“There is something about the expanse of Patagonia, a kind of haunting soulfulness, that affects you physically. Few places grab you like this and hold on so tightly and for so long.”*
My experience with Patagonia began last November on the Argentina side of the Andes. It started in El Calafate in Los Glaciares National Park, home of the third largest grouping of glaciers in the world after Antarctica and Iceland. These first images are of still-growing Perito Moreno Glacier. We also cruised to the receding Upsala and Spegazzini Glaciers as seen from Lago Argentino. The face of these glaciers soars to 300 ft above the water, and a staggering 500 ft below the surface in places. As you approach the glacier the chill of the blue ice is caught by the wind, dropping the temperature and making your eyes water. These glaciers are tremendous in size and scale, you can feel their age, although most of them are emblems of climate change, receding at a tremendous rate.
After El Calafate, I traveled south 200 miles and crossed over the border to Chile and Torres del Paine in the heart of the Patagonia National Park of Chile. It is an unspoiled land, with sparse signs of man, few roads and fewer places of lodging. The Hotel Las Torres is an anchor on the famous “W” trekking trail of Patagonia. At the base of the Paine Masif, the famous Torres del Paine limestone towers rise up into the nearly ever-present clouds. The weather is as unpredictable as anywhere on the globe but the vistas were always breathtaking.
Explorations from the hotel were to Lago Nordenskjold by foot and hotel van along mostly dirt roads to Lagos Pehoe, Azul, Grey and the waterfalls at Mirador Salto Grande and Cascada Rio Paine.
It was an awe-inspiring trip, one that I will remember all my life, hoping to one-day return. The park feels untouched, a vast expanse of beauty that only attracts 115,000 visitors a year in its almost 1000 square miles. The majesty of this unspoiled land is unsurpassed, the people and the guides were enthusiastic and charming. Patagonia left me spell-bound to the point of tears at the beauty we were privileged to admire and absorb.
*Quote by Ms. Kristine Tompkins, widow of North Face founder Douglas Tompkins, as she donated 1 million acres of land to create a national park in Chile. The government added an additional 9 million acres to create the largest chain of National Parks in the world.