The Journey to South America, Part 3: Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

April 3, 2017

SouthAmerica-3682Before I was shooting glorious nature for this amazing company, I worked in television news. It was dreadful.

So dreadful that I had a quarter life crisis where I dreamed up any new job I could think of from licensed scuba dive photographer to avoiding work all together and moving to a commune.

Thankfully I landed on being a nature photographer, and my top destination was Torres del Paine in Patagonia, Chile. Since that decision, things have seemingly fallen into place. Six years later, here I am.

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Funny enough, the thought that I had accomplished a major life goal didn’t really hit me until we got there and were staring down this view.

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I guess an awe-inspiring location will give you a perspective check. But let that story add anecdotal evidence to the idea that you can achieve anything if you focus and put your mind to it.

Now on to said nature.

Torres has basically two different ways to experience it. You can be on the outside, across Lake Pahoe, looking in towards the mountains, or you can get all up in the mountain’s business and do one of the world famous through hikes.

We, of course, would do both. We started with the viewpoints across the lake.

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It doesn’t happen often, but it’s nice when you’re in an area where you can basically fall out of bed and take a picture:

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I’ll take eggs with a side of awesome please.

I took these photos walking to the car on the morning of the super moon. The light was just so darn delicious that I had to stop mid stride and take a shot before heading to our official location for the day.

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You can actually make out our hotel in the left lower corner of this one:

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The same thing happened heading in for dinner later that night. Once the flowers caught my eye I couldn’t control my record finger.

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When the mountains look that other-worldly, anywhere in the park is a good view.

For a park that is famous for especially temperamental weather, the elements seemed oddly in support of us for once.

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The wildlife seemed to enjoy the rather sunshine and lollipops day as well.

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We spent some time trying to get nice and friendly with these Guanaco.

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Even when the weather wasn’t perfect, it seemed to add to the atmosphere.

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In this photo, it was completely overcast with no light, but something about the reflection and the black and white look just makes it work.

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It’s a good example of our mantra of “find what’s right with the situation.”

The winds in Patagonia are relentless. They’re so insanely strong that at times it will hold your weight when you lean into it.

Of course, then it slows for a tick and you fall on your face. Patagonia is that terrible trust fall partner in middle school gym class. That wind can blow in a storm out of nowhere and then out again in a matter of hours.

I learned this lesson on my climb to Mirador Condor.

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I was determined to get a high viewpoint, and Condor seemed like a great fit. A steep hike, but not intolerably long. The intensity level notched up, however, once I neared the summit and a storm started brew’in.

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It was so crazy windy, it tossed me off my feet. The wind ripped my beanie off and I yelled after it like Tom Hanks at a beach ball. Dirt flew in my eyes. It turned my pocket inside out and threw my lens cap and a filter down the hill.

 

I curled up next to a rock and tried to wait out the wind and rain. After a while, you have to Zen out. The wind starts to eat at you. It gets past the skin, then into the muscle, until it reaches your very bones.

I actually hurt my back bracing against it while shooting. But eventually, the light came out and I got the shot:

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Once we had our fill of the majestic viewpoints, it was time to hit the trail and conquer the French Valley segment of the famed “W” hike.

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Due to the amount of gear we carry, and our limited storage and battery capacity, we don’t do a whole lot multi day through hikes. I mean would you like to hike with this on top of 40 lbs. of camera gear?

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Clocking in at 22 miles round trip over the course of three days, it would be the longest wilderness trek we had ever attempted.

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Luckily, they have some lovely domes at Camp Frances near the mouth of the French valley that served as our dome away from home.

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Climbing near 3,000 ft. in almost three miles, this hike ain’t no walk in the park –but the views certainly aren’t from no average park either.

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You seemingly stumble into another magnificent valley view with each bend in the trail.

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The photo opportunities were endless.

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I’m not gonna lie, at times the trail is capital “R” Rugged.

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But the end view is worth every minute of the hike.

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However, the view I’ll probably remember the most would be the one where I last saw my tripod.

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I got careless and knocked it off my perch and into the river. I spent a half an hour, stripped down, diving into glacier cold water trying to retrieve it.

Seriously, you can see the actual glacier runoff point in the middle of the above photo. I was only a few hundred feet away. A bit of a bummer way to end the trip, but we got what we came for so we had to be happy.

By the time we finally dropped our packs at the end, I felt like I was full of helium yet compressed at the same time. Ford had walked through yet another pair of shoes.

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I don’t think we’ve ever smelled stronger while getting on public transit after three days and 22 miles with no change of clothes, no showers, and no deodorant. But all I could smell was the smell of victory.

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