Stock photo of the Torres or “Towers” of
Torres del Paine National Park at sunrise

Torres del Paine National Park – have you heard of it?

Maybe not… but you’ve probably seen Chile’s iconic photo of the granite “Torres” or “Towers” stretching up to greet the sunrise. Among trekkers around the world, this Chilean National Park is infamous for its enormous concentration of mountains and glaciers which seem to magically rise up from the flat Patagonia steppe. It’s all so big, so remote and so extreme. This is the Chile I wanted to know.

Torres del Paine, pronounced “Torrez del Pie-ney”, is one of the largest and most visited parks in Chile. But to actually see much of this National Park, it takes many days of trekking, preceded by a lot of planning. For months, I poured over maps, guidebooks and other travelers’ blogs to learn everything I could about this magical and extreme place.

What I realized, almost immediately, was that my camping gear was getting old, which means it was bigger and heavier than I needed to carry. Because new technologies have now made tents, sleeping bags and cookware so much smaller, lighter and stronger, I decided to start investing in modern ultra-light equipment. For example, my new tent weighs only 2 lb. 3 oz. and my new sleeping bag squishes down to almost half the size of my old one. Truthfully, deciding on exactly what I needed to carry in order to fully explore this National Park was really at the heart of everything I did to prepare for this entire travel year.

And now, December 24, 2022, I am here.

My plan is to hike for seven days in the park, but camp there for only five of the nights. I will hike more than 70 miles and the base weight of my new pack without food and water is still heavier than I had hoped. It’s going to be windy, rainy, and beautiful. I know it will be really hard. I’ve decided that it will probably be the second hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life, the first of course was picking myself up a few years ago and finding a new course of direction for myself, alone. But backpacking, and the simplicity of only having to walk and survive every day, is my most favorite thing to do. This is everything I’ve been dreaming about.

Each year, thousands of travelers from around the world descend upon Torres del Paine National Park during the 12-weeks of summer. Almost everyone hikes the “W” Trek or the “O” Trek, or some semblance of both based on their experience level and the availability of campsites. I booked my campsites three months ago and due to lack of availability, I am backpacking the longer and harder “O”, and day-hiking through most of the “W”. I also had to arrange a hostel in the nearest town for before and after the hike (so they could store my extra belongings), buy bus tickets to and from the park, reserve my entrance ticket to the park and rent some trekking poles. It is an incredibly complicated ordeal to make reservations and ultimately complete a trek here. When I have met someone who had already completed this trek, I sort of held them in awe, praying silently that I too will be able to join the club of finishers. It’s that big of a deal.

However, as the start date neared, I realized I was feeling more and more anxious about it all. I’m a very experienced backpacker. I trust myself, my instincts, and my equipment. But I’ve always hiked long, hard trips with a friend, which means you share the weight of your equipment, your food and all the responsibilities. You also keep each other motivated. I’ve never done anything like this before all by myself, and frankly I really started to worry if I actually had the space in my new smaller backpack for all that I would need. Then, I started to fret about the weight on my knees. I began to agonize about the infamous wind and rain, and wondered how I was going to keep myself motivated. Then I tried to convince myself that maybe it wasn’t worth all of this, and that I just shouldn’t go.



That’s not the Becky I brought on this adventure!

Becky is not scared of anything. She’s a realist. But she’s not scared. And she’s strong. More strong than she even knows.

I had to kick those naysaying voices right out of my head!

So, after brooding for a week about the realities of this hike, I came to the conclusion that my biggest problem was the weight of my food. As I get older, I’m learning that understanding my strengths -and weaknesses- is part of life and growth, so I had to accept that in order to complete this trek, I probably needed some help. In the end, I just want to enjoy every minute of this experience. This dream is too big to quit now.

Luckily, there was an easy solution for it all. Torres del Paine is a very civilized national park and there is a “refugio”, or guest house, at each stop along the way. Although I still wanted to sleep in my tent, and cook some food on my own, I realized that I could reduce a lot of food weight if I paid to eat my dinners in the lodges. A quick visit to the Park office changed everything. A lighter load will mean that I can travel faster, with less wear and tear on my knees, and ensure a strong finish. I’m feeling much better about this trek now, and I’m ready to board the bus at 7am tomorrow.

