at least by the restlessness of everyone else on the bus.
I was by myself in a foreign country, not speaking the language well, and about to embark on my first ever backpacking trip. Not to sound like I was hitch-hiking through a third-world country: Chile is very westernized, Spanish is probably one of the easiest languages to pick up on the fly (plus I studied it in middle school), almost all of my hiking companions spoke English anyways, and the circuit trek in Torres del Paine is safe on almost all counts (very few dangerous animals, fresh water everywhere, and frequent checkpoints along the trail). The few challenges I did encounter were minor and quick to resolve. But it was new and fresh for me, and I was a bundled mixture of nervous, anxious, and downright eager to just get on with it.
Unfortunately for me, I still hadn’t learned my lesson about carrying cash, and after checking in at the park entrance, I didn’t have any money to take a shuttle to the starting point of my hike. Luckily, I met my first friends of the trek who were also walking the extra 7km instead of taking the shuttle. Even while walking along a road and getting dust kicked up into my face as all the shuttles sped past, it was impossible not to be invigorated. I had wanted to do this trek for several years, and it was finally happening. Nothing could rain on my parade. (Except actual rain, which is frequent in Patagonia, but blessedly sparse during my trip.)
Seven kilometers later, I made it to the start of my day’s hike, Hotel Las Torres. My new friends and I made plans to meet at Refugio Grey four days later, when I would be coming around the backside of the park, and they would be finishing up their W-trek. After parting ways I refilled on water, grabbed some cake for lunch from the hotel (hey, who knew how long it would be until I could eat cake again?), and started the 13km to my campsite.
The first day’s hike was mostly flat, but I still quickly realized how out of shape I was. I also quickly realized how alone I was with my thoughts. Indeed, I passed and greeted many other groups, but for the most part had hours and hours to myself. It wasn’t long before I took my phone out and started taking notes during my breaks. (It would have added extra weight, but in the future a journal would feel more authentic.) Looking back, even though I was already exhausted, the first day was a perfect warm-up to the rest of the hike. I passed through forests, meadows filled with wildflowers, and at one point was surrounded by a majestic herd of free-roaming horses.
About halfway along the hike I started passing and being passed by a large group of Chilean guys, students from central Chile. Half of them didn’t speak much English, but their excitement and joking was contagious enough to push me forward to the finish line, even after it started drizzling and I stepped into a giant mud puddle. They became some of my closest friends along the hike, and like so many others I met, we never exchanged any contact information. But every day onward, they were there on the trail, encouraging me along.
By the time I got to camp for the night, I was thoroughly exhausted. I also had the beginnings of large bruises on my upper hips where my pack had been sitting, which a kind woman (also from New York!) told me meant that I had been wearing it right. So, that was painfully encouraging. Knowing I needed the calories, I forced myself to finish my dinner and then crawled into my tent for the first cold night of many.