Our first day in Torres del Paine was spent driving through the park to get our bearings. We drove north out of Puerto Natales after camping out at Lago Sofia the night before and stocking up on provisions. It was a crawl of a drive as I stopped nearly every few thousand feet to take in the ever-changing views of the famous peaks that sparked my interest years earlier. We made our way to Cerro Castillo, which despite indicating otherwise on all maps, does not have gas available as of December 2016. In Cerro Castillo, we warmed up with some cafeteria food inside the shop and restaurant that is the town beside the Chilean/Argentinean border crossing.
We continued on the direction of Torres del Paine, taking in the view of the pampa as we rolled along dirt roads and eventually ended up taking a wrong turn. We may have crossed into Argentina at one point as we drove in what I believe was a northeastern direction. After reaching an estancia that seemed to mark the end of the passable road, we realized we had taken a wrong turn about 12 miles back. This didn’t really phase us in the least bit—we were full up on gas with a reserve tank, music on the radio, and a week’s worth of food. We spun the car around and made our way back through the dust. The roadside for this stretch of 10 miles or so was littered in guanaco carcasses and bones, the earth cracked and underbrush permanently leaned to the ground from the unending wind.
We drove past herds of sheep for miles and an estancia that seemed to have seen better days. The clouds continued to change every five minutes, casting light across the pampa in varying ways.
When we found our turn we’d missed earlier, the road took us off the pampa and into the hills. We climbed upwards and followed signs for Laguna Azul, which affords one of the best far-away views of the Torres. A herd of guanaco stood idle in the road and eventually begrudgingly separated as we moved closer towards them. The road eventually began to slope downward towards the lake and a large field where a few Land Rovers were parked. Alli and I parked and crossed the field towards the lake, pushing our way through the wind and spitting rain. The lake’s waves crashed against the rocky shoreline and looked more like ocean water than fresh glacial runoff.
After leaving Laguna Azul, we made our way back through the hills we’d come through earlier and towards the direction of Laguna Amarga to formally enter the park. A bus of hikers left Cascada Paine as a quick rain began to fall and within minutes, we had the falls to ourselves. At Laguna Amarga, the rangers provided us with maps and a brief video on how to avoid burning the park down. Here we also learned a few valuable lessons, like how to correctly pronounce Torres del Paine (“Torres del Pine-eh”) and what to do if we encountered a puma. The sun was beginning to push through dark clouds overhead and a blue sky quickly replaced the grey backdrop we’d gotten used to since morning. As we made our way into the park, the views continued to top everything we’d been amazed by earlier.
The mountains towered right in front of our faces above the aqua-blue Lago Nordenskjöld. Being summer, we lost track of the time with the long hours of daylight. A haze of orange and yellow light illuminated the hills beyond as we continued driving. The wind picked up and swirled clouds of mist off the lake, making the sunset look even more unreal than it already appeared.