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The Towers of Blue: Hiking Patagonia's Torres del Paine

The Huffington Post logo The Huffington Post 8/03/2016 Daniel Nelson
PATAGONIA © Nikki Bidgood via Getty Images PATAGONIA

"The clouds will be too thick, the peaks will be out of sight."
We sat in silence as our guides delivered the news. Our group was in shock; unwilling to accept that our trip would end in failure. For days we had endured bumpy jet streams and bumpier roads, traveling deep into the wilds of Chilean Patagonian to reach this point. The next day we were to climb up through mountains and valleys to Torres del Paine, the towers of blue. This was to be the pinnacle of our journey, the capstone of our travels at the bottom of the Americas. We had come all this way for this single hike. Now, we faced the possibility of failure.
We pressed our guides. There had to be something we could do, some plan or route or way to reach the Torres before the clouds. Well, they admitted, perhaps if we set out before sunrise we could make it to the top. But a storm was coming, and no matter what, our chances were slim. But if we swapped the warmth of our cabins for the chill of the mountains, perhaps then we could make it. Surely, the thought, we -- a pack of Americans -- would balk at the idea. Surely we would accept our fate and move on.
By 5 a.m. we were walking.
For hours we followed the path. After years of withering rains and pounding boots, the trail had cut deep into the mountainside. We were in a canyon of earth, marching up out of a valley of green. As we trudged, the sky began to lighten. The sun was cresting, and a blaze of orange and pink was flying out from the horizon. The clouds were few; the skies were clear. Out in the untamed ranges, the weather can change in an instant. There was nothing to keep the clouds at bay. We began to hike faster.
The first section topped off, the trail began to descend into a valley. It wove past a village of tents, along babbling creek, flanked by a mass of trees. As we snuck between gnarled branches and taught rain flies, a light drizzle began to fall. The skies were becoming grayer; our odds were becoming slimmer. Again, we picked up the pace.
Hours passed, and still we could not see the Torres. The trail was now at its steepest, and the group began to fracture as the slower hikers fell away. No doubt we were closing in, and soon see the towers. The clouds were casting an ominous shadow. But we had made it this far. We couldn't turn back now.
The forest gave way to a boulder field. Huge piles of rock obscured the trail, which was now a series of orange flags. This, our guides told us, was the final push. In time we would know the fate of our trek, in time we would be at the base of the Torres. Wet with mist and dead-tired, we burst ahead.
Three granite peaks shot into view. Blanketed by cloud, glacier and snow, a trio of gray soared above a sea of white. We had done it. The clouds had held out. The towers of blue were ours. For a while, we sat in silence.
By the time we turned back, the clouds were too thick. The peaks were out of sight.

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