It’s going to be great. And I’m going to be really proud of myself when I finish.

Day 1, December 25, 2002

Christmas Day dawned without a cloud; the perfect weather for my first day in Torres del Paine National Park. On this day, I completed the first wing of the “W” Trek. As I got off the bus with all the other campers and day-hikers, I caught my first glimpse of the Torres, or granite towers, in the distance. Rising up out of a mostly flat and barren plain, the Torres and the surrounding massive rock formations can be seen from miles away. I could tell, it was going to be a very beautiful hike… with about a thousand other people!

Torres del Paine National Park was created in 1959, but in 1978 the world really started to take notice when UNESCO declared it an International Biosphere. Today, more than 250,000 people visit the park each year, mostly concentrated in the 8-10 weeks of summer, just as I’m doing now.

Hiking to the base of the Torres is the park’s most popular day-hike, and it was a slog all the way up and down the trail in a long, slow line with people from all over the world. I really wondered if the crowds would be this bad for the rest of my trek. Of course, at the top, the view of the Towers and the emerald-colored lake was fantastic! A good omen for the week to come!

Day 2, December 27, 2022

To get to Torres del Paine National Park, I stayed in Puerto Natales, which is the closest town 90 minutes away. There, I had to catch a bus to the park entrance, and then another shuttle bus to the Visitor’s Center. With so many backpackers and day-hikers all jostling for spaces and speaking different languages, it was quite a scene! Before leaving my hostel, and disconnecting from cell service for the next six days, I checked the weather forecast. Not good. But I was prepared for anything.

Once on the trail, to my pleasant surprise, I left the majority of day hikers and “W” hikers behind as I headed out on the more remote “O” Trek. Soon enough, I was walking through a beautiful forest under clearing skies, and then fields of daisies as far as I could see.

I got to my first campsite, Camp Seron, over an hour earlier than expected and there was a hot shower in the lodge waiting for me. I set up my tent and greeted my neighbors who would be trekking with me over the next six days. There’s about 40 of us in total. It was a great first day!

During the night a wind storm really put my new tent to the test. Succumbing to the strongest of gusts, it fully collapsed twice but then popped back into form. That night the wind destroyed another tent near me. The hiker decided to continue, hoping to find accommodations in the lodges or the rental tents from now on.

Day 3, December 28, 2022

The weather here in the Torres is notoriously unpredictable. What you can count on, is the constant wind. That said, it does seem to blow more fiercely later in the day. I had 11 miles to cover before the next camp, Camp Dickson, so on this morning I headed out early into the clouds and mist. More daisy fields, beautiful lakes, a big climb and then… the most wonderful site. As I came over a pass, aptly named “Windy Pass”, I was blasted by rain and ferocious gusts. But there in the distance, between two snow capped mountains, was a perfect rainbow, calling me into the valley below.

“Gracias, Gracias, Gracias!”, I shouted into the roar. I feel so fortunate to be able to experience all the wildness and glory of Mother Nature in this place.

For the next few miles, the wind smashed me against the rocks more than once, but the dramatic scenery all around pulled me down into the valley, through another beautiful forest, fields of wildflowers, and across a wetland with a beautiful bridge to stroll.

One of the great things I realized about this trek is that each individual hikes their own hike. You get up when you need to, and you walk at your own pace; choosing to hike on your own or with a new friend you met along the way. I often prefer to hike alone. The silence allows me to be fully present with every step, noticing all that is around me and immersing my senses in the experience. That said, I’m hiking the same stretch and camping at the same places with others who made the exact same reservations. So, as we passed each other along the trail and in camp at night, I frequently chatted with new friends from the US, France, Belgium, Germany, England, South Africa, Mexico and Chile.

Francisca and Claudio from Santiago, Chile were my most beloved hiking buddies. They revealed to me that I wasn’t the oldest on the trail this week, but since they had made arrangements to eat all their meals in the lodges and camp in the rental tents, their packs were significantly lighter than mine. Having those options, made this hike possible for them. They’ve never done anything like this before, so it was so fun to be around all their positive energy!

Camp Dickson, Dickson Glacier and Lake Dickson

In the afternoon, after being immersed in the wind and drizzle all day, I was excited to arrive at Camp Dickson. Set on a peninsula and surrounded by mountains in all directions, no pictures can prepare you for the beauty of it all.

