It's always an odd thing to finally arrive in a place you've dreamed of visiting for years. Like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon, Chile's Torres del Paine stands as one of the world's singular places. I've long admired and coveted images of Patagonia's windswept mountains, and as I drove into the park after flying the 3,000 mile length of Chile and then driving six hours from Punta Arenas, I was not disappointed.
The weather was dodgy though, with howling winds and banks of clouds whipping in off the Pacific and squatting low over the mountains. With the sky still a dim twilight gray at midnight, I wasn't terribly optisimistic as I drifted off to sleep at the bunkhouse at Rio Serrano. But I set the alarm for 5 AM anyway.
All through the night, banks of lenticular clouds rolled out in the mountains' lee. In the morning, I was just about ready to hit the snooze button when I noticed a narrow band of clear sky along the eastern horizon. I sprinted to the rental car spilling gear through the parking lot, drove at immoderate speeds down the park's twisting dirt roads to find a viewpoint just as the first light of dawn hit the Cuernos rock spires.
The entire sunrise lasted less than three minutes before the sun entered thick clouds. And then I turned around, drove back to the bunkhouse and tried very hard to go back to sleep.