After a couple of days admiring Chile's Torres del Paine National Park from my rental car, it occurred to me that, with the sole exception of my left arm, I was no more tan than when I departed Sea-Tac.
I was in the land of fresh air, sunshine and precariously low ozone levels and by God I was going to have some color to show for it. I stuffed my carry-on backpack with sleeping bag, tent and cookstove. This left precious little room for cameras, food or a fleece jacket. But I perservered and eventually set off dangling clothing, cameras and tripod strapped on with duct tape and spare shoelaces.
The trail to the base of the Torres spires lies about five hours hiking in. If I'd looked more closely at my map, I would have noticed that 4.975 of those hours are devoted to relentless climbing. People who passed me were nice enough to ask how I was doing "Viejo y consado." Old and tired. Still, the skies remained clear and sunny and the top of my head turned a fine shade of pink.
Along the way, I hooked up with an amiably chatty Aussie hiker who convinced me to ditch my tent and hike up to the top for an overnight bivvie under the Torres' hanging glaciers. As soon as the sun passed behind the spires, it grew cold. We cooked dinner quickly under the light of our headlamps, and settled into our sleeping bags in a dubious shelter of a circle of rocks.
Patagonia is home to some of the worst weather on earth, with screaming winds and storms obscuring the mountains for weeks at a stretch. But for one merciful night, the skies were clear and calm and infinitely black, with the southern stars slowly circling overhead.