For awhile, the sun came out and then more wind and rain. It was all so dramatic! After setting up our tents, the cooking shelter became a lively warming room for all my companions while we cooked, and laughed, and ate our meals together.

That night, I was sleeping in my tent listening to the wind gather speed as it roared down the mountain, and whipped across the lake. Just before it arrived on top of our camp, I instinctively lifted my arm to hold my top tent poles in place. I repeated this gesture for what seemed like hours. But then, in the middle of the night, silence. On an instinct, I popped my head out to see the vast Milky Way stretching from horizon to horizon. The surrounding snow-capped mountains glowed in the light. A perfect Patagonia moment!

Day 4, December 29, 2022

What was supposed to be a steep hike to Camp Los Perros seemed like a walk in the forest to me. I was so proud that I hardly noticed the elevation change through the forest of spring flowers and the Lenga and Nirre Beech Trees.

Throughout our hike, the trail was very well marked and maintained. Trail crews had even provided bridges for us to cross the rivers safely. Well, some bridges seemed more safe than others!

Camp Los Perros is set between three different glaciers in the alpine so the temperature was noticeably colder as we climbed into glacial basins with ice caps in all directions. And, have I told you about the wind? At one point, I had to crawl over a pass for a view of a glacier and lake below!

Los Perros is the most remote of campsites. There’s not much of a lodge and the water was very cold. That said, I noticed that the camp store had a good supply of Snickers Bars, leg shavers and prophylactics for sale! I wondered, “Who stocks this place?” All of us hikers had a good laugh about that! But at least the camp was situated in the trees, so we had at least one night of protection from the winds.

An early wake-up at 5:15 am before climbing over John Garner Pass

The hiking day after Camp Los Perros is considered the hardest of all. We will climb over the infamous John Garner Pass and then drop steeply down the other side. There are many stories of the park closing the pass due to high winds, and other stories of people who cannot make it over the pass at all and have to turn back. On the other side, miles of steep drop-offs and steps are waiting to torture our knees. At some point in my planning I stopped reading all the stories, and I noticed that my fellow hikers tried not to dwell on it either. I could sense a little dread in us all. To tackle the summit early before the fiercest of winds will blow, the park rangers encouraged us to get an early start.

Day 5, December 30, 2022

Up, up, up I climbed through the forested valley and into a rocky glacial moraine. It started to rain, and the higher I hiked, the drops turned into snow. Unbelievable! I was crossing the infamous John Garner Pass in a snowstorm. All I could do was smile. It just couldn’t get more perfectly Patagonia!

“Gracias”, I shouted into the wind, and to Mother Nature, I yelled, “Bring it on!”

After having so many successes during the first days of this trek, I was determined I was going to finish it. But as if to show me who was really the boss, a few minutes later a huge gust picked me up, and threw me stumbling and then tumbling across a boulder field of rocks. I landed face down, facing down hill. I lifted my head and about six other 20-something hikers were behind me frozen in their tracks. They all wondered how they were going to get me off the mountain because surely I had broken something. Luckily, I bounce. The only consequence was a bruise on my jaw where my face smashed into a rock. They helped me stand up under the weight of my pack, and I headed up the hill into the gusts again. Step by step.

Soon after, another solo woman hiker, Manuela from Brazil, caught up with me and asked if we could hike together. She too had been thrown into the rocks. Maybe we could help each other out. Step by step through the freezing wind. But climbing up among those massive granite monoliths and glacier-gouged rock, I felt so small in the world, and yet so inspired and motivated to keep climbing higher.

After three hours of hard hiking, we crested the pass, and there, laid out before us, was “Hielo Sur”, the Southern Ice Shield. This is the largest mass of ice outside of Earth’s polar regions. The sun glinted off the ice as far as I could see, and there, stretching from one of its lobes, another perfect rainbow. Manuela and I started screaming and dancing in the wind. A fellow hiker grabbed my camera and took a picture of our joy. Months of planning, and so much effort had gone into this moment. I had made it to the top!

