In ’79

Lake Pehoe and the massif behind

In ’79 in Patagonia, at the bottom of the Western Hemisphere, the National Park of Torres del Paine was renamed and its first hotel was christened. The first visitors would arrive in the ’80s. The 1980s.

So while most of our friends were frequenting fraternity tap rooms or channeling John Travolta up North, this 240,000 square kilometer park was introducing itself to the world. 1979.

Torres del Paine is exactly the kind of location we sought for 6explorers. Unspoiled natural beauty. Only 135,000 visitors per year (compared to 5 million at The Grand Canyon). More wild guanacos and even more wild pumas than humans. Endangered condors in the sky.

Geologically, the Torres are young. While their more famous neighbors, the Chilean Andes, emerged 65 million years ago, the Torres were formed by lava pushing through the sedimentary rock of the Magellan basin only 12 million years ago. The granite faces are immense and the spires are jagged and raw; some still have the dark bands of sedimentary lutita stone still on the top of the crags.

Equally impressive are the glaciers which are part of the Southern Ice Field — 350km of ice left over from the last ice age 10-15,000 years ago. These glaciers represent the third largest fresh water reserve in the world after the polar caps. We sailed within 100 meters of the glacier face, taking a boat excursion from the fourth hotel built in the Park in 1994.

Even getting here is an odyssey: six hours from the 130,000 inhabitant hub of Punta Arenas, past estancias (ranches) tens-of-thousands of acres big, still worked by gauchos on horseback.

Other than the evolution of gore-tex worn by the hikers, Torres del Paine probably looks exactly like it did when the towers were first summited in 1953 or when the Pohoe Hotel opened in 1979. With snow falling on us on December 1 (the equivalent of June 1 at home) and wind gusts of 70+ mph, maybe it will remain this pristine. I hope so. There’s a 125km, 9-day circuit around all the peaks that Greg and I would love to do someday. Anyone want to join us?

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3 Responses to “In ’79”

  1. Yes. Count Spin and me IN! Looks absolutely amazing.

    Have been thinking about you a lot for a variety of reasons. Have a tremendous holiday season aboard the boat. We will stockpile mistletoe kisses and New Years cheer for you all! Looking forward to hearing about swimming in Antartica+++ and beinging in 2011! Much love to all. Phyl

  2. Here’s a bit of Torres del Paine Mountaineering trivia: The first ascent of Cerro Torre is a topic often discussed among Mountaineers with the majority now disputing Caesare Maestri’s account of having achieved the first ascent in 1959.

  3. Dana,
    David couldn’t wait to show me your outstanding photograph of Lake Pehoe. It is a winner and deserves a place in ‘National Geographic’! We love this picture.
    gail