Blown Away in Patagonia

Hiking Torres del Paine National Park
Torres del Paine
Lago Sarmiento: Torres del Paine before the storm

Midway into our hike to Lago Sarmiento, the weather changed radically, again. Blessed by clear skies in the shadow of the glacial Andes, we followed a quiet trail in the scrubby Patagonia steppe. After descending a rolling hill, we came upon Sarmiento's magnificent shoreline, its uncommonly blue water ringed by a moonscape of white coral ledges.

The tranquillity soon ended. We glimpsed fury in the western sky. Then we heard it coming and scrambled into rain gear that had seemed unnecessary baggage when we departed just an hour earlier. Within minutes, a howling, waterlogged gale transformed Sarmiento's surface into a gray mass of whitecapped turbulence.

Although head-to-toe nylon was our only protection from the spearing hail, neither our guide Natalie Grabinsky nor I felt impelled to rush for shelter. In the jostling fury, we felt an unaccustomed calm, which, surely, we wouldn't have felt under similar conditions on Fifth Avenue. (We learned later that the gusts exceeded 100 kilometers an hour.)

Hold on to Your Hat
From the outset, we discovered that Chile's Torres del Paine (pronounced TOR-ehs del PIE-nay) National Park is no place for loose-fitting caps. Our Lan Chile flight's descent into Chile's southernmost city, Punta Arenas, felt like riding a bicycle down an escalator. Uninitiated, we assumed that the gusts would be temporary. This wind, though, was different from anything my wife and I had ever experienced. It proved relentless, lasting all week, moderating briefly a few times then revving back up.

Midweek into our journey, we accepted a basic fact of life here: If there's no wind, it's not Patagonia. The wind, the rain, the dramatic shifts in temperature are a part of life here. Sooner or later the conversation always turns to the weather in Torres del Paine.

Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Published: 29 Apr 2002
The details, dates, and prices mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication.

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