At the end of the earth

 

the search for tranquility in patagonia

Words & Photos by Teja Kritika

Exploring the mountains of Patagonia had always been a childhood dream of mine. As a kid, I would marvel at imagery of the vast snowcapped mountain ranges, glacial lakes, and stormy seas. Upon landing in Ushuaia, Argentina’s southernmost city, I knew I’d made it to where I needed to be. After years of imagining what it would be like and months of planning, I had arrived in Patagonia.

I fantasized about the stories of explorers in Patagonia my whole life. All of those snowboarding, surfing and climbing videos I drooled over had finally been put into context upon arrival in Patagonian Argentina. Granite peaks rose out of the landscape like towering giants and among them sat lakes of the most striking turquoise blue. To the southeastern side of the Andes Mountains extends an ice flow reaching far into the mountains of Chile. Nearly inconceivable, the shear volume of ice revealed how vast glaciers have carved these mountains.

Torres del Paine National Park, in the Southern Patagonian region of Chile, was my first destination and only planned trek after landing in Ushuaia. For a breathtaking five days, our group, which included a few close friends, backpacked more than 55 miles through the park’s stunning landscapes. While our experiences in this region were remarkable, we weren’t able to find the wildness we had come to Patagonia to discover. Despite the iconic reputation of Torres del Paine, we couldn’t experience any extreme isolation or tranquility as the park had a populated and developed feel.  We encountered groups of people, structures, and camping facilities at nearly every turn. The national park is a place where backpackers of all different levels can go with accommodations ranging from yurts and hot meals to tents and cooking fires. It all felt comfortable, which was not what I had come to Patagonia to feel.

Hungry for a more rugged Patagonian adventure and a desire to encounter the true nature of this place, we crossed the border back into Argentina and, upon recommendation from a local, found our way to a more remote part of Patagonia.

After four plane rides and seven bus trips we found ourselves in El Chalten. This mountain village—about one-third of the way up Argentine Patagonia and 280 miles north of Los Torres del Paine—provided an experience void of the constraints of check in dates, time limits, trails and campsites. With the gear packed and our bodies rested, we set out on a short trip into the Cerro Fitz Roy Mountains. In the wilderness outside of El Chalten, we were able to fully immerse ourselves without destination or any limits.

The trek included a long, off-trail hike up a steep mountain face that led us to a beautiful glacial lake at the base of the magnificent snowcapped peak of Fitz Roy. We spent several days among the mountains, learning from each other and ourselves as we explored new terrain and swam in icy lakes. Our endurance was tested on the third day when we were caught in one of Patagonia’s frequent mountain storms. We spent a sleepless night listening to the howling wind and relentless rain from inside our leaking tent. We woke up the next morning, soaked and short a few belongings the storm had carried away.

Patagonia has something for anyone looking to enjoy the outdoors regardless of previous experience or physical strength. For me, it represents a place separate from modern society and development. I was able to discover the full power of Patagonia and all of its elements—liberated and humbled by the terrain and weather. There is a great deal of value in embarking on an adventure without a plan and with a willingness to learn along the way, going deep into the mountains where few others have been before.