Then, down, down, down the other side, and over several suspension bridges spanning its side canyons. All the while, we walked above and beside this enormous Grey Glacier (10.5 miles long), and the Grey Lake it is slowly creating. It was a 12-hour long day with so much up and down, but so, so beautiful.

That night, in Grey Lake Lodge I had something to celebrate. The hardest was behind me.

Day 6, December 31, 2022

Today brought lots more wind, a little rain and a relatively short hike through a fairy-tale-forest-land along the lake. Our next stop was the wind-blown grassy plain of Camp Paine Grande, located along the other wing of the “W” Trek. From here we could see the enormous masses of rock forming the southern boundary of the trail: Paine Grande and Los Cuernos.

Often, like many hikers, as I walk along I think about what food I am going to be able to eat upon arrival. It’s part of my incentive to keep going when I’m tired. On this night, we all knew we had a special New Year’s Eve celebration dinner waiting for us in the lodge. Since this is one of the biggest lodges in the park, a bar and a bottle of wine was calling our name, too.

Celebrating the end of 2022 and the promise of 2023 with hiking buddies from
France, Brazil and Chile.

After a huge steak, lots of salad, some wine and two different desserts, I never made it to midnight. But as luck would have it, my bladder forced me to get out of the tent at about 2am. There above me, on the night of the new year, was the clear, beautiful Milky Way waiting for me again. I stood for a moment breathing in the beauty, and just before I turned back into the warmth of my tent, I saw a shooting star streak across the sky. I think 2023 is going to be a very good year!

Day 7, January 1, 2023

Today was my last day to hike in the park and I was eager to reach Mirador Francés to see the middle section of the “W” trek. From the forecast posted by the rangers, I knew that the wind gusts were going to reach up to 70 mph by late afternoon. So, I headed out early to cross several miles of rolling terrain in hopes of reaching the viewpoint high in the mountains above another glacier.

The trail, the mountains and the glacier were lovely, but it was the show that the wind performed at the lake which gave me pause. The wind was so strong, that it literally picked up the surface water like a hurricane and dumped it on the land. Although it was generally a sunny day, as I hiked, I was constantly getting wet!

By that afternoon, I returned to Camp Paine Grande and caught the last ferry across Pehoe Lake, which took me to a bus, that took me back to town.

As I relaxed into the bus seat, I tried to remember all I had experienced. Along the route, I saw condors, eagles, falcons, black-necked swans, guanacos (a relative of the llama), rheas (a South American Ostrich), and Chilean Flamingos slurping up mollusks in the shallow ponds. I saw beautiful mountain scenes that I would equate with Alaska, Canada or the Pacific Northwest United States, but in Torres del Paine, all of that is concentrated in one location. With the wind and seasons practically changing every hour, the experience was just all the more extreme.

Me and the back side of the Torres. I had completed the famous Torres Circuit!

7 days, 5 nights, 71.6 miles with a 35-pound pack. I saw every part of Torres del Paine National Park that I could. My feet carried me the distance. My knees never once buckled, and when I finished, my body still felt like it had “gas in the tank”. I did it. I had finished the coveted circuit.

I thought back about the anxiety I had before the hike. How I let the “What-ifs?” and the doubts take over my thoughts and almost paralyze me from this extraordinary opportunity. Why did I even allow that to happen?

As the bus rolled along, I realized that I had learned a lot about myself in this adventure. First, I really am stronger than I know. But more than that, I learned that my attitude influences everything about my day. I played with this idea a little during my trek. On Day 3, as I was trudging along a rather boring stretch in the rain, I purposely chose to embrace the moment of flatness, praise the rain for giving life to all the spring flowers and searched for new perspectives to photograph. Before long, the trudging in my mind gave way to a remarkable walk that afternoon. I did this again when I laughed into the wind at the high mountain pass on Day 5. I knew I was going to make it up that mountain despite all the obstacles in front of me, and so, I did.

I’ve been told that in these blog posts, I appear to always be so happy and capable of anything. But I too have to remind myself to be brave, stay positive, and appreciate all that is before me. It seems that whenever I remember to lean into gratefulness, something wonderful always happens in return.

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I’m so grateful I had this opportunity.

I’m so proud of myself for what I was able to accomplish.

And, I’m so happy to say, that it wasn’t so hard after all.

Living my dream in Torres del Paine National Park