Life List: Torres
Trek Patagonia’s Torres del Paine
Step 1: Patagonia Fund
T-minus-9 months until you fly south. That’s at least 4 grand for two people. Save at least $500 a month, Rockefeller.
Step 2: Renew Your Passport
You don’t need a visa if you’re coming from the U.S., but you need at least 6 months left on your little blue book when you depart.
Step 3: Get Wet (But Not Too Wet)
Quinault River Valley, WA
In winter, parts of Olympic National Park can get 18-plus inches of rain a month. Come July, the precip drops to less than 3 inches–but the rainforests stay lush and the moss still beards the old-growth trees. There’s also enough precip left to prepare you for the healthy drizzles of Torres (2.5 inches in December). Hike the East Fork Quinault River Trail to Enchanted Valley (13 miles each way). nps.gov/olym
Step 4: September
The classic Torres del Paine route gains suprisingly little elevation over its 65 miles, but has one major ***-kicking pass and steep descents. Start climbing stairs with a pack, do squats and lunges, incorporate dumbbell step-ups and step-downs into your routine, and go on dayhikes a few weekends a month.
Simply put, hike here before you die: Chiseled, 8,000-foot pink granite peaks soar over blue glaciers and golden grasslands. The place is lousy with condors, Chilean flamingos, and llama-like guanacos; some animals, like the Magellanic woodpecker, are unique to Patagonia. If you camp–rather than stay in refugios–you’ll actually find solitude. And a 7- to 10-day loop encircles the whole kingdom.
The mildest months here are December through February, when trails are snow-free, temps top out at 64°F, and daylight stretches for 16 hours. Need more motivation? In the (very) big picture, the park’s glaciers are retreating some 56 feet a year. Bump El Circuito to the top of your list.
Start from Laguna Armaga on the loop’s east end and hike counterclockwise, which puts off the ***-kicking scree-scramble over John Gardner Pass till the end. Hike past the park’s iconic rock towers and wind-rippled glacial lakes, through broadleaf Magellanic forest, and over rivers spanned by suspended plank bridges. Skirt the edge of Grey Glacier, a massive arm of jagged blue ice extending off the Patagonia Ice Cap (guided tours: $60).
Nuts and Bolts
Prep and pack all the meals you’ll need: December crowds pillage the freeze-dried meals sold in Puerto Natales; most park shops stock little more than candy bars. For the flight from Santiago to Punta Arenas, check the LAN website (lan.com) for a middle-of-the-night option. In P.A., get your canisters of white gas (bencina blanca–you’ve been practicing, right?). Bus it 3 hours north to Puerto Natales, the park’s gateway town. There, grab the Torres del Paine Trekking Map. chileaustral.com